A Lowe’s home-improvement store might look like
a factory ;oor—with its concrete ;oors, ;uorescent
lights and roving forklifts—but the only assembly
line here is the cash register. ;e 1,835 stores of
the Mooresville, North Carolina, USA-based chain
sell tools, appliances and hardware to 15 million
customers each week, earning US$53.4 billion in
;scal year 2013.
;ese are not sites where one would expect to
;nd a robot at work. Yet in 2014, Lowe’s completed
a pilot project to create a robot that guides customers through its stores, helping them identify and
locate merchandise within the cavernous spaces
while speaking to customers in several languages.
To execute such a nontraditional project, the
organization needed a nontraditional project team.
In 2013, the company established Lowe’s Innova-
tion Labs, an internal incubator that would generate
outside-the-box ideas—far outside the box. Kyle Nel,
the unit’s Mountain View, California, USA-based
executive director, hired a team of science-;ction
writers to imagine the future of the business. ;en
he had those ideas developed as comic books with
characters and story lines, and presented the comic
books to Lowe’s executives as project proposals.
;at creative approach to identifying new possi-
bilities is one of two core tenets of Mr. Nel’s strategy.
;e other is working with “uncom-
mon partners—people and compa-
nies that you would never expect a
company like Lowe’s to work with,”
When Mr. Nel challenged his
sci-; team members to envision
the future of the Lowe’s in-store
experience, their ideas consistently
included robotics. ;e timing
was perfect, because Mr. Nel had
just met an uncommon partner:
A roving bot turns shopping in large
stores into a pleasant experience.
“[A core strategy
tenet is working
companies that you
would never expect a
company like Lowe’s
to work with.”
—Kyle Nel, Lowe’s Innovation Labs,
Mountain View, California, USA
Lowe’s began testing its retail
robot at a Lowe’s-owned
Orchard Supply Hardware store
in San Jose, California, USA.