Margi Vagell has been with Lowe’s since 2009. She has served in various leadership roles across departments including store merchandising, pricing and promotions, enterprise analytics and online merchandising and marketing for Lowes.com. In July 2019, Vagell was promoted to senior vice president and general merchandising manager of home decor. Before joining Lowe’s, she held merchandising director positions at eFashion Solutions, Inc., and Victoria’s Secret.
What are your current responsibilities?
VAGELL: I am responsible for advancing our merchandising strategy for paint, flooring, decor, kitchen and bath and appliances. I lead a team of highly skilled merchants responsible for billions of dollars in sales annually. We are focused on helping our DIY (do-it-yourself) customers achieve their home improvement dreams, whether that’s painting a room or completing a kitchen remodel. For the professional, or Pro, customers, we’re focused on bringing in the brands that matter most, the quantity of inventory to complete their jobs and speed to get them the product they need.
Merchandising excellence was a key focus area for Lowe’s in 2019. How did you implement this in your work?
VAGELL: We put the customer at the center of our strategy and operating plans. In my current role, this also means providing the right products, in the right place, at the right time, so customers can shop any way they choose. For example, three quarters ago, the paint department had delivered comps below the company average for 10 consecutive quarters. Then in Q2 2019, paint led the merchandising department growth due to an improved service model, a better in-stock position and compelling offers. We continue to invest in this area given that paint is a traffic-driving category and that painting is the number-one DIY project. As we continue to refine our paint business, we will work closely with our suppliers to introduce an improved Pro paint offering to better serve the professional that paints as they’re completing their various remodel projects.
How has the emergence of the omnichannel shopper influenced your overall approach to merchandising?
VAGELL: The online and mobile experience continues to be a critical part of the customer journey as consumers usually begin searching for products online, before coming into the store fully informed based on their research. Knowing this, we enhanced the customer experience and presentation of products and projects on Lowes.com by adding three-dimensional and more product images. This is just a small step as we focus on improving our online experience.
What are the important characteristics of a mutually beneficial merchandising collaboration between a manufacturer and retailer?
VAGELL: We serve as an advocate for the customer, so it’s imperative that the customer is at the center of decision-making for the manufacturer and the retailer. We focus not just on meeting the needs of customers, but anticipating their needs, no matter the situation. When the customer receives great products, value and service, the manufacturer and the retailer win too.
Specific to home improvement, what role do you see the physical store playing in the future?
VAGELL: Most of our sales come from our brick-and-mortar locations, so serving our customers in the physical store is just as critical now as it will be in the future. The most popular question in retail is “Where do I find this?” whereas the most popular question in home improvement retail is “How do I use this?” This underscores the importance of associate expertise and knowledge. Our associates are our most valuable asset, so we are doubling down on training in product and project knowledge so our associates can better serve customers. Additionally, we’re investing in our store environment. We’ll have refreshed close to 100% of our chain by the end of Q1 2020, in addition to our enhanced resets across various categories including flooring, décor, kitchens, tools and lighting.
Tell us about the most successful merchandising work of your entire career.
VAGELL: I stood up a 16,000-plus-member merchandising service team in a short period of time. We needed to do a far better job of taking merchandising all the way to shelf, ensuring we not only set the product well, on time and in full, but that we service the bays in a more deliberate way. The setup of this organization was led by our strong leadership team that had deep store operations, merchandising and merchandising operations experience. We’re very proud of the value it’s serving our customers, red vest associates and our product vendor community.
VAGELL: In early 2019, I led the build-out of a field merchandising organization, which serves as an extension of corporate’s core merchants to regions across the country. The field merchants help us better localize our assortments, be the voice from the store operations teams back to the core merchants, react to weather events and ensure we execute holidays in the most competitive way. They’ve been successful because they are empowered to drive change, react to the customer needs and bring forward new opportunities.