J.T. Rieves, vice president of pro business, The Home Depot
J.T. Rieves, vice president of pro business, The Home Depot

Ask J.T. Rieves to list competitors to The Home Depot’s pro business and he’ll provide the usual suspects, like Lowe’s, Menards, and perhaps your company. But he also will name one more that’s not located anywhere near his nearly 2,000 stores: Amazon.com.

“We have conversations today about Amazon just like we do any other competitor,” Rieves told ProSales in an exclusive interview last month. That’s in part because Amazon and its online siblings represent a threat to what Rieves regards as one of The Home Depot’s greatest assets—its convenience.

Making the shopping experience easier and faster has pretty much been Rieves’ primary job since he took on the role of vice president of pro business in August 2008. After poring over videotapes of pro shoppers from the moment they arrive to when they leave, Rieves’ team has already made it 27% quicker for pros to get in and out of the store than it took them in 2010.

“I hope we’re at least at parity” now with the time it would take to buy the same goods in a pro lumberyard, says Rieves, a native of Fort Myers, Fla., and 24-year veteran at The Home Depot.

Now, to speed service even more, Rieves is harnessing the Internet. By Labor Day, he planned to have running a new pro-oriented page on The Home Depot’s website that would enable a pro to place an order online and have it ready for pickup at the store a couple of hours later.

“That’s a really different experience than coming in and picking up the product yourself,” he said, particularly if you would have had to march to all parts of the big box to get your materials. “We think there are a lot of tech solutions where we can keep you out of the store [and hard at work].”

The Home Depot estimates that 3% of its customers account for at least 30% of annual sales. That works out to roughly $21 billion worth of trade in 2011. Those 3% generally aren’t the new home builders and big remodelers that a lot of pro-oriented LBM dealers cater to, but it does count many types of customers that pro dealers like to serve, including home flippers, property managers, companies doing work paid by insurers, government agencies at all levels, and even some commercial contractors. What matters is whether the customer fits particular “descriptors”—categories such as the time of day one shops and types of goods bought that suggest to The Home Depot the buyer is a pro.

“You could be someone who buys $100 a year or $1 million a year from us,” Rieves said. “How you hit those descriptors is what identifies you as a pro customer.”

Another of Rieves’ big initiatives has been to arrange for a staffer to be on hand to help load pros’ trucks. But it’s not just muscle that Rieves hopes to provide. “My hope is that if I pick the right person we can have some dialogue about what you’re buying and not buying,” he said. “They have a great opportunity to look in the pro’s supply closet.” By doing that, an alert loader might notice product in the truck bought elsewhere and remark that there’s a sale on in the store.