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Tractor Supply Co. CEO Details New Ads, Hiring Plans

As part of its continuing Retail Leadership webinar series, the National Retail Federation invited Hal Lawton, president and CEO of Tractor Supply Co., to discuss how his company is adapting to a new retail landscape and quickly shifting customer expectations.

Discover some of the key takeaways from the webinar and learn how Lawton is positioning Tractor Supply Co. to serve customers during COVID-19.

Tractor Supply Co. is protecting customers and employees from COVID-19.

Lawton says preventive measures against COVID-19 have been top of mind for the company since early March. The company has offered paid sick leave to employees and given appreciation bonuses to frontline retail workers. In total, Tractor Supply has allocated more than $30 million to appreciation bonuses over the past three months.

In addition, the company has added a Greeter role. This role is in charge of wiping down all carts and high-touch surfaces throughout the day. They also monitor the number of customers who enter the store, ensuring social distancing remains possible.

The company is launching new ads and hiring thousands.

Lawton also confirmed the company has hired almost 5,000 team members in the last six weeks in retail or distribution center positions.

“We’re increasing our capacity to serve,” he says.

Lawton says there are still many potential shoppers who don’t know about his company, or don’t understand its products. As more people spend time working from home or limiting time outside their homes, he says it was “an opportunity to invest in our business, and reach out to new customers.”

The company recently began a national advertising campaign, its first in a decade. Ads launched on March 23, just as many shoppers were beginning to consider their homes in a new light.

“We’ve now had three sets of campaigns that speak to the emotion of the moment, but also our safe shopping environment and illustrate some of our new features like curbside pickup,” he says.

Lawton says same-store comp sales could rise as much as 25 percent in the second quarter.

Lawton says customer expectations are shifting during the pandemic.

Lawton says traditionally, customers have used a set of criteria to decide when and where they’ll shop, including a store’s price, stable inventory and ease of purchase. After COVID-19, he says store safety represents a powerful new mandate.

“I think that criteria radically changed as the coronavirus pandemic took hold,” Lawton says.

Lawton says buy online, pickup in store and curbside delivery options plus in-store sanitation and PPE will be important for customers moving forward. The company has previously invested in e-commerce, which Lawton says enabled it to move quickly to accommodate new customer behaviors.

Lawton discussed the future of Tractor Supply Co.

Customers are reconnecting with their homes amid COVID-19, Lawton says. He says pet adoption and sustainable gardening are at an all-time high, leading many shoppers to home improvement stores.

“I think that’s going to stay for the foreseeable future,” he says.

Lawton says the company anticipates strong demand for patio heaters and fireplaces before fall as customers continue to enhance their homes for comfort.

He says if COVID-19 social restrictions continue for the foreseeable future, new shopping expectations and delivery models will become ingrained in customers’ heads. Contactless purchases and payment methods could quickly become the standard for retail. He says Tractor Supply Co. has installed contactless payment options at a handful of stores, but all locations will feature that technology within 90 days.

Above all, in-store connections will be vital.

“Customer service is going to be much more important. Customers are going to expect a heightened level of customer service,” he says.

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