Interview: Tony Hurst Leading Lowe’s Canada Through the Integration and Unification of Systems Across Banners

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Tony Hurst knows home improvement. With more than 25 years of experience working within the sector, serving in just about every role from frontline customer service to executive leadership positions, he’s amassed a great deal of knowledge and understanding concerning the entirety of the home improvement retail operation. Specializing in enterprise strategy and transformation, Hurst joined the Lowe’s team in 2019 as the company’s Division President of the western United States. And after only a little more than a year, in January 2020, he was appointed to the position of President of Lowe’s Canada – a role in which he’s been charged with leading the strategic direction of the Canadian businesses and accelerating profitable growth. It’s a responsibility in which Hurst recognizes the inherent challenges. But it’s also one that he says he and his team have been relishing as they continue their work toward the integration and harmonization of the Canadian business.

“Retail is about being innovative and making sure that the organization is firmly grounded in the fundamentals of the business,” he asserts. “It’s about understanding consumer trends and the macroeconomic environment, and ensuring that everyone on the team around you remains students of the business in order to identify and understand all of the changes that happen within the industry on an ongoing basis. At the end of the day, we sell things and take care of our customers in the communities that we operate in. Focusing on these aspects of the business allows us to uphold our principles of execution and consistency within our stores, both in Canada as well as the U.S. However, our business model is dramatically different in Canada as compared with our U.S. operation. Lowe’s Canada runs different banners and has different store sizes and formats. And there’s also a different language to consider when we think about Quebec and our French customer-base. It’s been really important over the course of the past year or so that we focus a lot of our effort on making sure that each of these different brands represents Lowe’s Canada as a whole. There’s been a lot of work involved and a lot of moving parts to consider in order to standardize the Canadian side of the business.”

Unification of systems

Image: Lowe’s Canada

There’s been a lot of work involved, indeed. When Lowe’s acquired RONA in 2016, it added a host of locations to its Canadian enterprise. Now, with stores under the Lowe’s, RONA, Réno-Dépôt and Dick’s Lumber banners, the retailer operates more than 450 corporate and independent affiliated dealer locations in the country. Hurst explains that at the time of the acquisition there wasn’t a lot of focus and effort paid toward integrating RONA stores to a standardized business model, with much of the attention instead going to the reformatting of stores. Though he recognizes the importance of that sort of work toward the overall harmonization of the Lowe’s Canada store network, Hurst believes that the most critical change that’s required, posing the most significant improvements for both the company’s associates as well as its loyal customers, is the unification of systems across its banners.

“When you have distinct operating systems that don’t talk to each other, a lot of pressure is placed on the business’ ability to operate effectively,” he says. “In those scenarios, you’ve got to train specific skillsets for different systems, resulting in a disjointed experience for employees and customers. Over the past year, we’ve been focused on harmonizing the business in order to make it easier and more efficient for our associates to execute and for our customers to understand our brand identity. If you think of RONA stores, for example, we’ve got RONA big box stores, RONA proximity stores, Building Centres, Building Centre Plus stores, and we also have a dealer network. That’s a really confusing go-to-market strategy from a customer brand expectation perspective. So, we’ve been doing a lot of work around the ways we market to our customers and how we set an accurate expectation around the experience they’ll receive when they come into our different store locations across the country. We’ve also spent some time evaluating our assortment in the stores. And, in order to optimize our assortment, we’re paying a lot of attention to understanding what our best selling skus and categories are, and how they’re penetrated in the different stores, using that information to identify where we need to contract or expand.”

Empowering teams

Prior to joining Lowe’s, Hurst began his career at the competition, spending 14 years within senior management positions at The Home Depot where he rose to the ranks of Regional Vice President of the Pacific north region of its network. After acquiring substantial skills and knowledge related to the execution of strategies and initiatives, he then undertook a new challenge at JCPenny. It’s where he says he was exposed to operations for the first time, gaining invaluable experience concerning aspects of the business, like process development and IT integration, before moving on to serve in a merchant role in which he was responsible for negotiations and setting costs, sourcing, product innovation, private brand development, and more. He ended his stint at JCPenny as SVP of Stores, overseeing a network of more than 800 locations across the United States. Hurst’s involvement in a breadth of roles within retail organizations has equipped him with a proficiency concerning the many different functional areas of the business. And, it seems to have also helped shape his philosophies as a leader.

“Because I’ve had the opportunity to work within virtually every role, from cashier to leadership positions related to a number of different areas of the organization, I feel fortunate to have developed a unique perspective on leadership,” he says. “It helped me learn early on about the value of humility. When a leader thinks they know everything they stop listening, and then people don’t have much to say. We seek input from our entire team, particularly from those that are closest to our customers. Our associates carry a lot of weight in their message because they’re living the Lowe’s experience every day. One of the greatest responsibilities of a leader, however, is having the ability to empower your teams and to be courageous in decision-making. You’ve got to be able to make the tough decisions and provide clarity to your team around the direction that the company’s taking. It helps everyone understand the vision and objectives of the organization and creates buy-in, motivating the team to achieve its goals. And, a leader must also be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of individuals and the collective team, bringing out the best in everyone, and helping them grow and develop so they’re more effective in their roles and careers.”

Inspiring leadership

Tony Hurst (Image: Lowe’s Canada)

Hurst goes on to explain that, in addition to the qualities that he mentions as integral to a great leader, he believes that a strong work ethic is also required in order to set an example for others to follow. It’s a quality and way of thinking that he says was instilled in him through the influence of his father. He credits him as one of his earliest inspirations, adding that he always admired his focus and determination. And, because he’s enjoyed the opportunity to work with a number of different leaders throughout his career to this point, he says that he’s also been able to learn and draw from a number of different styles and philosophies. However, he recognizes Marvin Ellison, current CEO of Lowe’s, as one of the most capable and influential leaders that he’s been exposed to.

“Marvin’s a very humble leader,” Hurst points out. “He listens. And he listens not to respond, but to absorb input from people. He’s made sure that the culture at Lowe’s inspires everyone to be all in, to be committed to winning and to put in the hard work that’s required to achieve those wins. His leadership evokes dedication and commitment. When you approach tasks with that kind of attitude, any challenge can be overcome. And when it’s a collective effort from everyone, when the entire team buys in and aligns, moving in the right direction, it results in an incredibly powerful business tool for success. Marvin’s done a tremendous job of making sure that these are the characteristics that continue driving Lowe’s forward.”

Enhanced digitization

The dedication and commitment that Hurst talks about has helped the company overcome some of the recent challenges that were precipitated by impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic. He says that the company’s primary concern at the onset of the virus’ spread was to ensure the health and safety of its customers and associates, which required quick pivots to adhere to newly introduced safety protocols and standards. However, from a business perspective, he says that the disruptions caused by lockdowns and restrictions highlighted some of the improvements that Lowe’s Canada needed to make in order to provide a great online experience for its customers.

“We have three separate .ca platforms – Lowe’s, RONA and Réno-Dépôt – and realized immediately that greater harmonization was required in order to provide our customers with a seamless and consistent experience across these platforms,” he asserts. “In addition, when Ontario entered a curbside-only period, it really brought forward some operational aspects of the digital experience that we hadn’t yet thought through. During the early stages of the pandemic, the number one project that customers were undertaking was painting their homes. And if you think of the in-store paint buying experience, customers walk up to the paint chip wall and pull out colours and imagine them in their homes. But you can’t offer that experience to them when they aren’t in the store. So, with the help of one of our vendor partners, Sico, we developed an online paint tint selector so customers could still compare colours and order them online to be collected curbside. We also invested in pickup lockers so customers could enjoy a contactless experience when picking up orders. And we developed an online curbside scheduler so customers could schedule a time to pick up their products. In the end, we invested in a number of different technologies in order to make this omnichannel experience for our customers a reality, giving them the ability to shop when, how and where they want to shop with us.”

Same-day delivery


In addition to these investments to help enhance the evolving retail shopping experience for its customers, Lowe’s Canada recently announced the launch of its new same-day delivery service in over 140 Lowe’s, RONA, and Réno-Dépôt corporate stores across the country. As a result of the introduction of this key service, Lowe’s adds another layer to its already excellent customer service and experience. It also allows it to continue its positive trajectory with respect to meaningful digital investments and enhancements. And, as Hurst points out, it provides Lowe’s Canada with a speed of service that significantly benefits their home improvement professional and DIYer customer-base, differentiating the brand from its competition.

“When considering best-in-class retailers from an online perspective, it’s those that are recognized by the speed with which they can deliver product,” he says. “For our customers, especially the professional base, time is money to them. When they send workers into the store to find and select items, it results in unproductive payroll. This enhancement enables us with the ability to provide that speed of delivery and service that saves them valuable time and effort so they can continue working. Again, it’s really about giving the customer the choice to decide exactly how they want to shop with us and how they want to receive their product. To do this, we’ve leveraged our retail footprint across the country, shipping directly from stores, in order to eliminate transportation costs and increasing efficiency of service. It’s representing a really big piece of our strategy around truly becoming an omnichannel retailer for our customers.”

Increased assortment

In order to support the digitization of the business and bolster the online Lowe’s Canada experience, Hurst says that the company will also be investing heavily in broadening its online assortment, adding 120,000 skus next year to bring the total number of products online to 300,000. It’s an attempt, he explains, at achieving organic growth for the business while helping to elevate the brands’ digital offering. However, the exploration and introduction of new products isn’t limited to the Lowe’s Canada online environment. In fact, Hurst says that there are also really big opportunities for the company to make sure the right breadth and quality of product is available in-store as well, enabling it to capture the attention and spend of one of the most important customers in every home.

“The female customer is the one making the majority of the decisions in every household concerning things like décor and appliances,” he says. “Lowe’s U.S. is number one in market share in appliances. So, we see that as a big opportunity to make sure that we carry and feature top appliances as well as other innovative products that are on trend and presenting great value in order to attract the interest of the female customer. We’ve also made enhancements to some of our core décor departments like flooring, paints, blinds and cabinets. These improvements, along with the enhancement of our online offering, really positions us well to continue broadening our customer-base and reach as many home improvement professionals and DIYers as possible.”

Moving the brand forward

The veteran retail leader says that there’s still a lot of work to do for him and his team in order to harmonize the business and create consistent in-store experiences for each of its three banners and across their related websites. However, he also admits that he’s pleased with the progress that’s been made to this point, adding that there are many more improvements and enhancements on the horizon with respect to the continued development of the Lowe’s Canada omnichannel experience. He lauds the team around him concerning their contributions to the transformation, describing them as an “exceptional group of people”. However, when talking about the achievements that he and his team have realized since his appointment to President of Lowe’s Canada, he seems most impressed by the character of those involved and their focus and commitment to serving the brand’s loyal customers as they continue to move the Lowe’s Canada brand forward.

“We’ve accomplished so much as a team over the course of the past 20 months or so. But what I’m most proud of is the work that Lowe’s as an organization has done, both in Canada and the U.S., to take care of our communities during a time when they’ve needed us most. We’ve been on the forefront, whether it’s been through donations or working in the community or our Heroes campaign which has generated record amounts of money over the last two years, giving back to our customers and the neighbourhoods we serve. Lowe’s gives our stores the ability to take on local non-profit initiatives. I’ve been extremely humbled by the amount of passion that our associates have to not only take care of each other, but to take care of the communities that we’re a part of as well. And we’ll continue to focus on contributing to causes that are important to our core values as a company and serving the needs of the valued Lowe’s customer.”

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Article Author

Sean Tarry
Sean Tarry
Sean Tarry is an experienced writer who leverages his unique storytelling abilities to bring retail industry news and analysis to life. With 25 years of learning, including over a decade as Editor-In-Chief of Canadian Retailer magazine, he’s equipped with a deep understanding of the unique world of retail and the issues, trends, and innovators that continue to influence its evolution and shape its landscape.

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