Executives for The Home Depot announced today the launch of a new program, called "First for Pro," designed to better serve professional customers. First for Pro includes new hours to better fit professionals' schedules, more point-of-sales staffing, specialty parking for pros, more loading assistance, and an easier system for product returns.

The program represents a new effort to reach out to professional customers, a group that The Home Depot says includes professional builders and remodelers as well as maintenance managers and other folks who get paids to keep up buildings. It's a valuable group for the company; The Home Depot says 4% of its customers generate about one-third of the company's sales.

Executive vice president of U.S. stores Marvin Ellison said the company has not fully adjusted to address the concerns of professional customers. He said the majority of professional sales are made more out of convenience for the professional and are not contractual or large purchases. Ellison said the average ticket for a professional customer is under $5,000, but he did not provide a specific amount.

"We need to make that purchase of convenience the best possible experience," Ellison said. "We are going to accept the reality that we are a store of convenience."

Ellison said that in developing the program, the company went deeper into its analytics and reviewed the shopping habits of professionals at its stores. He said Home Depot offiicials reviewed when, at what locations, and in what departments professionals shopped in. They wanted to understand the professionals and better serve them, Ellison said. He said Home Depot plans to have the program completed by Jan. 31.

Officials for the world's largest home improvement retail company also said they would focus on using analytics and information about customers, including professional customers, when advertising. One company official said The Home Depots wants to "know whether they are dealing with a roofer with five employees or a master electrician with no employees" so the company can focus its marketing accordingly.

Speaking in Boston at the company's annual conference for investors and stock analysts, company officials also discussed ways they are seeking to make the company a "product authority" by offering a wide range of products, using analytics to drive value, tracking customer shopping habits, and deepening customer understanding of the products they are purchasing.

The Atlanta-based company has implemented new tools and programs to help their employees with those needs, they said. The first was the introduction of the "First Phone," a hand-held device that serves as a walkie-talkie, inventory tracking device, and checkout device. According to Ellison, the device increases productivity and improves customer service. The company has also sought to improve employee experience by providing staffers with hands-on experience regarding the products they sell. One example provided was in the flooring department, where The Home Depot had employees actually lay tile so they could know what type of tools and supplies were needed and how to do it.

The Home Depot operates more 2,200 stores in the U.S., Mexico, China, and Canada. It posted $2.6 billion in earnings during the fiscal year 2009, which ended Jan. 31, 2010.

The Home Depot has sought in the past to reach out to the pro, most notably with HD Supply, a pro-oriented operation that included several dozen lumberyards in Florida and Georgia as well as a set of repair and remodel stores in the Los Angeles area. The Home Depot eventually spun off HD Supply under pressure from shareholders, who wanted The Home Depot to concentrate on its retail operations. It did, but ever since the spinoff of HD Supply, The Home Depot has continued to make "own the pro" one of its key objectives.