CEO Marvin Ellison takes Lowe’s back to basics

When Marvin Ellison took the helm at Lowe’s last summer — after competing with the company for over a decade as an executive at The Home Depot — his work was cut out for him. “We had to make some changes,” he said during a fireside chat on stage at NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show, “and had to make them quickly.” Within the first six months, Ellison hired retail leaders in merchandising, store operations, supply chain and IT to help him “modernize and transform” the home improvement giant. “We’re on a journey not to be a good company,” Ellison said, “but a great company.”

The three-step transformation plan started with retail’s fundamentals. With over 300,000 associates and healthy financial performance, “Lowe’s was a good example of ‘good being the enemy of the great,’” Ellison said — the company’s growth was drawing resources away from the basics, and “you can’t put the icing before the cake.” Now the focus is back on the foundation: Modern systems for merchandising, a sturdy supply chain and in-store systems that help associates serve customers better.

Ellison’s advice to leaders “who desire to do more”:
  • Plan well, both short- and long-term objectives
  • Don’t let anyone kill your dreams
  • Have an insatiable appetite to learn
  • Make lateral moves within a company to expand your knowledge base
  • “Tell the world to get out of your way”

“All customers want to be served in a way that allows them to fulfill their desires when they shop,” Ellison said. “You want to serve the customer any way they choose to be served.” That means great product presentation in-store and online, great staffing and training, in-stock products, a seamless multi-platform business and marketing messages that resonate with customers.

Step two of Ellison’s long-term plan is sustainable growth by effectively serving the needs of various customers within the same framework: The Do-it-Yourself customer looking for product knowledge like what to buy and how to use it, the Do-it-for-Me customer looking for help with project management and professionals like general contractors who use Lowe’s as a supply house, sometimes multiple times a day.

The home improvement industry market is estimated to be $900 billion annually, of which Lowe’s and The Home Depot share $200 billion. The final step in Ellison’s plan is aggressively pursuing that untapped $700 billion. “Customers respond well to innovation,” Ellison said — Lowe’s has its eye on trends like battery-powered tech and appliances that double as communication hubs, like smart refrigerators that update grocery lists. “Customer expectations remain high,” he said, “[and] competition is fierce.”

For more insights from retail leaders, check out the show recap, including stories from the CEO of Levi’s, the CTO of Walmart, the CEO of Target, the CMO of Chobani and more.

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