Breaking the Mold

Heather George, senior VP of brand strategy at Lowes Foods, addresses a Cocktails & Conversations crowd at Endeavor.

Event: Endeavor’s Collaborators & Cocktails professional development monthly series

Where: Endeavor, a co-working community for creatives in downtown Greenville’s One Building

Who Was There: 80+ creative, advertising, and marketing professionals and entrepreneurs

Feature Presentation: Lowes Foods’ Heather George

Endeavor, a co-working space for Greenville’s creative community, hosted Heather George, senior vice president of brand strategy for Lowes Foods, at its April Collaborators & Cocktails professional development series event.

Based in Winston-Salem, N.C., Lowes Foods has been expanding into the Upstate, with plans to open its third Greenville-area location on Pelham Road in spring 2018.

George shared the strategies the family-owned grocery store chain implemented to transform the Lowes brand, all while not losing focus on its mission to connect local farmers with the community.

The Big Disconnect

The combination of being a family-owned business where survival rates decrease with each generation, and the fact that retail grocery businesses operate on razor-thin margins, left Lowes not standing for anything. They were not connecting with their customers and needed to improve the in-store experience. “You can’t just follow the model of ‘stock the shelves and wait for something to happen,’” said George.

They dug into big data to understand buying patterns. When prices were lowered, profits were less, and contrary to popular belief, did not drive more traffic into the store.

“Most [shopping] decisions are not rational at all, especially when it comes to the food people eat,” said George. “It is really hard for a data-driven, efficiency-minded business to admit this.”

What Do You Stand For?

Lowes Foods realized it was in trouble and had to revamp everything. After poring over research and brainstorming new ideas, Lowes Foods brand values were born:

  • Local: This family-owned business had a strong history of supporting local farmers, while they felt their competitors were anything but supportive.
  • Inspiration: They supply ideas to bring joy back into cooking meals.
  • Passionate: They are passionate about food, where it is from, who made it, and the stories around it.
  • Wit: Their culture should promote the ability to laugh at themselves and with their customers.
  • Provocative: Their out-of-home billboard campaigns, with headlines like “Grocery finally grows a pear,” drew praise and criticism, about which George remarks, “Be willing to be who you are and know that you can’t be all things to all people.”


Shopping Should be a Sensory Experience

Lowes Foods developed concept areas to create a sensory experience, like Pick and Prep, where produce chefs engage with customers on the floor; the Beer Den, where in the Simpsonville store, there is an onsite brewery; and the Cakery, where you can sample freshly made icing and make the candles atop the store-within-a-store light up. They also developed their own in-store coffee experience, Boxcar Coffee and Chocolate. George said, “As a brand owner, putting Starbucks in the store was not a part of my plan. So, we came up with our own concept.”

They started to hear feedback that families were shopping together, that shopping at Lowes had become an experience. “We began to think of our stores as a village — and each one was unique,” said George.

Bringing the Community Back to the Table

Lowes also began to focus on “bringing community back to the table,” educating customers about topics such as local sourcing and feeding the hungry. What had always been important to the family and employees now spread out to include customers, farmers, and the community.

Spreading the Word

When opening in a new neighborhood, Lowes puts a lot of energy into word-of-mouth marketing. They hand-deliver 1,000 boxes to neighbors around the store and hold local vendor fairs to help local producers whose products they carry become more efficient in their operations to help them grow.

The success Lowes Foods has seen since their transformation demonstrates how connecting to the heart of your consumer can deepen brand loyalty and sustainability.

By Amanda Long, senior account director, Hughes Agency



Related Articles