Portas, Europe's largest remodeling company with approximately 500 franchises in 13 countries, has announced plans to enter the U.S. marketplace.

"They've done a good job in Europe," says Richard A. Healy Jr., president of CHART, which handles Portas' public relations in the United States. "Now, they've asked themselves, 'Where is our really powerful growth going to be?' And it's going to be in the United States market."

The plan calls for 10 to 15 people with remodeling or commercial business and sales backgrounds to become "master franchisees." They will go to Europe to be trained in Portas' systems and philosophies. Negotiations between the company and a few potential franchisees have already begun.

Once the master franchisees are trained, they'll return to the United States and will start up pilot operations, scheduled to begin in September. After approximately six months, those master licensees will begin selling franchises. The potential is there for each to license between 50 and 100 franchises. Healy says that franchises could pop up as early as April 2004.

Although Portas offers five product lines in Europe, they plan to start by dealing in only three in the United States: interior doors, kitchens, and staircases. Portas believes that it will be the first company to introduce staircase renovation -- where a "staircase-upon-a-staircase" is built using prefab laminates or wood -- to the North American market.

Healy says that Portas could very well introduce its other two product lines, exterior doors and windows, in the future. The company decided to wait on exterior doors because "there is already a well-developed exterior door culture in the United States." Portas is also working on adapting their window systems to accommodate the differences between European and American windows.