A test of a trade custom services department that started two years ago in EXPO Design Centers in San Diego and Atlanta has been expanded and is now operating in six locations. The others are Dallas, south Florida, Los Angeles, and most recently, Burlington, Mass.

EXPO, a division of The Home Depot, has created a Pro-Services division to offer members of the trade and their customers professional turnkey interior design products and services all under one roof, said Robert Lee, Pro-Services manager. The Professional Services Office being tested is a dedicated department that provides trade professionals with personalized account representatives, extended store hours and access to EXPO's showrooms. Each EXPO Design Center has eight designer showrooms: Kitchens; Baths; Appliances; Lighting; Rug & Carpeting; Window Treatments & Accessories; Patio and Tile; and Stone & Wood.

The number of custom home starts in a specific area is one of the determining factors in selecting an EXPO to test the Pro-Services concept, Lee said.

"Our customer base consists mostly of custom builders," he said. "In addition we also service the designers, architects and remodelers."

Asked how EXPO's Pro-Services division compares with what contractors and builders can get from the local PHCP wholesaler, Lee said, "Service is the key to our program. We know that time is a huge issue for the builder. With our service, we take the customer for the builder, allowing (the builder) more time on job sites. Essentially we would like the builder to think of us as his branch office."

The Pro-Service office has associates who can visit the trade professionals onsite; designers to coordinate the builder's guidelines with the desires of the builder's customer; facilitators to process orders via fax, phone or in-store; and an office coordinator to follow up on orders.

EXPO is focusing attention and energy on building trade professionals because it recognizes that a small percentage of those customers are already shopping in its stores, Lee said. "We know that the builder has different needs than the consumer, so we are trying to accommodate them."