Rheem's presence in the retail market will grow when the company begins manufacturing water heaters for General Electric Appliances. The water heaters will be sold exclusively in The Home Depot stores, and are expected to be available at every store in the United States and Canada by June 30.

The idea for the new product line was developed jointly by The Home Depot and G.E. Appliances. The two companies then approached Rheem.

Rheem has been marketing its own line of retail water heaters for 15 years under the Richmond brand. The three-way agreement marked the first time Rheem will make water heaters for another company.

"Over the last several years, the industry has seen a dramatic shift to the retail channel," said Scott Martin, vice president/marketing, Rheem Water Heater Division. Rheem felt this partnership was a unique opportunity to capture a portion of this market while protecting its wholesale brands, he said.

"At the same time we will actively invest in our Rheem and Ruud brands to support our professional contractor and wholesaler channel," Martin said.

"It is no secret that many retailers have wanted the Rheem brands in their stores, but we have maintained that the Rheem and Ruud brands are for the professional contractor only. We are extremely committed to our professional contractor base and will continue to grow our presence in this market," he said.

G.E. has never sold water heaters under its name, said Mark Reilly, communications manager, G.E. Appliances. The new water heaters will be sold under the company's Smartwater line of products.