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Home-improvement retailer Lowe's Cos. beefed up its marketing efforts as it laid plans to extend beyond the Southeast, Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

To help build Lowe's into a nationally known name as it prepared to open in the West, the chain tapped a new ad agency-McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York-to handle its $100 million broadcast account.

Lowe's racked up fiscal 1999 sales of $12.2 billion, up 20.8% over the previous year, and company executives target $30 billion in sales by 2003.

Helping them get there via sharp marketing is Dale Pond, exec VP of merchandising and marketing for Lowe's. Mr. Pond, 53, was named to the newly created position after five years as senior VP-marketing. The new role merging merchandising and marketing reflects the chain's efforts to link to two concepts to better serve its customer base.

Under Mr. Pond, Lowe's is working harder to ensure its stores are stocked with the merchandise its clientele expect to find-as well as effectively marketing that point to the target market.

To facilitate that, Mr. Pond and the Lowe's 100-plus marketing team are using consumer data gathered over the past three years to find voids in the stock. One result of that study: Lowe's Kobalt tool program that feeds customers' desire for a private-label choice.

One way Mr. Pond says Lowe's finds out what people want is through the Internet. In a test in seven cities, Lowe's has placed information about the company on

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