HAWAII AT WORK
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Franny Little Bear is a Home Depot employee who teaches those do-it-yourself classes two or three times a week when she's not consulting with customers to help them with their individual projects. Above, Little Bear fielded questions at a class last month on laminate flooring at the Home Depot store in Iwilei.
Home sweet Home Depot
Franny Little Bear is the one to ask if you have a question about fixing up your house
Franny Little Bear
Title: Customer service representative and seminar instructor
Job: Helps customers and conducts "how to" classes at Home Depot
Franny Little Bear is an expert at home repairs and renovation, and she freely shares that knowledge as an employee of Home Depot in Iwilei, where she is a customer service representative and conducts "how to" classes on a wide range of do-it-yourself topics. Little Bear was born in Illinois and raised in Arizona, but finished high school in Sacramento, Calif. After two years at California Baptist College in Riverside, Calif., where she was sophmore class president, Little Bear joined the U.S. Army and served four years as a behavioral sciences specialist, first in Texas, then in Germany. After that, she returned to college, earning a bachelor's degree in art history from California State University in Sacramento. She was offered a job as a cartoonist by Walt Disney Studios, but instead she put her art background to work painting houses and buildings, and picked up a variety of contractor skills along the way. In 1979, she moved to Maui;12 years later she moved to Oahu. Little Bear, 57, is single and lives in Maunawili.
How long have you been working at Home Depot?
Franny Little Bear: Five years next month.
Q: Have you been a seminar instructor the whole time?
A: No, for about 2 1/2 years I've been doing that. Before that I billed myself as the paint doctor. I had the most knowledge about paint. I would say, "The paint doctor is in."
Q: What are some of the things that you teach about?
A: The two biggest classes that there are, as far as attendance and classes that are requested, would be installation of ceramic tile and installation of laminate flooring. Those two are huge ones. You can save thousands of dollars, depending on the square footage that you're covering and the number of cuts required.
Q: What else?
A: Installing a bathroom faucet; simple bathroom upgrades. There's also a class called "Simple kitchen upgrade." Those two classes completely surround anything you can do that is fairly low cost that will make your area look fresh again.
Q: Any quick examples?
A: Simply the quickest way would be paint; maybe changing the doors on the cabinetry or the door handles; or something simple like putting down a throw rug. Take a light fixture down and put a ceiling fan up with the light.
I also teach you how to refinish furniture, how to paint professionally. I've been a painter by trade. I've been a painter my whole life. I'm a faux finisher, and I teach that.
Q: Where did you learn how to do all the things that you teach about?
A: Well, my step-father was a contractor. He's been my step-father since 1963, and he's a brick layer. And if you ever had to choose, he's about the best one to pick. I've also painted nonstop since 1976. And since 1976, going in and out and in and out of people's homes, your eyes are seeing what other contractors are doing, or you wind up doing stuff yourself on occasion because it has to be done.
So I've been in construction my whole life -- long enough to pick up everything, and Home Depot is great for teaching you what you don't know.
Home Depot has a great training program for its employees, for its associates, so whether you're sitting down at a computer for its online classes, or whether your sitting physically in a class with a teacher up front, or your talking with one of the many contractors that work for Home Depot, you can pick up stuff to pass on to the customer, to help them do the job easier and correctly -- or to at least have the knowledge to know if they're paying the right amount for somebody else to do it.
How often do you give these seminars and how long do they last?
A: I give classes every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Q: One a day?
A: Generally one a day. But it varies. The classes run for a maximum of one hour, but it's been my experience that with laminate flooring and ceramic tile, that to get them (the students) out of there with the knowledge they need, I need about two hours.
I've had so many customers come back and show me pictures and say, "You made my kitchen look like this."
Q: Are they bragging or on your case?
A: Oh no, that's bragging! (Pause) Oh, that's good. (Laughter) Would I be telling you this if they weren't bragging?
Q: When you're not teaching the seminars, what else do you do at Home Depot?
A: I'm a roving customer service representative. I help customers find stuff they need. I go, "Hi, can I help you find something?" I pretty well fashion myself as a projects consultant to the customers.
Q: What were you doing before you joined HD?
A: I actually owned my own company, Bear Restoration Ltd. When I was on Maui it was called -- I had the same company under two different names -- Franny's Tropical Sign & Paint Co. I did everything from signs to home-upgrade renovations.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Franny Little Bear teaches "how to" classes for Home Depot. After a recent class on laminate board flooring, Little Bear, right, spent time answering questions with class attendees.
How did you get the Home Depot job?
A: I had been working for so long for other contractors or for myself that I decided when I was shopping at Home Depot that if it was as much fun working for the company as it was shopping in the store, then I'll come down off the ladder and work for them. They have great benefits; they treat people real good. This isn't a scam. I enjoy working for Home Depot. If I didn't like my job, I wouldn't be here. I'm that kind of person.
Q: How did you get into the teaching?
A: There was a fellow here years ago who did the teaching, Kenny Boyce, and he had asked me one time if I had any interest in it, because every time he had a paint class, he would come over to the paint department and ask if I would help him out. So I did that and I started to enjoy it. Then when the other classes came up, I knew that I could talk about those things, too. So when Kenny went into management, he offered it to me, and I said, "Yeah," and we worked on that together until he got his transfer.
Q: How many people show up for these classes?
A: On average, 10 or 12. There are some classes that nobody shows up for, like "How to conserve energy." I don't understand it. It's very low attendance. It can help you save money. Another one is "How to irrigate your yard." I'm not sure why, but that doesn't grab that many people. But Home Depot requires that all their stores have these classes. For the Do-It-Herself clinics, the average is about 15 or 20.
Q: What are the Do-It-Herself clinics?
A: Once a quarter there's a clinic that's offered called the Do-It-Herself Clinic, and it has to do with anything we've already mentioned. It could be reclaiming your backyard space, it could be organizing your closet, it could be how to change the caulking around your sink and bath area. Women really like the ceiling fan one, too. There's always pupus and prizes. And it's a women's-only class. If they have kids, I tell them bring the kids, it's fine.