Action mode at Lowe’s

“We cannot afford to sit back and wait for the macro environment or the housing gods to help us.”—Larry Stone, Lowe’s

Lowe’s has all the ingredients of a great story. The humble beginnings. The dramatic makeover. The rise to prominence.

The trajectory represents a corporate version of a Horatio Alger novel, or one of the early Rocky movies.

In its most recent chapter, Lowe’s, along with the industry, has taken some body blows and the results show it: 2007 earnings were down 9.5 percent, and comp-store sales were down 5.1 percent. But, to many observers and much of the home improvement industry this is where the story starts to get really interesting.

It doesn’t hurt that 38-year veteran Larry Stone has been doing part of the story telling. His quote above reflects what our editors feel is the most important element of the Lowe’s strategy today: the determination to take charge of matters.

That mindset is most pronounced in plans for store growth. While the company has scaled back its previous growth plans by 20, the Mooresville, N.C.-based retailer is still planning 120 store openings in the 2008 fiscal year.

Details of the Lowe’s story are spelled out in this issue beginning on page 23, highlighted by observations from Stone and Lowe’s CEO Robert Niblock. Below are some of Stone’s more colorful comments from recent presentations that have been rescued from the editing-room floor.

On the philosophy of Confucius:

“I stumbled across this quote recently and I think it pretty well sums up the way we’re thinking about the current environment. ‘The gods cannot help those who don’t seize opportunities.’”

On home improvement:

“I think the great thing about home improvement, why I get so excited about the industry, is there’s a tremendous amount of new products coming out. I think there’s a lot of great new products that once people realize what’s out there, it gives us lots of up side potential down the road, in my opinion.”

On competition:

“We’re not going to go in and try to bully over a market or try to go in and take everybody out. If you think if you go back and study this industry, there’s been a lot of folks that have come in this industry with that strategy and they’re not around today. I think that would be a failed strategy and certainly create a lot of ill will in the communities we operate in.”

On the changing season:

“We’re very excited about spring. We think that if we get the momentum going and get the American consumer where they can get a little bit of good news and open the paper every day and not see gloom and doom–we think once you get momentum, then it certainly helps drive business.”

The story never ends.