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Home Depot To Roll Out Appliances In January

After a year of market testing amid intense industry speculation, home-improvement giant The Home Depot is poised to launch a chainwide rollout of major appliances beginning next month.

The 901-unit retailer will initially carry white goods from only two suppliers: GE Appliances (including both GE and Hotpoint brands) and Whirlpool. Appliance delivery and installation will be handled by third-party delivery firms, under contract to Home Depot.

The delivery firms will receive merchandise directly from the manufacturers' regional distribution centers, inspect it, then deliver it to the consumer, generally in about 48 hours from the time the order is placed at the Home Depot store.

Overseeing the new majap program is former Campo executive Don Galloway, Home Depot's national product manager for appliances.

Plans reportedly call for rolling out appliances beginning in January, with 45 SKUs per store, initially to about 100 Home Depot locations per month.

In addition to the merchandise on the floor, each store will showcase a kiosk with a 17-inch touchscreen to provide customers with links to the two white-goods manufacturers' Internet product-information sites. Consumers will be able to compare appliance features and benefits online, check availability, and place orders through the kiosks.

In its floor displays, the home-improvement giant is taking a "niche" approach, stocking strictly the best-selling units in each appliance category.

In addition, higher-end, more specialized products will be displayed in kitchen vignettes in Home Depot's remodeling/cabinet departments, which have stocked appliances for several years. The appliance assortments in those departments have now been upgraded to focus on units such as stainless-steel, professional-style models.

The most expensive, top-of-the-line appliances are carried in Home Depot's new Expo stores. The chain has close to 20 Expo stores now, with at least 200 planned.

Home Depot has been testing its new major appliance strategy for about a year, beginning in Boston. The initial test involved GE appliances exclusively, according to sources close to Home Depot. As the trial program progressed, Whirlpool merchandise was added. The market test ultimately involved 32 Home Depot locations before the "go" decision was made.

Two of those test locations are in Jacksonville, Fla. Home Depot stores there are displaying 94 feet of appliances, about 60% of them under GE's two brands, the rest Whirlpool. Starting from the 45 units on display, variations in colors and features actually give Home Depot close to 110 items to sell.

Above the majaps on the floor, "boxed goods" that can be carried home by the customer, such as dishwashers and over-the-range microwave ovens, are stacked in their cartons in Home Depot's familiar style. Initially, the stores will carry only over-the-range microwaves unless individual store managers decide to stock countertop ovens as well, sources tell TWICE.

Next month's initial rollout of the appliance program reportedly will encompass at least 100 stores in eight markets. All Home Depot stores will be included by the end of the third quarter. The chain is also said to be installing a new computer system specifically to handle appliance sales in all stores.

In a recent meeting with analysts, GE chairman Jack Welch reportedly said he expected Home Depot to add $500 million to his company's annual appliance volume.

Home Depot currently operates 848 home centers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, plus 50 stores in Canada and three in Chile. According to the company, its U.S. stores draw at least 20,000 customers each week, and 80% of those customers are homeowners.

Home Depot operates an interactive Web site -- www.homedepot.com -- which offers tips and advice on home-improvement projects. Other than gift certificates, no merchandise is sold on the site.