Chances are if you live east of the Hudson River, or in many urban areas of the country, you were probably not very familiar with Tractor Supply Co. before the news broke last week that Hal Lawton was leaving his post as president of New York Macy’s to join the Brentwood, Tennessee retailer as CEO. And even if you knew of TSC you’ve probably never been in one of their stores and most likely never envisioned it as something along the lines of a cross between a farm vehicle repair garage and Drucker’s General Store on the old Green Acres TV show.
In fact, Tractor Supply is one of the most under-the-radar modern retailing operations in the country and Lawton’s arrival may signal that the company is getting ready to take its game to the next level. Founded in 1938 as a mail order catalog, today the publicly traded company has annual revenues of nearly $8 billion and operates some 1,800 stores in 49 states. With a product assortment that runs from farm supplies. animal food and power tools to lawn and garden supplies and apparel (10 percent of its sales, by the way), the company website says that it sells “everything except tractors.”
With a market cap of more than $11 billion, it is heavily invested in by institutional owners, who according to Simply Wall St., control 87 percent of its stock. While it is off its 52-week high share price of $114, it is still showing a nearly 25 percent jump from its low of the trailing 12 months. In August, TSC said it had begun a search for a new CEO to replace the retiring Greg Sandfort who was staying on until his successor could be named. At the same time it said chief operating officer Steve Barbarick had resigned. Lawton’s appointment completes that process.
Lawton had only been at Macy’s for a little more than two years after a career that included stints at eBay and Home Depot. When he joined Macy’s in September 2017, CEO Jeff Gennette pointed to his digital and technological experience as key reasons for the hire. “Hal Lawton has deep expertise at the intersection of retail and technology,” he said. “Macy’s already has one of the strongest omnichannel businesses in the industry and with Hal on our team, we will accelerate the integration of digital both online and in our stores to deliver the world-class experience our customers demand.”
While neither Lawton nor TSC have revealed what his priorities would be in his new job, it stands to reason that boosting the retailer’s e-commerce efforts would be part of his mandate. A 2016 story on Forbes.com indicated that Tractor Supply did less than 1 percent of its sales online, but more recently it has beefed up its e-commerce product assortment, adding 100,000 items in the past year. About three-quarters of its online orders are picked up in store it said. It has also developed a customer loyalty program, called Neighbor’s Club, to get better data on its customer base.
Company officials continue to stress that the physical connection its stores have with its customers are a key component of its success. In his new position Lawton will need to keep that connection relevant while no doubt accelerating its e-commerce business. It’s a set of skills Lawton has used before at prior stops on his career path.