More stores hiring employees to help Hispanic patrons
Associated Press
Feb. 27, 2005

Harry R. Webber
ATLANTA - Tucked inside the aprons of cashiers at a Home Depot store in the Miami area are translation books to help employees who speak only English to converse with customers who speak only Spanish.

Home Depot might not need the books quite as much in the future, as the nation's largest home improvement store chain has joined retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Federated Department Stores Inc. in actively recruiting bilingual workers.

Retailers are looking to Spanish-speaking employees to help them tap into the increasing buying power of Hispanics. They note that studies have shown that Hispanics will have $1 trillion in annual purchasing power in the United States by 2008; by 2050, Hispanics will constitute 25 percent of the workforce.

Wal-Mart has increased its efforts to recruit Hispanics in recent years. At the end of 2004, the company had 128,000 Hispanic employees in the United States, or about 10 percent of its 1.2 million workers.

"Because we have a very diverse customer base, we certainly believe our associate base should mirror that as closely as possible," spokeswoman Linda Blakley said. "By doing so, we gain insight into the needs and product preferences of this segment of our customer base and are able to deliver stronger customer service."

Earlier this month, Home Depot, the Atlanta-based chain of 1,890 stores, said it would partner with four national Hispanic organizations to recruit more Spanish-speaking workers for its workforce of 325,000.

Hispanic advocacy groups and economists say the efforts not only make retailers more diverse, but also can help boost sales by appealing more to Hispanic customers.

Major retailers realize that some Hispanic customers might become frustrated and leave a store if they can't communicate in Spanish with employees, said Barbara Serret, a Hispanic human resources manager at a Home Depot in the Miami area.