Who owns Lowe’s? Why the company remains behind Home Depot


Lowe’s is America’s and the world’s second-largest hardware chain. It’s headquartered in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, home of its founder Lucius Smith Lowe. The company operates over 2,000 stores in America and Canada, having closed its business in Mexico in mid-2019. 

Like other companies in the home improvement retail space, Lowe’s strategy involves aggressive expansion. Through expansion and innovation, the company established a foothold in the United States. However, it fell behind The Home Depot along the way and has never recovered since. 

Key Takeaways

  • Lowe’s became a public company following the death of owner Carl Buchan in 1960. 
  • The public owns 21% of the shares in Lowe’s, with institutional shareholders holding a majority of the company’s shares. 
  • Thanks to CEO Marvin Ellison’s efforts, 60% of Lowe’s board is female or ethnically diverse. 
  • Lowe’s reluctance to adopt the ‘big-box’ warehouse style allowed Home Depot to take over as America’s top hardware enterprise.

Lowe’s was founded and run by the Lowes family from 1920 to 1961

Lucius Smith Lowe opened the first Lowe’s store, North Wilkesboro Hardware, in 1921. He operated the store until he died in 1940, after which his daughter Ruth Buchan took over. 

Lucius Lowe founded North Wilkesboro Hardware in 1921

Ruth sold the company to her brother Jim Lowe, who partnered with his brother-in-law Carl Buchan to run Lowe’s. Buchan anticipated the rise in construction after World War II and primed Lowe’s to profit from that boom. 

After Jim’ discharge from the army, he returned to find a reorganized store focused on the wholesale of hardware and building supplies. In 1952, Buchan became the sole owner of Lowe’s after he swapped his interest in an automobile dealership and a cattle farm for Jim’ share of the company. 

Buchan expanded fast, and by 1960, he’d increased the company’s sales nearly seven-fold. The company converted from private to public after Carl passed away from a heart attack in 1960. 

In 1952, Carl Buchan became the sole owner of Lowe’s

No shareholder owns a majority stake in the publicly-traded company

Lowe’s sales in the late 1960s neared the $100 million mark, demonstrating the strides made by the company over that decade. Despite fluctuations in the market, Lowe’s revenues kept rising through the seventies, and by 1979, revenues surpassed $900 million. 

That year, Lowe’s started trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Its reluctance to adopt the ‘big-box’ warehouse style pioneered by The Home Depot slowed sales in the late 1980s, but Lowe’s remained a significant player in the market. 

Lowe’s 1999 purchase of Eagle Hardware & Garden accelerated the company’s national expansion and value. Looking to strengthen its position, Lowe’s dedicated 80% of its expenditure to building new stores, some in large metropolitan areas previously shunned by the chain. 

According to data company ScrapeHero, Lowe’s operates 1731 stores in 51 US States and Territories.

The company has a diverse shareholding, with institutional shareholders owning the majority of the company’s shares. The Vanguards Group, Inc., is the largest shareholder, with 8.6% of the company’s shares, followed by BlackRock, Inc., with a 7.6% share. 

No shareholder holds a majority interest in the company, demanding shareholder agreement during crucial decision-making. Twenty-five of the top shareholders make up less than half of the share register, meaning they can’t band together to influence decisions. 

The general public owns up to 21% of Lowe’s company stock, offering the public some sway over company policy decisions. 

Lowe’s began as a family business and has become a multinational public company, giving the public opportunities to own a piece of the legendary brand. 

Lowe’s CEO Marvin Ellison has made steps to increase diversity and improve sales

Marvin Ellison was an executive at The Home Depot and CEO of the J.C. Penney Company before joining Lowe’s in 2018. He succeeded the retiring Robert A. Niblock in early July 2018. 

Marvin Ellison - Lowes
Marvin Ellison, chairman and chief executive officer of Lowe’s | Photo By Lauren Justice/Bloomberg

“I am thrilled to take on the role as Lowe’s next president and CEO,” Ellison said following his appointment. “Working closely with Lowe’s board, management team and the more than 310,000 talented employees, I believe we will not just compete, but win in today’s complex retail environment.” 

“Attracting Marvin is a great win for the entire Lowe’s team,” Marshal O. Larsen, the board’s lead director, said. 

Ellison wasted no time in restructuring the company’s executive leadership to improve efficiency and diversity. In 2020, Marvin told the National Retail Federation that he’d experienced racial discrimination most of his life, even after becoming a top executive. 

After joining Lowe’s, he found that most of his executives were white and quietly set out to change that statistic. He said:

“Sometimes, you have to decide to talk less and do more. I’m very, very appreciative that there’s all this dialogue happening out there, but I didn’t have to see the horrific murder of George Floyd to understand there was racial injustice in America. I live it every day.”

By December 2021, 55% of the company’s executive leaders and 60% of its board were female or ethnically diverse. The company had also invested $55 million in minority-owned businesses. 

As CEO, Ellison also sought to improve sales by improving the company’s online platform, which was woefully out-of-date when he arrived. The improvement helped Lowe’s capitalize on the increased demand for online shopping during the pandemic. He told CBS News:

“If we’ve learned nothing from the pandemic, we’ve learned that customers require options and choices on how they choose to shop and any retailer that doesn’t provide those options and choices in a way that takes friction points out the customer is going to lose.”

Lowe’s is improving but is expected to stay behind Home Depot in the coming years

Lowe’s reluctance to adapt its business to ‘big-box’ warehouses in the late 1980s allowed The Home Depot to breeze past it as America’s premier hardware chain. Despite Lowe’s best efforts to catch up, The Home Depot has maintained a comfortable lead. 

Home Depot’s ability to adapt to market demands quicker allows it to remain ahead. It generates half of its sales from professionals and the rest from consumers; Lowe’s generates 75% of its revenue from consumers and 25% from professionals. 

Lowe’s model helped boost its sales during the pandemic as people opted for DIY projects rather than hiring professionals. However, as soon as the pandemic subsided, the advantage shifted to the Home Depot as professionals flooded the market with huge backlogs. 

Lowe’s attempt to fight back started via a professional loyalty program launched in 2020, eight years after Home Depot. “We’re focused on making the Pro shopping experience both online and in-store as easy and intuitive as possible,” Joe McFarland, EVP of stores at Lowe’s, told ModernRetail. “Every day we’re striving to demonstrate that Lowe’s is the new home for Pros.”

Executives in both chains know that investment in the professional segment will pay dividends. Unfortunately for Lowe’s, it’s so far adrift of Home Depot that many expect it to remain behind in the coming years. 

For instance, Home Depot has a working business-to-business website to care to professional contractors, while Lowe’s is still looking to improve the basic functions of its main site. 

“I’ve watched these companies forever,” David Marcotte, SVP at Kantar Consulting, said. “One goes up, one goes down… Lowe’s is coming into the [professional] space aggressively but with less weapons than Home Depot.”