Home Depot and the Trane Co. in early September announced plans to expand their installed residential HVAC pilot program to the Atlanta area.

The pilot has been successful enough and Trane wholesalers and dealers have been happy enough with the program that it may be expanded nationwide, said Dale Green, vice president/sales and marketing, Trane Unitary Products Group.

The original test, which began in the spring at Home Depot stores in the Tennessee cities of Knoxville, Chattanooga and Kingsport, as well as Dalton, Ga., has delivered positive results, Green said. Trane displays will be installed in Home Depot stores throughout the greater Atlanta area to generate consumer leads and build awareness for the program. Leads then will be assigned to Trane Comfort Specialist dealers, who will make in-home consultations on behalf of Home Depot.

"We've been delighted by the way our customers have responded to the first test of the program in Tennessee and north Georgia," said Chuck Berk, Home Depot national product manager. "Now we want to gauge customer interest in a major metropolitan area. Atlanta, as our headquarters city, is a logical choice."

The Home Depot displays show typical Trane equipment, and customers are prompted to phone in a request to a call center. The call center is run by Home Depot subsidiary and Trane wholesaler Apex Supply (Atlanta). Apex personnel pre-qualify the customer and direct the lead to a Trane Comfort Specialist.

Green said he expects 50 or more dealers in the Atlanta area to sign up for the program.

Apex Vice President Buddy Wallace pointed out that the new program is an extension of Home Depot's growing commitment to better serve its trade customers.

"Partnering with professional contractors in the marketplace is a new arrangement for Home Depot," Wallace said. "This program utilizes Apex's expertise in HVAC to provide an installed program focused on total customer satisfaction."

Green said the Atlanta expansion is phase two of the pilot.

"We want to see how the second phase goes, which is the Atlanta expansion," Green said. "The next decision is do we want to expand the pilot outside of Apex's area?"

Green said the company has received calls from dealers who are not in the Apex Supply service area asking when the program will be expanded to their regions. He said Trane has also heard from "several" other wholesalers who want to be part of the program.

If the program were expanded it would require a larger call center that's not part of Apex Supply, he said. The pilot is serving to work out details of the program.

"We want to test the concept, to make sure it's valid, that it does what we want it to do and to test the processes before we roll it out to other distributors," Green said. "That includes the sales process itself: the initial contact with the consumer, how the lead is handled and qualified, how the lead is passed to the Trane Comfort Specialist and how he makes the sales call. We've got to capture pertinent information from the buyer, such as were all the promises kept and did the installation meet your expectations? The ultimate goal is to leave with a happy customer."

Expansion of the program would also depend on whether Trane distributors and dealers could meet the demand in a given area. The Trane Comfort Specialist program is only a year old, Green said, and while most geographic areas are covered, it's not 100% yet.