From more workers to fewer toilets, Lowe’s CEO lays out growth plan

elyportillo@charlotteobserver.comMay 31, 2013 

— Lowe’s Inc. chief executive Robert Niblock told shareholders Friday that he’s counting on more in-store associates and a more focused approach to stocking the right items in each store to jump-start growth at the Mooresville-based home improvement retailer.

The company’s annual meeting, held at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, lasted only about 15 minutes and drew no questions from shareholders.

Since weathering the recession and fallen housing market, growth has been slow in coming at Lowe’s. The company’s sales ticked up 0.6 percent in 2012, to $50.5 billion. And sales fell unexpectedly in the first quarter this year, hurt in part by poor spring weather, dropping 0.5 percent, to $13.1 billion.

To counter that and bring growth, Niblock said the company is beefing up staffing in its stores during busy weekday shopping times and re-examining how it stocks stores.

“We’re going to have more (employee) hours on the floor during key times when the customer’s in there in order to be able to capitalize on the opportunity,” Niblock told The Charlotte Observer.

The company also plans to complete its review of all items it stocks. Niblock said the company had gone too far in favor of stocking as many items as it could in stores. That resulted in inventory with a wide selection but a shallow stock, meaning fast-selling items might not be available when customers want them.

“Part of the focus is to tighten up the width of the assortment and go deeper,” Niblock said. For example, in the past Lowe’s stocked a wider range of toilets in every store. “Last year, they went through the toilet line. They narrowed the width of the offering,” he said. “The width of the (product) line, not the width of the seat,” he specified.

“We were trying to stock some of those other options previously, but we weren’t selling enough of them.”

Now, if you go looking for an uncommon toilet at Lowe’s, they might not have that specific model in stock. But they’ll direct you to Lowes.com, where the company sells 600,000 items, or order it from another store.

The company is 80 percent finished with its item-by-item review, Niblock said, and 30 percent of stores have been “reset” with the new stock.

Shareholders also voted in favor of Niblock’s pay package Friday, with more than 94 percent voting “yes” in the nonbinding advisory vote. Niblock received $12.1 million worth of total compensation in 2012, more than $9 million of which was stock and stock options. Last year was good for shareholders, as the company’s rising share price resulted in a total return of more than 46 percent for those who owned Lowe’s stock.

Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo

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