Bob Andelman wrote the book on Home Depot when he co-authored “Built From Scratch” with co-founders Bernard Marcus and Arthur Blank. The book was published in 1999 and charted the first 20 years of the company. It has gone on to sell more than 100,000 copies. Andelman recounts how the project came to be and what he learned about Home Depot in the process.
Hardware Retailing (HR): How did the “Built From Scratch” project start?
Bob Andelman (BA): It was the third book I had done for Crown Business at Random House, so I met with Bernard Marcus in New York one day to discuss it. I had written two books previous to that. I met Bernie in New York and I guess he liked me and the previous books I had written. It took about a year and a half to write the book. It was one of the most fun projects I’ve ever done. I live in St. Petersburg, Florida, so there was a time when I was flying from Tampa to Atlanta weekly interviewing all the senior executives at the time. It was difficult to get on Arthur’s schedule, he was so busy at the time. But I was given the opportunity to fly with him to Palm Springs on Home Depot’s corporate jet.
HR: What was your biggest challenge in writing the book?
BA: The company was already so big in 1998 and 1999 when I was researching it. They were across the country and just starting to reach out overseas. There were so many incredible stories; the company had made a lot of people very wealthy.
HR: By 1999, Home Depot was a well-established business. Why was it important for them to tell the founders’ story?
BA: I think this was largely Bernie’s project. But 1999 was the 20th anniversary of the first stores opening, so it was in celebration of the culture they created. I think today we take Home Depot for granted: It’s in our community, we know it’s there. At the 20th anniversary mark, it was still unique. They were planning a lot of celebrations around the anniversary, and I think the book was a big part of that.
BA: Customer service, without a doubt. The idea of having everything under one roof really stood out. It was the first big-box hardware store. Bernie and Arthur knew what they wanted and what they didn’t want. That’s not always the case with retail stores. At Home Depot, that’s the key. Customers walk in, expecting to find someone who can answer their questions. Home Depot workers treat customers with respect, and I think that’s a huge part of what’s made them successful.
For more information on Home Depot’s successes, struggles and sizable influence in home improvement retail, check out Hardware Retailing’s 360-Degree View of Home Depot.