- Home Depot and Lowe’s are the two biggest players in US home-improvement retail.
- Seth Basham, the managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities, spoke with Business Insider about what differentiates the two companies.
- He said that in many ways, Home Depot has an edge over its competitor.
- But he added that Lowe’s CEO Marvin Ellison was on a mission to “Home Depot-ize” Lowe’s.
But both retailers exhibit several subtle traits that set them apart from each other. What’s more, their performance has diverged somewhat.
Home Depot appears to be doing relatively well, easily besting its rival in terms of market share. Meanwhile, Lowe’s has undergone a series of hiccups, closing stores in the US, Canada, and Mexico, receiving a downgrade from Moody’s, and losing traffic during the first nine months of 2018.
Business Insider recently spoke to Seth Basham, the managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities, to get a better idea of the differences between Home Depot and Lowe’s.
He said that while Home Depot has the upper hand now, no one should give up on Lowe’s – or its new CEO, Marvin Ellison.
Home Depot can point to higher average sales numbers in its stores.
Basham said Home Depot rakes in more money than Lowe’s through store sales on average. He added that the company also boasted better operational efficiency.
Compared with its rival, Lowe’s is a bit like the new kid on the block.
Basham said Lowe’s disadvantages in sales and operations were partly “a function of how the company grew up.”
Lowe’s was founded in 1946, while Home Depot was established in 1978. But the newer store embarked on its expansion first.
“Lowe’s growth streak in terms of opening new stores happened after Home Depot’s,” Basham said.
Basically, because Home Depot expanded its store presence before Lowe’s, it got the first pick when it came to locations. Basham described Lowe’s as occupying many “secondary real-estate locations” that aren’t ideal in terms of population flow or traffic patterns.
“There’s a bit of a structural deficiency in terms of their store locations,” he said.
Home Depot gets a greater share of its sales from professionals.
Another factor that accounts for Home Depot’s sales advantage is its relative popularity with home-improvement professionals. In home construction and renovation, customers can generally be divided into two groups: professionals who work in the field, and do-it-yourself shoppers tackling projects on their own.
Basham said professional contracts accounted for 20% to 25% of sales at Lowe’s and 45% at Home Depot.
So why do the pros tend to go to Home Depot? Basham said that part of the reason was that professionals are often more brand-conscious.
“They want to use products they know they can trust, and Home Depot has better brands,” he said.
Other factors include Home Depot’s superior stocking system and customer-service processes, including giving pros access to “knowledgeable employees,” helping them find products, and staging items for pickup. According to Basham, Home Depot generally provides an “easy in, easy out” experience for pros.
And while list pricing is the same across both companies, bulk pricing is slightly more competitive at Home Depot, according to Basham.
But don’t count Lowe’s out – Basham said it was “very focused” on boosting its pro business. He gave the example of the company’s 2017 acquisition of Maintenance Supply HQ, a move he likened to Home Depot’s 2015 acquisition of Interline Brands, which helped it cross-sell to customers who previously flocked to Interline.
“It’s strategic,” Basham said. “Home Depot’s had success since it acquired Interline in getting that cross-sale to work. I think there’s still room for that to work for Lowe’s.”
Lowe’s has yet to see much international success.
Lowe’s has recently had a few international stumbles, including store closures in Canada and Mexico and a failed joint venture in Australia in 2016.
Basham blamed the struggles on Home Depot already having success in some of those markets, as well as the infrastructure costs that it takes to run stores in different countries.
“Lowe’s has never had success internationally,” he said. “They haven’t figured out the formula to get there.”
Home Depot, on the other hand, has triumphed abroad, according to Basham.
“They have very profitable businesses in Canada and in Mexico,” Basham said. “The comparable-store sales growth in those countries has been nearly as good as the US for a number of years.”
But that wasn’t always the case. Basham said that in the late 1990s, Home Depot made an unsuccessful foray into Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and China, so there’s still hope for Lowe’s to turn things around.
Home Depot crushes Lowe’s when it comes to online innovation.
Basham said that online fulfillment was “an important area for both companies” and that Home Depot was the clear winner in this category.
He added that Home Depot “has taken it to the next level” by offering customers services like same-day delivery.
“They’re investing heavily in building up the infrastructure necessary to offer those types of delivery services,” he said. “Lowe’s hasn’t really gone down that path yet.”
When it comes to other issues pertaining to e-commerce, Basham said Home Depot had a stronger IT infrastructure, better online marketing, and an easy-to-navigate website.
“Case in point is that Lowe’s website went down on Black Friday,” he said.
But don’t count Lowe’s out.
Lowe’s may be an underdog compared with Home Depot, but Basham said he was still relatively optimistic about both companies.
He described Ellison, who officially took the helm at Lowe’s in July, a “straight shooter” and praised his leadership of the company.
Before serving as the CEO of JCPenney, Ellison held several executive roles at Home Depot.
“He’s trying to essentially Home Depot-ize Lowe’s,” Basham said. “He’s divesting non-core businesses and focusing on the US business and the core stores.”
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