Lowe's Canada plans to begin converting 40 big box Rona stores to the Lowe's banner early next year, but says the Rona name isn't going away and vows to expand the brand's presence.
"Rona is going to be our biggest banner by number of locations in the portfolio," Lowe's Canada president Sylvain Prud'Homme said Monday, acknowledging that removing the name of a prominent Quebec retailer is politically sensitive.
"There's no intention to remove Rona. There' s a couple of stores that we will make sure that we are actually creating the right value proposition for these customers but we are going to grow Rona."
The first stores to get the new name next spring will be located outside Quebec.
Another 17 stores in Quebec will be converted in 2019 once it adopts a new French-language information technology system that will then be rolled out to existing Lowe's stores.
In all, 40 stores out of its network of 600 stores across Canada and 295 in Quebec will change names over four years and join the 53 Lowe's Canadian locations.
No decision has been made about whether another 21 large Rona locations will be rebranded as Lowe's.
Prud'Homme said the change announced six months after it acquired Rona is being made to eliminate shopper confusion about what is sold at its various store formats.
The chain will have four types of stores – Lowe's big box locations, large Reno-Depot stores mainly in Quebec, medium-sized Rona stores and small Ace hardware stores.
Lowe's is set to introduce a new prototype for Rona stores next year with four new stores and the overhaul of nine locations.
The chain and its affiliates operate almost 400 of these mid-sized stores that sell about 20,000 items, almost half the amount available at Lowe's.
It also hopes to double the size of its network of Ace stores to reach about 200 stores in five years.
Together the medium and small-sized retail stores account for 56 per cent of Canada's home improvement market.
"We believe that through this segmentation we'll have the proper proposition out there to fulfil our customer expectations," Prud'Homme added.
The large Reno-Depot stores that service pro customers and contractors is under evaluation but are unlikely to be converted to the Lowe's brand. The company is also reviewing small regional chains like Marcil, Dick's Lumber and Chester in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Despite some fears in Quebec about the loss of the Rona brand, Prud'Homme said the company is honouring its commitments to locate its headquarters in Quebec and maintain Rona's philanthropic donations.
He also said customer surveys have not uncovered any unwillingness of Quebec consumers to shop at Lowe's.
"Our customers are telling us that they have no problem with the Lowe's brand. They're actually anxious to see what it looks like."