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The Associated Press

Retailers Recruiting Bilingual Workers To Tap Into The Increasing Buying Power Of Hispanics


February 20, 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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

Need for the books could dwindle in the future. The nation’s largest home-improvement store chain is joining a growing list of retailers, including Wal-Mart and Federated Department Stores, that are actively recruiting bilingual workers to help tap into the increasing buying power of Hispanics.

Retailers cite studies that show Hispanics will have $1 trillion in annual purchasing power in the United States by 2008, and that by 2050 they will constitute 25 percent of the national work force.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retail chain, has stepped up its effort to recruit Hispanic employees in recent years. At the end of 2004, the company had 128,000 Hispanic workers in the United States, or roughly 10 percent of its 1.2 million employees.

"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."

Wal-Mart also offers different products geared toward Hispanics at stores in predominantly Hispanic communities. Items include different brands of flour, refried beans, and health and beauty aids.

At The Home Depot Inc., the Atlanta-based chain of 1,890 stores is looking to add qualified Hispanic employees to its work force of 325,000, though it hasn’t said how many. It is looking for full- and part-time Hispanic workers, especially ones who speak both Spanish and English.

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.

"It’s a particularly wise move. It makes you relevant to Hispanics both as a place to buy products and a place to seek employment," said Jeffrey Humphreys, who studies minority buying power at the University of Georgia’s business school.

Major retailers realize that some Hispanic customers can get frustrated and end up leaving a store if they can’t communicate in Spanish with employees, said Barbara Serret, a Hispanic human resources manager at a Home Depot in Miami where about 30 percent of the store’s 207 employees are Hispanic.

"Having bilingual employees to help them, you can sell the whole package," Serret said.

Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores Inc. and Seattle-based Nordstrom Inc. have both worked with some of the same national Hispanic organizations that Home Depot is working with on its recruitment efforts.

Federated, owner of the Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s chains, began a partnership with the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility within the last year. The program is going well, spokeswoman Jean Coggan said, though she would not say how many of its 110,000 workers are Hispanic.

"We have seen steady growth in the Hispanic representation among our employees, both at the management and sales associate level," Coggan said.

Alfonso Martinez of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility said that in addition to mainstream retailers, major automakers such as General Motors and Ford also are offering scholarships for Hispanic college students and working with hundreds of schools to recruit Hispanic graduates for employment.

"Corporate America is playing catch-up to the Hispanic market boon," Humphrey said. "That boon wasn’t realized until the 2000 Census, which showed Hispanics’ share of the population and buying power was bigger than most everyone had imagined."

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