New face of a new store

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 17, 2007

FRANKLIN—Dick Winchester is looking forward to the day he can move into a house in or around Franklin.

Winchester, the manager of the Lowe’s home improvement store to open along Armory Drive in November, has been training for the job in various places since April 30 and has been spending more time in motels than he’d like.

His house in southern Delaware is on the market and he’s been house-hunting here, he said.

When he’s not in a motel, he’s likely to be in the Regional Workforce Development Center on the campus of Paul D. Camp Community College where interviews for the store’s 110 new jobs have been conducted since the end of August.

“It’s a rather daunting process,” said Winchester.

The 94,000-square-foot store, the model for what Lowe’s calls small to mid-size markets, is to begin receiving merchandise by the end of October for its grand opening a month later.

Winchester said some 2,000 employment applications were received and 500 interviews were conducted for the 110 positions, 80 or so of which are full time. The remaining positions are part time.

About “98 percent” of the positions have been filled, Winchester said, and half of those new employees are training in Lowe’s stores in the area.

It is a process with which Winchester is familiar.

As a high school student in Towson, Md., a Baltimore suburb, Winchester spent summers on the beach in Ocean City, working to pay the vacation rental. After high school and after the summer jobs dried up, Winchester “gravitated” to Salisbury, Md., on the Eastern Shore, to work at Montgomery Wards. He spent eight years there as a commissioned sales associate. During that stretch he graduated Salisbury University in 1988 and continued with Wards as a department manager and then operations manager. He went on as an operations manager at a store in Wheaton, Md., a Washington, D.C., suburb before spending two or three years involved in the remodeling phase of the company. He was managing a store in Staunton, Va., before the chain went out of business in 2001.

He returned to Salisbury where he was the manager of a Staples superstore for seven years.

Then Lowe’s appeared on the radar screen.

“Staples was a great company,” said Winchester, a single father of a 14-year-old girl, “but [the growth of] Lowe’s wowed me.”

He went through Lowe’s management training held in several Maryland locations as well as the corporate headquarters in Mooresville, N.C., and was one of seven finalists for the Franklin job.

Since then, it’s been about interviewing in the workforce center —“they’ve been a fantiastic resource,” he said — filling new positions.

The senior management team — which also includes the operations manager, administrative manager, sales manager, three zone manager and a human resources manager — is in place and expects to get its set of building keys next Wednesday and start supervising “setting steel,” which is the process of getting the store’s shelves in place,

But for now, the interviewing process continues.

“I’ve found, that working in a small town like Salisbury or Franklin, the work force is general very loyal and very stable,” he said. “People are concerned about long-term employment and [receiving] benefits.”

Of the applicant pool, Winchester said, some are employed elsewhere in the area but are

“looking for a careers here,” avoiding the daily commute and the associated expense.

In his rare spare time, Winchester said he “likes to fish. I like surf-casting and I like deep-sea fishing,” and said he hopes to take advantage of living near the ocean to get his fishing fix.