CEO of best-performing retail stock expects to ’emerge stronger’ from pandemic

Tractor Supply CEO Hal Lawton told CNBC on Thursday he expects the farm supplies retailer to “emerge stronger from the pandemic.” 

The company’s stock is up 47% since lockdowns began in mid-March, making Tractor Supply the best-performing retailer on the S&P 500. Shares of the company hit a 52-week high on Thursday. 

At a time when many companies are withdrawing guidance, Tractor Supply also provided its financial outlook for the second quarter on Tuesday and said it expects “record-breaking” sales and earnings, as well as comparable-store sales growth of 20% to 25%. 

As of March 28, the company operated 1,863 stores in 49 states.

“Our customers stocked up on pet food and animal feed much like many of us did at the grocery store, but since then, for the last eight weeks, our volume has been very consistent and very stable at these kind of escalated, top levels,” Lawton told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” 

“We firmly believe that we have a real opportunity here to lean into business and emerge stronger from the pandemic.”

The company has seen growth across all of its channels, geographies and product categories, said Lawton, who has been CEO since January. He said the company has seen interest particularly increase in gardening supplies and products for raising chickens like feed and coops, as people are drawn to homesteading and do-it-yourself projects.

“I think in America right now, we’re certainly seeing a rural revitalization,” Lawton said. “We’re seeing a summer of your home, a summer of your backyard.”

While many retailers are furloughing employees and ending “hero” bonuses for front-line workers, Tractor Supply has hired 4,000 people since early April and expanded benefits for employees. In addition to providing about $30 million in appreciation bonuses through June 27, the company will institute permanent wage increases for employees, including a minimum $1 per hour raise for all hourly workers, according to Lawton. 

Part-time employees will also have access to enhanced benefits that include medical, vision and dental coverage as well as paid sick leave, while store managers will receive restricted stock grants.

“We really feel that it’s powerful for them to be owners of our company moving forward,” Lawton said. 

Tractor Supply has also invested more in technology amid the pandemic, according to Lawton. The company plans to launch a mobile app in late June and roll out a redesigned website. 

“We see our customers embracing technology more and more and we’ve probably moved the adoption curve on technology forward by two or three years in terms of buying online and pickup in store,” Lawton said. 

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