Hal Lawton, who has served as Macy's president since 2017, will step down from the department store to take the top leadership post at Tractor Supply, according to a press release from the retailer released Thursday.
Lawton will arrive as president, chief executive officer and a member of the board effective Jan. 13, 2020, replacing Greg Sandfort, who had already announced his retirement, Tractor Supply said.
Lawton has resigned from Macy's effective Friday, the department store said in its own release. Before joining Macy's, he led eBay's North America business for two years. He also spent 10 years in various executive roles at Home Depot, most recently as senior vice president for merchandising, according to Tractor Supply's release.
Lawton is leaving Macy's at a particularly vulnerable time for the retailer and the department store segment more generally. Tractor Supply, by contrast, appears to be a retail success story.
The company, once a farming supply store that now calls itself a "rural lifestyle retailer," has diversified its merchandise to reach a broader audience. Unlike so many retailers these days, it's been opening stores at a steady clip. During its most recent quarter, the retailer opened 25 namesake stores and one of its pet supply PetSense stores, centered in small and mid-size towns, (closing just one Tractor Supply and two Petsense in the same period, according to a company press release).
Also in the quarter, Tractor Supply net sales rose 5.4% to $1.98 billion, store comps rose 2.9%, comparable average ticket rose 2.3%, and net income rose 4.6% to $122.1 million. The retailer scores well in customer loyalty, nearly as well as Costco according to one 2018 study, and has successfully fashioned a BOPIS strategy to meet the unique last-mile needs of its mostly rural customer base.
At Macy's, it's a different story. The third quarter brought declines in revenue, e-commerce growth, store comps (with stores in lower-tier malls a drag), and profits. Those struggling mall stores are getting renewed scrutiny as a result, and Macy's CEO Jeff Gennette hinted strongly to analysts that closures are likely in the new year, a departure from the company's previous assertion that it was done contracting its footprint.
Some observers saw Lawton's departure coming. "The only thing surprising about this is the timing," Columbia University Business School retail studies professor Mark Cohen told Retail Dive in an email, adding that Lawton didn't quite have the chops to be Macy's president and may be challenged in his new job as well.
The departure of a top executive at this time of year is not great for Macy's, which is hoping for salvation in the holiday quarter, but Lawton's exit may have been inevitable, according to Cohen.
"The timing on this is really troubling but likely the result of Lawton wanting out or being pushed and seizing upon an alternative take-it or leave-it opportunity," he said. "At least he's smart enough to get off the Macy's ship before it founders. It's clear that Macy's is in trouble. Sales are down. Inventory is up, and, of all things their e-commerce business is off."