A look back at Lowe’s journey from small family hardware store to retail giant

  • Lowe’s boasts a long history, tracing its roots back to a single general store in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
  • Business Insider took a look back at the company’s history to get a better sense of how it has changed over the years.
  • From a family hardware store to a modern-day big-box giant, here’s a look back at how Lowe’s has changed over time.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The modern-day Lowe’s describes itself as the world’s second largest home-improvement retailer.

In the wider world of retail, it’s the big blue rival to Home Depot’s orange cohort. For its customers, it’s a local big-box store that offers the assortment of hardware options necessary for home projects.

But how did Lowe’s get its start?

Read more: How Lowe’s CEO Marvin Ellison went from making $4.35 an hour as a Target security guard to running the second biggest home-improvement retailer in the US

Well, the home-improvement chain can trace its roots all the way back to 1921. Throughout its history, Lowe’s has undergone a number of important transitional phases, which have helped the company to morph into the home-improvement retailer we all know today.

Here’s a look at the history of Lowe’s:


The history of Lowe’s begins in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in 1921.

Source: “Make It New: Essays in the History of American Business,” “Principles of Supply Chain Management,” Wilkes Journal Project, Business North Carolina


That’s when Lucius Lowe launched a general merchandise store called North Wilkesboro Hardware.

Source: “Make It New: Essays in the History of American Business,” “Principles of Supply Chain Management,” Wilkes Journal Patriot, Business North Carolina


After Lowe’s 1940 death, the store went to his daughter Ruth. She sold the business to her brother Jim.

Source: “Make It New: Essays in the History of American Business,” “Principles of Supply Chain Management,” Wilkes Journal Patriot


Ruth’s husband Carl Buchan and Jim both served in World War II. During that time, Ruth kept the store running.

Source: “Make It New: Essays in the History of American Business,” “Principles of Supply Chain Management,” Business North Carolina


In 1943, Jim Lowe took on Buchan as a partner. In the following years, the company homed in on selling hardware to capitalize on the postwar construction boom.

Source: “Make It New: Essays in the History of American Business,” “Principles of Supply Chain Management,” Business North Carolina


Lowe’s officially became a chain in 1949 and boasted 15 stores in total by 1960. But Lowe and Buchan would eventually break up their business partnership in 1952.

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Scott Olson / Getty Images

Source: “Make It New: Essays in the History of American Business,” “Principles of Supply Chain Management,” Business North Carolina


Lowe would go on to found a namesake grocery chain and a car dealership, while Buchan kept and expanded the hardware business, effectively launching the modern-day Lowe’s business.

Source: “Make It New: Essays in the History of American Business,” “Principles of Supply Chain Management,” Wilkes Journal Patriot


The hardware business changed hands again after Buchan’s 1961 death. The businessman was only 44 when he died.

Source: “Make It New: Essays in the History of American Business,” “Principles of Supply Chain Management


The executive team of Leonard Herring, Pete Kulynych, Joe Reinhardt, John Walker, and Bob Strickland took over in the wake of Buchan’s death.

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Joe Raedle/Shutterstock

Source: “Make It New: Essays in the History of American Business,” “Principles of Supply Chain Management,” Wilkes Journal Patriot, Business North Carolina


The leadership team enacted a profit-sharing plan to allow the employees to own the company. That same year, the business went public.

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Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Source: Business North Carolina, Wilkes Journal Patriot


Lowe’s went public in 1961 and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1979.

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Bart Sadowsk/Shutterstock

Source: “Make It New: Essays in the History of American Business,” “Principles of Supply Chain Management,” Crunchbase


But 1979 also saw a new home-improvement rival arrive on the scene: Home Depot.

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Courtesy of The Home Depot

Source: “Make It New: Essays in the History of American Business,” “Principles of Supply Chain Management,” Business Insider


Home Depot introduced shoppers to the big-box format that Lowe’s would come to adopt.

source
Courtesy of The Home Depot

Source: “Make It New: Essays in the History of American Business,” “Principles of Supply Chain Management,” Business Insider


Lowe’s said that 1984 marked the first year it raked in $1 billion in sales. That year saw the company net $25 million in profits.

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Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Source: Lowe’s


In a statement on its history, Lowe’s said that the “modern” iteration of its company began in 1994. That’s around the time the business began making national moves, even purchasing Eagle Hardware and Garden in 1999.

Source: Lowe’s, The New York Times


Lowe’s also began to cross borders, moving into Canada and Mexico.

Source: “Make It New: Essays in the History of American Business,” “Principles of Supply Chain Management


However, the chain was rocked by a series of store closures in 2018, and it ultimately shut down its Mexican operations.

Source: Reuters


Nonetheless, Lowe’s still claims the title of the world’s second biggest home-improvement retailer.

source
Joe Raedle/Shutterstock

Source: Lowe’s

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