ATLANTA --- It has been 41/2 years since former Home Depot Chief Executive Bob Nardelli's bold prediction that the home improvement retailer could sustain "unlimited growth" without significantly affecting sales at established stores.
That statement was made during much better economic times.
The Atlanta-based company, under different leadership, a different growth philosophy and amid an ailing housing market, put the brakes Thursday on some of its expansion plans and said it would do what was previously unthinkable -- close 15 of its underperforming flagship stores.
It is the first time the world's largest home improvement store chain has closed a flagship store for performance reasons. The move, to be completed within the next two months, will affect 1,300 employees.
The company reiterated its intention to open 55 new stores in the 2009 fiscal year, though it will no longer pursue the opening of roughly 50 U.S. stores that have been in its new store pipeline, some for more than 10 years.
"By building fewer stores, in the best locations, and making sure our existing stores are profitable, our company will be in a much stronger competitive position," said CEO Frank Blake, who took over for Mr. Nardelli in January 2007.
Some analysts and large investors have worried in the past that as Home Depot gets bigger, it would invariably put stores in direct competition with existing stores, a practice known in the industry as cannibalization.
Home Depot in the past has justified cannibalization by saying it increases the company's overall market share.
On Thursday, Mr. Blake said Home Depot's goal now is to "reduce cannibalization and drive higher returns."
On Sept. 21, Mr. Blake told AP that the company had no plans to make any broad-based job cuts or reduce the number of its core retail stores in the face of a persistent housing slump that wasn't expected to improve anytime soon.
But since then, Home Depot has announced several rounds of job cuts.
A company spokesman said some of the affected employees will be relocated, while others could lose their jobs.
GOING OUT OF BUSINESS
The Home Depot in East Brunswick, N.J., (above) is one of 15 expected to close within the next two months. The others are:
- Fort Wayne, Ind.
- Marion, Ind.
- Frankfort, Ky.
- Opelousas, La.
- Cottage Grove, Minn.
- Saddle Brook, N.J.
- Rome, N.Y.
- Bismarck, N.D.
- Findlay, Ohio
- Lima, Ohio
- Brattleboro, Vt.
- Beaver Dam, Wis.
- Fond du Lac, Wis.
- Milwaukee, Wis.