Lowe’s president and CEO Marvin Ellison recently discussed how the big-box home improvement chain is adapting to serve customers during COVID-19, prioritize shopper safety and respond to nationwide social movements.
Ellison was the latest guest in the National Retail Federation‘s continuing Retail Leadership series. Previously, Hal Lawton, president and CEO of Tractor Supply Co., outlined his company’s hiring and advertising strategies.
Lowe’s is committed to helping frontline workers.
As the pandemic began to affect retail, Ellison says his mission was to give essential employees the tools they needed to safely serve customers.
“The company has always cared about communities, and associates on the frontlines have always been the hallmark of what makes the company special,” Ellison says.
He says ongoing investments to equip associates with upgraded POS systems, handheld devices and effective planograms help associates understand their value to the company, especially during COVID-19.
Ellison says the company has given more than $450 million in special payments to employees since March. Lowe’s has also offered telemedicine services to all associates free of charge.
Lowe’s has hired more than 100,000 seasonal associates.
The company usually counts roughly 300,000 employees, but Ellison says this spring, Lowe’s hired an additional 100,000 seasonal associates, including many who had been laid off or furloughed from other retail sectors.
“To me, that’s one of the great contributions we’ve made as a corporate citizen,” Ellison says.
Ellison says seasonal associates will receive immediate benefits, including the bonuses the company has provided since March. In the first quarter of 2020, Lowe’s net sales rose 11 percent over the same period in 2019.
Ellison asks retail leaders to ‘do more.’
In addition to how Lowe’s is responding to new employee and shopper needs during the pandemic, Ellison also discussed how social justice movements across the world are impacting the home improvement chain. Ellison discussed growing up in rural Tennessee and later advancing to become one of only five Black CEOs of a Fortune 500 company.
Ellison recounted a lesson his father had taught him: to talk less and do more. He says that tenet has guided his time at Lowe’s, where executive team diversity has grown in recent years.
The company is also giving more than $25 million in grants to small businesses owned by minorities. Ellison says Lowe’s received more than 110,000 applications since the program started. He says the swell of applications shows there’s a true need for support at the ground level for many businesses.
“That’s my challenge. Let’s stop talking, let’s start doing,” Ellison says.