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O.C. BUSINESS PLUS | HEARD ON THE BEAT / RETAIL

HomeBase Building New Store Concept

May 09, 2000|LESLIE EARNEST | Leslie Earnest covers retail businesses for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-7832 and at leslie .earnest@latimes.com

"Who's got an idea for a store?"

That's what HomeBase Inc. managers and consultants began asking each other during brainstorming sessions last November. The result: a new store named House 2 Home that will focus on home furnishings, garden supplies and outdoor furniture.

To develop the concept, participants studied market demographics, read trade journals and traveled the nation and Canada to visit different types of stores, said Henry Ragin, vice president of merchandising for the home improvement chain.

There was no time to dawdle. HomeBase gave itself 10 months from holding its first brainstorming meeting to opening the first House 2 Home store.

Last week, Ragin displayed still-evolving plans for the concept in a conference room in HomeBase's Irvine headquarters. As planned, House 2 Home stores will sell a wide range of products, from towels and flatware to dining room sets and party supplies. They'll also have a nursery, cafe and even a balloon arranging department.

As competition has heated up in the Southland's home improvement market, HomeBase has been playing David to Home Depot Inc.'s Goliath. It is also playing catch-up since Home Depot last year launched Expo Design Centers, which sell interior design products.

Industry experts have said that HomeBase must find a way to differentiate itself from Home Depot because competing head-on with the larger company is difficult.

HomeBase insists that its House 2 Home stores will not imitate Expo Design outlets. For example, while Expo Design Centers sell toilets and kitchen cabinets, House 2 Home stores will not. On the other hand, House 2 Home stores will sell flatware and towels, while Expo Design Centers don't sell dinnerware and currently carry only a limited selection of towels.

House 2 Home stores will be laid out so that customers shopping for major purchases--such as flooring or wall-to-wall carpet--will encounter items they might buy on impulse, such as silk flowers and picture frames.

HomeBase will test its concept with five new stores, including one in Foothill Ranch. Most of the new stores will be developed in what are now HomeBase stores. Liquidation sales are underway in those stores, and remodeling will begin in July.

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