published Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Help wanted: Seasonal hiring up by a third at home improvement stores

An employee wearing an apron stands in a Home Depot.
An employee wearing an apron stands in a Home Depot.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    A Lowes store advertises job openings and gas grills outside the home improvement store in Pembroke, Mass.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Who's hiring for spring?

* Lowe's -- 450

* Home Depot -- 150

* Ace Hardware -- 35

Total increase in seasonal hiring: 150

For home improvement stores, Christmas is almost here.

While there won't be any manger scenes, bright lights or presents 'round the tree, the spirit of retail is set to reawaken as warm spring temperatures infect do-it-yourselfers with the shopping bug.

To manage what home improvement retailers expect will be four months of brisk sales, managers are hiring more than 600 seasonal workers across the Chattanooga region, while some also plan to increase work hours for part-time employees.

The pent-up demand for home improvements could explode onto the national scene amid good economic news for the housing market, which rebounded convincingly in 2012. Retailers' bolstered staffs may have to handle mobs of consumers who are ready at last to get started on long-delayed deck, kitchen and bathroom projects.

Nationwide, Home Depot will hire 80,000 seasonal workers -- 10,000 more than last year -- in anticipation of sales growth in the spring. Lowe's will hire 45,000 seasonal workers across the U.S., a jump of 9,000 that an official chalked up to an improving economy.

Though companies are reluctant to discuss the size of any expected sales surge, that's not stopping them from increasing employment by 40 to 50 employees per store here in the Chattanooga area -- a roughly 33 percent increase.

"We would typically add 350 extra Chattanooga workers in a normal seasonal environment, but we are adding another 100 this year because of what the local market anticipates will be an improving business environment," said Sean Cannon, Lowe's director for stores in East Tennessee.

Home Depot's Stephen Holmes says the world's largest home improvement specialty retailer will hire about 150 extra workers at its Chattanooga-area stores, an increase of 50 workers over 2012.

"The bottom line is that spring is our busiest selling season," Holmes said. "We're adding extra workers to support anticipated sales growth in the spring."

The company is especially keen to hire college students and retirees, Holmes said, who will have a chance at a permanent position if their performance is up to snuff.

"If you think about retirees, most of them have owned a home or own a home, and they have years of experience dealing with homes or home improvement," he said.

Ace Hardware stores in the Chattanooga area, which are primarily managed by The Helpful Group, could add as many as 35 workers in total as they ramp up for spring, but will pick up most of the slack by doubling hours for many existing part-time workers, said Steve Kelly, director of store operations for The Helpful Group.

"We would be looking at 15 to 18 hour-per-week folks being bumped up to 25 to 30 hours per week," Kelly said.

Corporate planners have already started working out how many workers they'll need to hire or reschedule, Kelly said, but that's only half the challenge. Unlike Christmas shoppers, who adhere to a predictable, manageable timetable, spring home improvement projects depend largely on the weather.

"If we have an early spring, then things could be wide open," he said. "But if it stays cool and damp, it could be mid to late march before business really picks up."

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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