By BUILDER Magazine Staff. Big-box electronics stores are vying for the hearts and wallets of home builders and home buyers. In May, Dallas-based CompUSA, with 225 retail stores nationwide, opened its first "digital design center" in Plano, Texas, (see "Network Superstore"). Builders can send buyers to the center to choose electronics for their new home. Sammy Saloum, CompUSA's vice president of business development, says his company is working with four builders, and has 20,000 homes either completed or on contract. Two more centers will open in other cities in the coming months, though Saloum declines to say where.

Now Minneapolis-based Best Buy Co. has opened a challenge with its "Networked Home Solutions" service. The service offers a selection of home networking packages based on the OnQ system, that are installed by Decision One, a Frazer, Pa.-based home integrator with a national footprint. The 500-store electronics chain started a pilot with select production builders in the Minneapolis and Dallas markets in September, according to Nancy Keilty, director of business development. Eventually, they will target the top 20 builders in designated market areas.

Best Buy does not plan to open showrooms in its stores. Instead, Keilty says the company will train home builders' salespeople. At M.W. Johnson Construction, a Minneapolis-area production builder, Tadd Johnson, the company's estimator and purchaser, says that Best Buy outfitted a $529,000 show home with an OnQ network, as well as a flat plasma TV, and whole-house sound. "They ran ads in the newspaper and put up signs in their stores with directions to the house," says Johnson. "I would guess they increased traffic 100 percent in that model."

Best Buy unveiled its home networking system at this new home in Minneapolis. As it expands to other markets, it will compete with CompUSA for builders' business. CompUSA plans to put company representatives in selected developments. The company is already doing this at Canyon Gates, a planned community in the Houston area.