EDITOR’S NOTE: Sarah Hix is senior director of asset protection at Home Depot. She’s celebrating her 20-year anniversary with the company this month. This interview was a part of a larger story about Home Depot’s asset protection team, published in LPM’s Spring Issue.
JIM LEE: What is your title and how long have you been with Home Depot?
SARAH HIX: I am senior director of asset protection, and I’ll have my twenty‑year anniversary with Home Depot in August.
JIM: And why is that?
SARAH: I get asked that question a lot. It is an amazing company to work for. I went to school locally, graduated on a Saturday, and started on a Sunday in the stores, never once dreaming that I was going to work at Home Depot for a living, but it very quickly changed from a job to a career. The way they develop associates, the opportunity for growth and advancement in the organization, the variety of things that you can do—there’s never the same day twice. That is a big piece of it, but it’s more the culture, the values of the company, the way we take care of our people. I have lots of family members in the organization that have been here double-digit years as well. It’s just a great place to be.
JIM: How did you end up going from store operations to asset protection?
SARAH: Almost eight years ago, I got a phone call that said, “Hey, you’ve been working in operations for the last decade building people‑process technology. We’d like you to come upstairs and help us unwind the net through the systems and the people and the process to see where the opportunity for shrink and loss is.” I didn’t have a background in AP or any of this, but they said, “Come and take a look at it through a different set of eyes and tell us where we have opportunity.” So about eight years ago, I came upstairs, and I’ve been here since then.
JIM: What are the key areas of your responsibility?
SARAH: I support five different pieces of the organization, starting with the programs and communications team. What’s our procedure look like? How do we train, our licensing, our curriculum, not only for our AP associates but also our field associates to make sure that they understand what loss prevention is, what shrink is, what we’re up against? That team also helps support all our systems and the databases that we use.
I have a team that supports store operations—anything that they’re doing, implementing new technology or a new process or department changes, roles, and routines. We make sure we have a seat at the table to talk about what risks exist, not to say we can’t do something but to ask how we mitigate them. We work together to say, “If you do something, you’re opening yourselves up for exposure, and here’s where we need to look.”
It also helps us on the software and technology side as we’re rolling things out that might have defects in the first round. How do we make sure we’re looking for defects to make sure everything goes smoothly? We’re retail accounting, so there are a lot of opportunities. If things don’t go the right way, then there are areas of exposure. That team also supports the physical inventory process in the store side. A different team owns the third-party relationship of the actual counting, but we own all the prep leading up to the day of, and then the post inventory reconciliation as well.
We have a team that does all things physical security, technology, and innovation for the stores—our guard resources, burglar alarms, the camera systems, the cameras themselves. All of that comes up through my organization. A lot of the innovation tests that we’re running right now for the perimeter security and different things like that are on that team as well.
The fourth team is our merchandising protection team, kind of your traditional LP. How do we protect the product in the stores but also do some new and innovative things with activation and different pieces like that? So we’re constantly working with our merchant organization to make sure that we can sell what they want to sell, where they want to sell it, and that it’s on the shelves.
And then the fifth is our analytics team. We work closely with our finance partners and our bigger organizational analytics team to go through all the data.
JIM: If I asked most people what the three most critical issues for asset protection are in terms of exposures, they would likely say ORC, shrink, and safety for associates. Because you’re nodding your head, I suspect you believe that as well. What specific ways are your teams battling those issues?
SARAH: ORC falls more under Mike’s, John’s, and Scott’s camps, but certainly we support them as we do a lot of the lobbying and conversations around legislation that needs to change.
From a shrink perspective, we get as much exposure as possible with the executive leadership team to talk about what we’re doing, how we’re going to work on it. We pull the other teams together. Scott does a phenomenal job with his peers and each of the other organizations to where they have a vested interest in what we’re doing. We always say it’s a team sport. I can do my part, but if everybody else isn’t doing their part, then it’s going to be harder to tackle. This organization does a really nice job of bringing everybody to the table.
And then from the safety standpoint, that’s our message every day. Product is replaceable. Shrink is absorbable. We can grow, so we can do whatever we need to do. But at the end of the day, we’re ensuring that we’re keeping our associates and our customers safe. I think everybody gets that. They understand it. And that’s what we’re charged with above everything else.
JIM: How has the pandemic and remote working changed what you and your people do?
SARAH: We didn’t skip a beat. We continued with our weekly touch‑bases. With the drive-bys, instead of it being in the office door, it was the quick, “Hey, can I call you on Teams?” We still had all our team meetings and recognition and development and all those pieces. That’s not to say that we weren’t talking about coming back into the office. It’s awesome to be able to shake somebody’s hand. It’s awesome to be able to swing by and draw on somebody’s whiteboard to say, “Here’s what I’m trying to convey.”
But we didn’t skip a beat, and a lot of that was through necessity at the beginning. We created an app to count customers in and out of the stores. And we set the parameters on where to come in and where to go out and what stores looked like and how we were going to protect them. We went through times of civil unrest at the beginning, and all of that centered around our team, so we didn’t have a choice. But we adapted very quickly.
JIM: This has been a real privilege to visit with you and your team. Thank you for your time and best of luck to the entire Home Depot organization.