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Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus finally sat for a deposition, but plainitffs’ lawyers seemingly could have obtained the answers to most of their questions by reading his book. Lawyers seemed intent on verifying, page by page, what was written in his book, “Built From Scratch.” The book, co-authored with Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank and writer Bob Andelman, tells how the two men started with one hardware store and built it into a nationwide chain. Attorney Thomas J. Venker, of Atlanta-based Kirschner & Venker, spent most of the six-hour deposition simply asking if details in the book were accurate. Only late in the deposition did Venker get around to asking Marcus about store safety, seemingly the reason for winning the rare deposition from Marcus, who was ordered to testify by Fulton State Court Judge M. Gino Brogdon. The suit is a personal injury claim filed by a customer who was struck in the head by merchandise stored in overhead racks. The deposition, for much of the time, closely followed the text of the book, the complete title of which is “Built From Scratch: How a Couple of Regular Guys Grew the Home Depot from Nothing to $30 Million.” Marcus and Blank are named as authors, along with Andelman, whom Marcus said in his deposition actually reported and wrote the book. STACKING WAS PART OF POLICY Venker questioned Marcus closely about the book, Marcus’ early career, the beginnings of Home Depot, and the concept Marcus developed of stacking merchandise high above the customers’ heads where they could see it in a combination retail store/warehouse. Asked if “every word in the book is true,” Marcus responded, “The book was never meant to be a factual historical document. The book was a basic philosophical book that was meant to tell the culture and the story of this company. … I can’t tell you that every single word — that every single word is my words or Arthur’s words.” Venker traced the evolution of the stacking concept from Marcus’ employment at a hardware chain where he worked before he and Blank formed Home Depot. “This was something that had not been seen by people before,” Marcus said in his deposition. “And if I were a customer walking in that store, I would be overwhelmed. The thing spelled — spelled to me that it was a — it was a bargain, that I was getting more value than I would get anywhere.” The concept of stacking or warehousing merchandise in plain sight was costly because it required “a tremendous investment in inventory,” he said. But it was a concept that Marcus insisted was critical to Home Depot’s eventual success. Not until late in the deposition did Venker raise the issue of customer safety. The attorney asked Marcus about an article that appeared in a trade magazine called Building Supply Home Centers in 1989. That article quoted Marcus as identifying the sole “dark cloud” on Home Depot’s otherwise “bright horizon” as a potential “customer backlash stemming from the perception that ‘our stores aren’t safe.’ “ The article also quoted Marcus as saying that such a customer reaction could set back industry-wide sales “as much as 20 percent.” In his deposition, Marcus said he did not remember either the article or the comments attributed to him in it. But he said he believed the article was based on a symposium “dedicated to trying to alert the industry that they … had to be more cognizant of safety in our stores and really to share information on what each store was doing … for safety.” His comments, Marcus speculated, probably were designed to prod vendors “to come up with more safe products, better racking, better forklifts.” “I still think the same thing,” Marcus said in his deposition. “If we don’t keep our stores safe, we’re not going to have customers. It’s as simple as that.” DISPLAY �CRITICAL’ But Marcus emphasized that the floor-to-ceiling display of Home Depot merchandise was not simply “for show.” “It is very, very critical in the operation of a Home Depot store,” he said. “When you go back to the philosophy of operating a Home Depot store and you want to ask us why we were successful, I’m going to go back, to what I said to you earlier that the key was to take care of that customer, to understand what that customer wanted and to have the product there for that customer. … So the high racking becomes a very necessary part of our business.” Marcus also took issue in his deposition with comments in the article attributed to a former safety manager of Home Depot, whom Marcus said “was not a happy employee when he left the company.” That employee had said that training employees and managers to avoid safety hazards was a concern secondary to eliminating a hazard. “That’s ridiculous,” Marcus said. “The primary concern is to train people, to have people understand. How could you say that’s secondary? … The issue of safety is having people who are aware of it, people who will react to it. You don’t get that by not training people. … If you don’t show somebody or train somebody how to use a box cutter, what’s the good of having a better box cutter?” GET-WELL NOTES Marcus also acknowledged that early in the chain’s development, he or Blank or a store manager would send handwritten get-well notes to people injured in a Home Depot store. “I did it because I was concerned about these people,” Marcus said. “This was not a program that we had where, you know, you had to do it. Whenever I heard about an associate being hurt, I would normally just jot out a note to them, you know, or I would call them at the house … to see how they were. You know, this is when we were smaller. … But I always insisted that somebody in the field … had to be visiting with the customer and taking care of the customer. This is a policy that we had from the day that we started the company.” If a Home Depot representative did not visit an injured customer, he said, although not a violation of company policy, “It just wouldn’t have been right.” “It was a concern that we had for people whether they were customers or they were associates,” Marcus continued. “If there’s a hurricane or if there’s a tornado at people’s houses. … We don’t know who these people are, they may or may not be customers of ours, we ask our people to go out and help them. I mean, they go out. They do things for people. They don’t even know who they are. So why wouldn’t we do something for somebody who’s a customer of ours or associate of ours in the stores? It’s part of the compassion that we have for people. And we don’t only talk about it. We demonstrate it. We do it. “At the 9/11 … in September, our trucks were … the only ones getting to New York City. People understand that when they’re in trouble that Home Depot is going to be there. And we’re there. … I hope that everybody would do the same thing. I cannot believe that they wouldn’t.”

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