Lowe’s on Monday announced that Robert A. Niblock plans to retire as chairman, president and CEO after a quarter century with the company.
Niblock spent 13 years as CEO, and he will remain in the interim as the board of directors search for his successor, according to a company press release.
Last month, Lowe’s reported a fourth quarter sales decline of 1.8% to $15.49 billion, but a fairly robust same-store sales increase of 4.1%. Same-store sales in the U.S. rose 3.7%.
Investors want more from Lowe’s than it’s delivering, and shares rose Monday on the news of a big change at the top.
In his statement on Monday, Marshall Larsen, lead director of the board, said the board is conducting a "thorough and comprehensive search to identify the best candidate" to fill Niblock's shoes. "Under his guidance and stewardship, Lowe’s has built a strong foundation for growth, and today the company is well positioned as a leader in home improvement with the right strategy in place to drive innovation, accelerate sales growth and enhance profitability," he said.
Earlier in this year, under pressure from activist investor D.E. Shaw & Co, Lowe's scrambled its board. New members include David Batchelder, who helped engineer the turnaround of The Home Depot during his time on that board (2007-2011).
Insight from Batchelder and a new CEO may help pull the retailer out from the shadow of its rival at a time when healthy real estate and home renovation markets are stoking sales. Home Depot last month reported a fourth quarter revenue rise of 7.5% to $23.9 billion, and a same-store sales rise of7.5% over the year-ago quarter, beating analyst forecasts.
"Lowe's winter product offer was solid, its pricing was sharp, and its customer service remains good," GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders told Retail Dive in an email. "However, when it comes to buying products, large numbers of shoppers automatically think of Home Depot and default to buying from either its website or its stores. In a lot of cases, Lowe's doesn't even get considered."
Interior decor is a Lowe's strong suit and a possible foil against its competitor, and Saunders has suggested Lowe's should build that up more. But Home Depot recently positioned itself to steal that advantage, with its pre-Christmas acquisition of catalog home goods retailer The Company Store.