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Expert: Lowe’s Is Solid, but Was Slower to Invest in Changes

Warren Shoulberg is a retail industry observer and a contributing writer to a variety of business publications, including Forbes. He spoke with Hardware Retailing about Lowe’s position in the home improvement industry and the opportunities the big-box retailer has.

For a comprehensive look at Lowe’s, read the the whole Lowe’s 360 package from the August issue of the magazine. 

Hardware Retailing (HR): What is your perspective on Lowe’s current position?
Warren Shoulberg (WR): Lowe’s is a very good retailer and they have the disadvantage that Home Depot, their biggest competitor, is an excellent retailer. It’s not like Lowe’s is doing a lot of things wrong or is not a good company. They just happen to be in the space where they’re competing against one of the best retailers in America. 

Under Marvin Ellison, Lowe’s has done a lot of things right. If you look at what Ellison has done since he came on board, he has focused on the core business and gotten rid of some of the distractions, whether it was Canada or Orchard Supply Hardware. He’s focused on the core business and that is very smart. I like, too, some of the merchandising projects he’s put into place. Connecting with the NFL was very smart. I see that they’ve just started carrying Yeti products in their stores and that was a great pickup for them. 

I think Lowe’s was further behind Home Depot than probably a lot of people realized.

Certainly, their e-commerce business is subpar and Home Depot has done a much better job on online sales than Lowe’s has. Lowe’s has been good with its on-the-channel, buy online, pickup in store program. That’s been a plus, but their e-commerce is on a very outdated platform. They need a substantial investment in that, which they’ve announced, but that’s going to take them some time to get there. 

HR: Why do you think they’re so behind on e-commerce?
WS: I think prior management didn’t make the tough calls that they needed to spend money on it. A lot of retailers did not make the investment they needed in their e-commerce infrastructure, whether it was giants like Walmart or Target, down through Bed, Bath & Beyond and some others. I think they just failed to realize how important e-commerce was going to be, so they didn’t put the resources behind it.

Lowe’s fell into that category of just not coming to grips with the fact that it was going to be critical to the business. So, Lowe’s is getting there, but it’s going to take them awhile. Home Depot made a more serious investment in e-commerce. They, too, were kind of late in the game, but not as late as Lowe’s. They’re further ahead and they are doing a better job. Home Depot is still not state-of-the-industry for retail in e-commerce, but certainly in the DIY category, they are ahead of Lowe’s and everybody else. 

HR: What opportunities do you see for Lowe’s  to differentiate from its competitors?
WS: Twenty years ago, Lowe’s was further ahead in the home decorating sector. Somewhere along the line, that got played down and now you see Home Depot putting a pretty serious push on that, whether it’s their purchase of The Company Store or their own decor business. That’s a huge business. I think Lowe’s needs to step up their game in that sector. It’s a great ally business and it just is a good fit for them. I think home decor and e-commerce offer two obvious areas for growth.

About Kate Klein

Kate is profiles editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. She reports on news and industry events and writes about retailers' unique contributions to the independent home improvement sector. She graduated from Cedarville University in her home state of Ohio, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English and minored in creative writing. She loves being an aunt, teaching writing to kids, running, reading, farm living and, as Walt Whitman says, traveling the open road, “healthy, free, the world before me.”

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