Home Depot goes Pro

Retailer bumps up services dedicated to builders, contractors

Weekend DIYers may flock to the local Home Depot to prep for their projects, but for the professional customer, the Atlanta-based home improvement retailer is more like the neighborhood 7-Eleven.

“Pros want us to be a convenience store,” said J.T. Rieves, Home Depot vice president for Pro. “This time, we took what the pros want.”

What they want, Rieves said, is to spend as little time as possible at Home Depot.

“Everything is about getting you in and out fast,” he said.

Professional customers, such as contractors and builders, make up 30 percent of Home Depot’s business, but are just 3 percent of the shoppers who come through the door. While a typical shopper goes to Home Depot four times a year, pros are there five times a month.

Home Depot may have seen an opportunity to grow its business during an otherwise slow time by catering to the habits of its highest-spending customers, said research analyst Colin McGranahan with Sanford Bernstein. He said the strategy is an appropriate one.

“It’s a whole lot easier to align with what the pro was using you for before than trying to change the pro’s mind,” he said.

The strategy, which began this spring, amounts to many small changes that in some cases are a big investment.

In most stores, professional customers will find dedicated parking spots. Orange-vested employees load pros’ purchases into their vehicles, meaning those customers don’t need to bring workers from a job site.

During the most popular shopping hours for pros, associates at the Pro desk will spin their computers outward, standing in front of the counter so they can easily interact with customers and answer questions. Cordless scan guns mean cashiers can ring up customers more quickly, and Pro cashiers are knowledgeable about customers’ jobs and able to engage them about their projects.

Rieves said the company started a rewards program for pros and is experimenting with more forms of VIP treatment.

“This isn’t a typical customer,” Rieves said. “They should be treated differently.”

So far, Rieves said, the results have been promising as pro customers shop more frequently.

Eenith Norman, assistant field manager for Epic Precision, said he goes to Home Depot twice a day, three days a week. The cordless scan guns mean he can get out of the store faster, and he said the Pro parking is a nice addition.

Norman said he would like to see customer service continue to improve, but he has noticed the steps the company has already taken.

“It helps make things a little bit better,” he said.