Marvin Ellison

TUCSON, ARIZ. Less than a year has passed since Marvin Ellison took on the top spot to lead Lowe’s as its president and chief executive officer. That hasn’t stopped him from enacting big changes across the organization.

In nine months, Ellison has visited all 15 regions in which the company operates during his first six weeks on the job; divested some of the business’ assets; changed up the management team in the first four months to include a new chief financial officer and executives to head up merchandising, stores, supply chain, e-commerce and a chief information officer, and established a field merchandising team to localize the product assortment.

“In just less than a year, we’re starting to see progress,” Ellison said during at talk at the University of Arizona’s Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing’s annual Global Retailing Conference in Tucson.

Ellison stepped into the position after parting ways with J.C.Penney Co. Inc., entering a company he said had gone through a period of seven years where Lowe’s had fallen behind its top competition. It had also lost its share of the professional customer — a shopper that, in some cases, will frequent one of its stores upwards of 200 times annually with big spend, utilizing the retailer as his or her supply base. Part of the strategy moving forward is focused on winning back the pros.

“We have a lot going on. Lowe’s is a terrific company…but a company that I would say started to make investments in the future without making investments in the present,” Ellison said.

While much of the conference focused on how retailers are strategizing around the digital and physical worlds, Ellison’s talk focused on basics for a retailer where 95 percent of its sales last year happened inside of a store for big, bulky products that often require employee consultation.

“That tells you the power,” the ceo said of the company’s retail fleet.

At the core, he’s focused on having good customer service and having the right product in stock specific to each store, making adjustments to the assortment and planograms.

“This is retail 101, but sometimes you can get so focused on innovation,” Ellison said. “As a classic example, they couldn’t wait to show me the virtual reality headsets that we were piloting so that a customer could put these on and visualize their new kitchen and their new flooring in their home. That was great. But my first question was, ‘Can you take payment in the home?’”

The answer was no, hitting home the point that in the zeal to implement innovation, the company had lost sight of the basics.

“That is what I call serving icing without a cake,” Ellison said. “Now we’re focused on making a cake. Let’s get the fundamentals right. All the innovative, really cool and sexy things we want to do to be cutting-edge, we’ll get there.”

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