Leadership and the Chicken Dance

This past week I enjoyed a sneak peek of the experiences the Lowes Foods organization will bring to our community when opening a new store on March 27th. Sometimes culture is like an iceberg, with only a small portion visible and the bulk out of sight below the surface. The leadership of Lowes inverts what’s visible through intentional cultivation of customer experience.

Be Our Guest

Much like Disney Land and Disney World refer to employees as cast members, Lowes Foods fills their stores with “hosts.” I met several in Lowes’ Summerville, SC location and each demonstrated a genuine excitement in their role and articulated their contribution to the company and it’s customers.

I’d also met a couple of new hires in the soon to be open Mount Pleasant store. One new hire reported having attended several hours of training for his position. This investment in people gives Lowes an advantage in a retail environment often characterized by inattentiveness to shoppers.

Iconically Local

Lowes uses strong visuals to emphasize the story and consistent integration of their brand. The brand is anchored in a commitment to “local.” This begins with programs that enable former tobacco farmers to successfully grow and distribute fresh produce and meats not only to Lowes’ supply chain, but also to other retailers. The imagery of “farm fresh” appears in barn shaped covers of shopping cart returns, the flower shop display, the dairy cases, and other locations throughout the store.

A sign over the main doors extends the greeting, “Welcome to Our Farm.” Entering our new Mount Pleasant store, still being prepared for the grand opening, I noticed the check out lines didn’t have numbers. Instead, each had the name of a nearby street in our community.  This concept is mirrored in all locations, including Summerville.

This sense of localness extends beyond the supply chain to a commitment to the communities where stores are sited. During a past hurricane event, for example, I heard stories of a store manager who heard about a mom needing diapers and unlocked a store to get what she needed. At another location, the store opened as a neighborhood hub where residents could come charge their phones and devices with the generators and sit in a safe space for a time. Such actions demonstrate leadership that extends beyond the bottom line.

More Than Groceries

Guest experiences offered by Lowes Foods give shoppers access to fun and healthy options at any service level. Meal planning for families ranges from normal grocery shopping, to pre-chopped and prepped-to-order ingredients for a desired recipe, to take-home boxes with ready to prepare meals for two (includes protein, veggies, condiments, spices, and recipes from well known chefs), to a wide array of precooked foods.

Instead of free cookies for children, Lowes has a display of fresh fruit—apples, bananas, and more—for kids to pick and eat while parents shop. Highlights of consumer experiences include:

  • Hosts call out “Hot Fresh Bread” when bread comes out of the oven, and one host rides a large trike around the store bringing the steaming loaves to shoppers in a basket.
  • Hosts ring a large triangle and holler “Hee-Haw” when yummy meats come out of the on-site smoker.
  • The Cakery offers beautiful baked goods, periodic “cake walks,” and magical candles.
  • The Community Table is a space for events with local chefs and vendors, or even a birthday party.
  • A beer and wine bar (the Beer Den) offers a mix of adult beverages poured for enjoyment with an array of tasty foods.

And let’s not forget the chicken dance. Lowes hosts prepare potpies, wings, and rotisserie chicken, amongst other cluck-sourced options. When chicken comes out of the oven—or upon request—young and young at heart are invited to join the chicken dance. Lowes leaders and hosts take the frivolity seriously. All of these activities and services are designed to make shopping a delightful and welcoming experience, rather than a chore.

Just Ask

While Lowes Foods stocks their shelves and cold cases with an extensive array of goods, a guest might need one unique or hard-to-find ingredient. Lowes invites guests to “just ask.” I inquired about a particular cut of meat, familiar on the west coast for grilling, but harder to find in regional stores. Take note, California transplants: I came home from the visit with a tri-tip roast.

Even the “Magic Kingdom” requires behind the scenes maintenance. Guests never see worn exteriors or chipped paint because the theme parks are closely monitored and refreshed as needed overnight. In the same fashion, Lowes Foods stores are immaculate, spacious, and inviting. When I happened to observe and discreetly mention an anomaly, Lowes hosts stopped to fix the issue. This “right now” approach allows a guest to know his or his input matters and reflects the organization’s commitment to flawless, delightful execution.

Cultivating Care and Culture

Creating a space that elevates the grocery experience requires Lowes to identify and on-board individuals who will embrace the company’s culture. Leaders must be attentive to hiring, training, and execution. Cultivating a family atmosphere with broad appeal can’t simply be a handbook mandate. By demonstrating care for employees, Lowes leaders model a host’s care for Lowes’ guests.

Every so often, a comic circulates in social media where a candidate for an IKEA job opening enters the interview room and sees the “ready to assemble” parts for a chair on a floor. I imagine the equivalent for Lowes involves an invitation to do the chicken dance. Cue music, because shopping has become fun.

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