As an electrical associate at Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse, I have been able to observe Lowe’s product line and the relationship Lowe’s has with their vendors. Understanding these attributes is an important aspect of customer service. When a customer comes into the store they expect the associate to have knowledge of each brand that Lowe’s carries, so it is important that there is open communication between the vendor and the associate.
The branding strategies of Lowe’s are important in achieving good customer service. As an electrical associate, it was clear to me that Lowe’s customers came in for a variety of products. Lowe’s was an extremely large store, which allows it to carry breadth as well as depth of merchandise. Lowe’s offers a variety of national and a few private-label brands to serve the customer’s needs.
The national brands are the brands that the associates were instructed to push. These brands had more brand equity, which gave Lowe’s a higher mark-up. The top brands at Lowe’s include Hunter (ceiling fans and light fixtures), Square D (electrical panels), Sylvania (light bulbs), and Eagle (plugs and switches). These are the highest quality and most profitable brands that Lowe’s sells. The customers that come into the store with any basic knowledge are familiar with these brands and their quality. Lowe’s also carries national brands such as Catalina (light fixtures), Siemens (electrical panels), and Supreme (light bulbs). These brands offer the customers moderately priced options to the top brands. I personally sold a lot of these products because I knew from experience that the quality difference between Square D and Siemens, for example, is minimal at best.
These national brands that are available at Lowe’s are also sold at most other home improvement stores. This at first seems to hurt customer loyalty. If a product is available at many locations then the customer feels that they can go anywhere and buy it. The difference at Lowe’s is the service and knowledge that comes with it. Lowe’s associates are continually trained about the products they sell. This is all backed up with a guaranteed low price, and translates into loyalty when a customer chooses to shop at Lowe’s because of the quality of products, service, and price.
Lowe’s also caries a few private-label brands. The largest private-label brand in the electrical department is Harbor Breeze. Harbor Breeze is a line of ceiling fans and light fixtures. This brand is not manufactured by Lowe’s but is sold exclusively by Lowe’s. The brand offers a low price alternative to brands such as Hunter and Catalina. The company that makes the products also produces Harbor Bay for Home Depot and Hampton Bay for HQ. Harbor Breeze allows Lowe’s to be competitive in the low price category, but these products are not the most profitable. My selling point here was that you get what you pay for. If I could tell that a customer was going to make their decision based on price then I would point out the different features and sell them a Harbor Breeze. I found that most of my customers wanted a good quality fan for a reasonable price. When this was the case I would use the Harbor Breeze’s lower quality to sell the lower priced Hunter fans.
The private-label brands are needed at Lowe’s, but they are not a strength of Lowe’s business. These brands offer an alternative to the national brands at a lower price. Lowe’s strength is in the national brands because they want to identify themselves with quality. An example of the strength of the national brands would be at the return desk. When a customer returns a Hunter ceiling fan the customer tends to want the same exact fan as a replacement. If the fan happened to be a Harbor Breeze then the customer is more than likely to ask for a refund or wants to go look for another fan. This has happened numerous times. It points out the customer’s confidence in the Hunter name.
The relationship between Lowe’s and its’ vendors is an important part of customer service. While working at Lowe’s I personally dealt with seven different vendors, and I have a variety of opinions of each vendor. The best vendor was the Sylvania vendor. He would come directly to the electrical associates that were working and ask if we had any questions about the products before he went over to help straighten the shelves. This was excellent communication between the vendor and the store. If an associate has a question about a product then it is hard for him to sell that product, so communication is the key to selling more of that vendor’s product. The vendor for my security systems was terrible. The longest he seemed to spend at the store was five minutes. Five minutes is not enough time to allow an associate to finish with a customer and come ask any questions. The problem with this is that I didn’t know enough about security systems to give a customer any knowledgeable information, which leads to low sales of security systems.
The relationship between Lowe’s and its’ vendors is not perfect but it works. For the most part the vendors help with product resets and the appearance of their displays. Lowe’s needs to improve the lines of communication with some of its’ vendors in order to continually improve customer service. After all, it is customer service that separates Lowe’s from the competition.
Understanding the Lowe’s product line and trying to develop a relationship with my vendors has given me great insight in the world of retailing. Knowing the products that you are trying to sell is an invaluable aspect of customer service, and a lot of this knowledge can be obtained directly through your vendor. The vendors are, for the most part, willing to give any information that can help increase sales. I the world of retailing sales lead to success.