From Bloomberg

Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Home Depot Inc. is accelerating the hiring of more than 70,000 seasonal workers in the U.S. amid competition to sell flowers, fertilizer and grills to homeowners reluctant to spend on big-ticket remodeling.

The world’s largest home improvement retailer is starting the hiring process a month earlier than last year ahead of its biggest selling season of the year, Tim Crow, Home Depot’s executive vice president of human resources, said yesterday in a telephone interview.

“We want to get out there early,” Crow, 56, said from Home Depot’s headquarters in Atlanta. “There’s an early-mover advantage. There is competition for the best employees.”

Home Depot will start adding seasonal workers in south Florida next month, he said. The retailer will roll out discounts on shrubs, lawn mowers and patio furniture as weather warms across the U.S. to compete for sales with Lowe’s Cos., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and independent garden centers.

“Seasonal has been a big driver of the business,” David Strasser, an analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in New York, said yesterday in an e-mail. “Small ticket has clearly driven the day as large ticket continues to slump,” said Strasser, who recommends buying Home Depot shares.

Home Depot is testing and training candidates more rigorously, lengthening the hiring process conducted over the telephone and in stores, Crow said. The company plans to hire about the same number of seasonal workers as last year while plans for permanent hiring, based on sales growth, haven’t been decided yet, he said.

Increased Hiring

Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg project Home Depot’s revenue will advance 2.6 percent to $69.8 billion in the fiscal year ending Jan. 31. Sales gained 2.8 percent last year, ending four consecutive annual declines as the recession and tumbling home prices sapped demand for kitchen and bath remodeling.

Home Depot had 321,000 employees as of Jan. 30, 2011, up 4,000 from a year earlier, according to a filing. That increase was the first in four years.

Home Depot is hiring after U.S. retailers boosted seasonal hiring 14.5 percent in the fourth quarter, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. Seasonal retailers added 718,500 jobs in the final three months of 2011, the Chicago-based consulting firm said in a statement Jan. 9. Fourth-quarter employment fell shy of the 720,800 jobs added in 2007.

Job Market

“The job market is getting better, making it harder to find the right people,” John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said yesterday by telephone. “As hiring gets tougher, it takes companies more time to find the people who have the skills they’re looking for. Companies don’t want to bring people on and find out they’re not working out.”

About half of the 70,000 people Home Depot hired as seasonal workers a year ago remained in permanent positions such as cashiers and sales staff, Crow said.

Many consumers are wary about spending in a U.S. housing market, where prices may fall further under the weight of foreclosures and may not rebound until 2013, according to a survey of 109 economists released last month by Zillow Inc.

Home Depot fell 0.2 percent to $43.46 yesterday in New York. The shares climbed 20 percent last year, outperforming the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, which finished 2011 little changed from a year earlier.