Shoppers wearing protective masks wait in line to enter a Lowe’s Cos. store in San Bruno, California, U.S., on Wednesday, May 20, 2020.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Lowe’s CEO Marvin Ellison struggled to find the items he needed when retrofitting his father’s home to allow him to safely age in place.
That frustrating search about two years ago inspired the home improvement retailer’s latest initiative. It announced plans Wednesday to become a “one-stop shop” for supplies for seniors, such as grab bars for the shower, nonslip floors, wheelchair ramps and walk-in bathtubs.
“Even as a CEO of a home improvement company, it was extremely difficult to get those things done,” he said in an interview with CNBC. “It dawned on me that if my Dad is having these issues and I’m the CEO of a home improvement company, then the greater baby boomer population and caretakers must also have the same issue.”
Lowe’s said it will offer a wide variety of products, services and expertise geared for older customers in collaboration with nonprofit AARP. The new effort is called Livable Home. It has launched a dedicated website of articles and videos focused on age-friendly design. AARP will also train Lowe’s employees and add signs in select stores next year.
The retailer said in-store enhancements are happening in about 500 stores across 50 metro areas. Lowe’s employees with special training will wear an AARP-branded badge that identifies them to customers looking for age-friendly merchandise.
Lowe’s is trying to tap into the aging generation as a growth opportunity. Baby boomers, who range from 56 to 74 years old, are the country’s second largest age demographic after millennials, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and Pew Research Center.
Ellison said that market represents about $32 million in sales and is very fragmented.
Other retailers have also seen that demographic as an appealing customer base. Best Buy has acquired companies that support remote patient monitoring and telehealth. It owns GreatCall, a company that makes easy-to-use cell phones and wearables for aging adults, along with emergency response services that support them if a person presses a button.
Brian Yarbrough, retail analyst for Edward Jones, said teaming up with AARP could help Lowe’s gain credibility and draw new customers. He said the pandemic may have intensified people’s desire to stay at home rather than moving into nursing home or assisted living facilities, since they were hard-hit by Covid-19 outbreaks and deaths.
“With all of the issues you had in nursing homes during the pandemic, that may cause some individuals to decide to stay in their homes and then they’d need these kinds of items,” he said.
It could give Lowe’s a way to stand out from the pack, too.
“This shows they’re actually thinking outside of the box and doing things differently and not just chasing Home Depot,” he said.