Home Depot ProBook prints in 25 versions

Hardware retail giant Home Depot has 800 stores nationwide, so why should it settle for just one version of its ProBook catalog? Since launching the business-to-business catalog nearly four years ago, the $30.2 billion Home Depot has expanded the book from one to 25 regional editions, which run an average of 1,000 pages each.

Having just one version “would cause too much confusion on our store associates’ part when taking customers’ calls,” explains Diemer Thompson, ProBook manager for the Atlanta-based Home Depot. (ProBook customers place orders with their local Home Depot stores, which serve as the catalog’s distribution centers.) Many of the catalog’s merchandise offerings vary by region-a contractor in Florida, for instance, doesn’t need the same grade of insulation as a builder in Minnesota. “Since we don’t sell the same insulation everywhere, we don’t want the store associates to have to go through the trouble explaining different grades of insulation to customers,” Thompson says.

Home Depot stores in different regions also stock goods from different vendors, and with eight regional buying offices, the regional catalogs are separately merchandised.”Two versions of the catalog may offer the same 24-oz. hammer,” Thompson says, “but one region may choose Estwing, the other Stanley.”

The ProBook targets large contractors, electricians, landscapers, plumbers, and property maintenance managers. After launching the catalog with one national edition in 1995, Home Depot expanded to two editions in ’96, eight in ’97, and 19 last year. Each edition contains some 40,000 SKUs, with 30%-40% product overlap among the books.

Home Depot produces one version of each regional ProBook a year. This year, the company will circulate 4 million books, a 14% increase over the 3.5 million distributed last year. In between annual mailings, the retailer mails 48- to 64-page catalogs to both businesses and consumers.

Home Depot has yet to break out ProBook sales from regular consumer store sales. “We have no way of tracking ProBook sales,” Thompson says, as orders are shipped directly from the stores. “We’re developing a system, however.”

A data management challenge To produce the increasing number of versions, Home Depot in February signed a five-year contract with printer Banta Corp. to compile, print, and distribute the books. “Home Depot may buy hammers from 18 vendors, but we have to know which ones go in which books and keep track of all of them,” says John Sissen, the general manager for Banta’s Integrated Media/ Digital Group.

To manage the digital content, Banta worked with Home Depot to develop a database of product information. “Our copywriters take information from Home Depot’s vendors and turn it into something that makes sense for the catalogs,” Sissen says. Banta works closely with Home Depot’s regional offices to maintain and update the database. To keep track of pricing changes within the regions, Banta uses a proprietary software program called Meadows, which in turn relies on Autoprice, a program that allows it to update prices up until press time.

Such software programs could make it relatively easy for Home Depot to produce even more versions of ProBook. But Thompson says he’s not sure how many more versions-if any-Home Depot will take on. “The program is still relatively new, and there are still a number of regions the catalog should specifically target,” he says. “But we might go next to a CD-ROM or the Internet.”

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