Tim Lowe is president of Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Lowes Foods, which operates 97 full-service supermarkets in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Welcome to Endcap, Tim. During a panel discussion at the recent Grocery Manufacturers Association Executive Conference, you noted that the industry “has been through disruption before but not in the form of e-commerce.” What do you believe is most significant about the present cycle?
Tim Lowe: In the past, disruption was incremental in its change and moved fairly slowly within its cycle. If you look at how grocers do business today, many do not look much different than they have over the past few decades. There have been some things that have helped us become more efficient, [but the majority] have all been focused on how to make the box work harder. The change we are seeing now is more of a true shift in how people purchase and eat the food they consume. These trends and shifts in the industry are happening faster than ever before and are not only focused within the four walls of the retailer. They also reflect the saying: “Change has never been this fast before, and it will never be this slow again.”
Lowes Foods undertook an audacious rebranding effort in 2014 that birthed a new vision and strategy, which has since produced extremely impressive results. What do you suppose would have happened had you chosen to proceed with business as usual?
TL: Business as usual was not an option for us. We saw a few years back that the consumer was changing and there was a convergence coming that was going to cause a seismic shift that would not leave the landscape the same. Therefore, we made a conscious decision to not simply allow the future to happen to us, but rather, we wanted to be a part of creating our own future. That was the drive that allowed us to take a different mindset to how we looked at who we were. Then the journey of giving up the traditional Lowes Foods to become what we ultimately envisioned began. We are still aggressively on that journey.
What are the most interesting things being revealed by early insights of a concierge-type service Lowes is piloting with a select group of “superuser” customers?
TL: This has been a very interesting test for us. Imagine being able to simply text in that you would like to have milk added to your shopping list. We know through our analytics who you are and we know what type of milk you usually purchase. So, we can add that to your list, getting you the correct size, fat content, brand, etc., without you having to tell us. Or maybe you are about to leave the office on your way home and need something for dinner—you text over the few items you would like and within 30 minutes it could be waiting for you to simply drive by and pick it up curbside. Or maybe you want to get a recipe idea for dinner; you can text and ask for some ideas and we’ll send you solutions and get the items together for you to prepare your meal.
Lowes Foods recently rolled out a provocative ad campaign highlighting specialty food offerings via blacked-out, fill-in-the-blank words to “cover” what might be perceived as expletive language. How fun was that?
TL: Wit and provocative are two of our brand values here at Lowes Foods. We believe in having fun with our guests while creating a great shopping environment. We say that we want to have marketing that pushes the envelope but at the same time you could explain it to your 12-year-old in the back seat. The “blanks” campaign was a great way for us to get out the word about all the great things we do in our store. We ran things like, “I can’t believe they roasted my coffee beans right in the store. The underlined words were blanked out, but the answers would be revealed on the line by the blanks being removed to reveal the word. We also did a scratch-off version for print and a billboard version that had a website to go to for the reveal. It was a fun and engaging campaign.
What inspires you at work, as well as in your personal life?
TL: Inspiration comes in a lot of different ways for each individual. For me I love to see people achieve success. As an example, I was recently in a store and the store manager pointed out a person and mentioned that he was disappointed to be losing such a great host. When I asked why she was leaving, he explained that she had always wanted to help victims of human trafficking, and she had an opportunity to go and do this full time.
I replied this did not make me sad but rather elated. I went on to explain that as leaders we are the protectors of the hopes and dreams of those that chose to work with us and our job is to help them achieve their highest hopes, desires and dreams—whatever those dreams may be. Some will look to have a career with us and others will be working for a different path in life. Whatever that path is, if we can make the experience with us the best possible experience and celebrate their achievements, then we will always be the best place to work and have a true work family.
That’s what gets me excited. I love seeing people succeed and reach achievement here at Lowes Foods, but I also celebrate just as much when they meet those personal goals and aspirations knowing we were able to be a small part of that journey to help them on their way.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Drive it like you stole it.
What is your motto at the moment?
“The future can be created, not simply experienced or endured.” –Max De Pree
What is something you believe is true that some people might disagree with you about?
With the right mindset you can chose your destination in life.
Name one person you admire and why.
John Maxwell. John is a teacher and writer of leadership and he has always been a solid inspiration and foundation for leadership in my life.
What is your present state of mind?
Excited and optimistic.
Who is your fictional hero?
You can’t go wrong with Jason Bourne.
What superpower would you most like to have?