How is Tractor Supply acing the pandemic?
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion, is a summary of Steve Dennis’ recent Forbes article. Steve is President & Founder of SageBerry Consulting and a senior Forbes Contributor. His first book — Remarkable Retail: How to Win and Keep Customers in the Age of Digital Disruption — came out earlier this year.
Despite the relentlessly bleak news of sales declines, store closings and retail bankruptcies, Tractor Supply Company (TSC) not only just reported strong second-quarter sales, it also announced plans to open 75 to 80 new brick-and-mortar locations.
Concluding that the retailer was merely in the right place at the right time would be wrong. In addition to pursuing a large “white space” opportunity (largely below Wall Street’s radar) for many years now, TSC’s management has understood that, done right, physical stores can be assets, not liabilities.
TSC was ramping up innovation efforts well before the pandemic began spreading, largely by embracing the blur that shopping is today and seeing the customer as the channel. Importantly, it had several key initiatives, including an improved e-commerce platform, enhanced mobile-enabled shopping and expanded delivery options, ready to expand once the impact of the crisis became clear. Having already implemented buy online pickup in-store (BOPIS) years earlier, curbside pickup became a comparatively trivial roll-out, as was expanding ship from store in support of the explosive growth of online shopping in recent months.
There are a few takeaways from the arc of Tractor Supply’s success over the years that many retailers should take to heart.
First, having clarity around which customer segments and purchase occasions you wish to own — and driving relentlessly against becoming more intensely customer relevant — provides a powerful strategic “true north.”
Second, it’s critical to realize that it is not about brick and mortar and e-commerce as distinct channels but rather understanding how all touch points in the customer journey can work in concert to deliver a remarkable experience in the moments that matter.
Third, building a culture of experimentation and being fundamentally more agile is critical to surviving in the brave new world of intense digital disruption that has emerged over the past decade or so. Increasingly, particularly in our current highly uncertain environment, this radical agility may well determine the difference between the winners and those lost to history.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What lessons does Tractor Supply Company’s quiet success over the years and its ability to adjust and thrive amid the pandemic offer to other retailers? What common attributes are shared by retailers that have relatively smoothly navigated COVID-19’s fallout?