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Lowe’s Companies, Inc. (NYSE: LOW) is a U.S.-based chain of retail home improvement and appliance stores. Founded in 1946 in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, the chain now serves more than 14 million customers a week in its 1,710 stores in the United States and 20 in Canada. Expansion into Canada began in 2007, with the opening of a store in Hamilton, Ontario, in early 2008. Lowe’s started the construction of two stores in the Mexican city of Monterrey officially entering the Mexican market. In 2011, Lowe’s released plans to build over 150 stores in Australia over the coming 5 years, hoping to compete with the AUD$46 billion industry. Lowe’s Companies, Inc. is 43 on the Fortune 500 list. As of 2010, the chain is based in Mooresville, North Carolina, near Charlotte. Lowe’s is the second-largest hardware chain in the U.S. behind The Home Depot and ahead of Menards. Globally, Lowe’s is also the second-largest hardware chain, again behind The Home Depot and ahead of the European stores B and OBI.
Lucius S. Lowe opened Lowe’s North Wilkesboro Hardware in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in 1921. The business was inherited by his daughter, Ruth, when Lucius died in 1940. She sold the company to her brother, Jim, that same year. Jim Lowe and Ruth’s husband, Carl Buchan, both served in World War II, and during the war, the store was run by Ruth and her mother. Jim took on Carl (honorably discharged after receiving an injury) as a partner in 1943.
Under Buchan’s management, the store focused on hardware and building materials. Before then, the product mix had also included notions, dry goods, horse tack, snuff, produce, and groceries. The company bought a second store in Sparta, North Carolina, in 1949.
Carl Buchan and Jim Lowe differed on expanding the company to new areas, and they split in 1952, with Buchan taking control of the hardware and building supply business, and Lowe taking other joint ventures the two controlled, including a car dealership. Buchan became the sole owner of Lowe’s. Lowe started the Lowes Foods grocery store chain in 1954.
In 1960, Carl Buchan died of a heart attack at age 44. His five-man executive team, which included Robert Strickland and Leonard Herring, took the company public in 1961. By 1962 Lowe’s operated 21 stores and reported annual revenues of $32 million.
Lowe’s continued to expand throughout the southeast United States.
It suffered in the 1980s, due to market conditions and increasing competition from the new big-box chain, The Home Depot. For a while, Lowe’s resisted adopting the big-box format, partly because Lowe’s management believed that the smaller towns where Lowe’s mostly operated would not support huge stores. However, Lowe’s eventually had to adopt the big-box format in order to survive. Today most Lowe’s stores are of the big-box variety, though some classic format stores remain in smaller markets.
Lowe’s has since grown nationally, aided by the purchase of Eagle Hardware & Garden in 1999. It is now the second-largest home improvement chain in North America, and has begun expanding outside the United States, starting with the Southern Ontario area. The first store outside of United States was in Hamilton, Ontario, at Barton Street and Woodward Avenue.
Lowe’s announced on 25 August 2009 that it had entered a joint venture with the Australian retailer Woolworths to enter the Australian market with 150 big box style superstores. The first store is scheduled for a February 2010 opening in Victoria.