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Home Depot buys into LCD televisions

Where can you buy a flat-panel TV? Nearly everywhere, including big-box stores and smaller regional retailers.

Analyst Steve Kovsky noticed something a bit odd in a recent Sunday circular from Home Depot. Sandwiched between a 12-gallon wet-dry garage vac and a four-piece flashlight set was an ad for a 15-inch LCD television.

The home repair giant is part of a widening circle of retailers carrying flat-panel TVs. Kohl's Illinois, for example, which mostly specializes in clothes and housewares, and carries few electronics, is selling a $299 15-inch liquid crystal display TV from China's Hisense at the moment.

And Home Depot is making more than a token appearance in the market. The company sells 37-inch and 42-inch LCD TVs--both from Polaroid--that sell for $1,999 and $3,199, respectively. Besides Polaroid, Home Depot carries models from Sharp, Magnavox and Sylvania. Some sets are sold in the stores, while others are sold strictly via the company's Web site, according to a Home Depot representative.

"You will see smaller, regional retailers get into TVs, too," said Kovsky, who works at Current Analysis.

The trend is a result of a couple of factors. More companies, for instance, have entered the booming TV market in the past few years. The list includes PC manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell, which have already sold LCD monitors, but also Polaroid and Westinghouse, which have very little connection to TVs or LCD monitors.

These companies need retail outlets, and just as important, they need shelf space. A 42-inch TV is larger than most other electronic products, limiting the number of models that even an electronics superstore can display simultaneously. The long, deep rows of shelves at Home Depot seem tailor-made for big items such as LCD TVs. And although prices have dropped over the past few years, retailers can still make money on flat-panel TVs, analysts say--particularly the larger sets.

TV ads also seem to act like catnip for consumers.

"A lot of retailers find that it gets people in the door," Kovsky said.