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ATLANTA—Responding to a difficult economy by increasing its focus on the customer, the Home Depot is aggressively expanding its store refreshment program, executives said at its second-quarter conference call.

After a successful six-store test program, Home Depot will reset over 100 bays in more than 500 (including all 40 in Atlanta) stores to improve the shopper experience. The company also is accelerating its $350-million store improvement plan, installing self checkout and adding call boxes. In addition, the chain will increase the number of associate hours to improve customer service, an unusual move in the fall.

“In a down market you have to get more aggressive to hold share,” said Bob Nardelli, chairman, president and CEO. “Clearly that is a priority in the second half.”

The chain has one factor working in the chain’s favor: As the economy tightens and housing continues to age, more shoppers will spend on household repairs, he noted.

“We believe that discretionary dollars will become repair and maintenance dollars,” Nardelli said.

The company reported second quarter net earnings of $1.86 billion, up 9.8% compared to the same period in fiscal 2005. Sales for the quarter totaled $26 billion, a 16.7% increase from the second quarter of fiscal 2005. Comparable store sales declined 0.2%, though executive vp and CFO Carol Tomé noted that comps were negatively affected by 2.1% because of the chain’s strategic cannibalization of existing stores by new units.

During the quarter, the company 30 new stores, including two relocations, with two new stores in Canada and one new store in Mexico, bringing the total store count to 2,079.

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