Friday, June 27, 2008

Wal Mart Has Created A New, More Upscale Supercenter Store Design Prototype; Submitting Plans For the Stores Selectively in U.S.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has created a new supercenter design prototype (pictured above), which the retailer is currently submitting plans for to a select number of cities and counties in the U.S., where it hopes to build and open the first of these new design stores.

The prototype supercenter has a completely different look and feel compared to the retailer's existing battleship blue and grey supercenters.

For example, it's much sleeker in design than Wal-Mart's existing traditional big box design, and is rather upscale in its look and feel.

It's still a big box store in that it will feature all of Wal-Mart's traditional supercenter departments, but it also has numerous new features and elements including: glass windows or large skylights on the roof to let in natural sunlight; numerous green building design elements, which Wal-Mart has been using in its prototype "green" supercenters for some time; and energy-efficient lighting systems that turn on when they detect a shopper, and off when shoppers leave the particular area of the store.

The new design prototype supercenter also features new department titles or names throughout the store, less clutter and in-store signage, curved lines rather than the square edges common in Wal-Mart's traditional supercenters, and multiple earth-tone colors used throughout the store instead of the traditional blue and grey-only standard color scheme.

The new prototype also features a new Wal-Mart logo to be placed on the stores. The new logo has two color schemes we've viewed. The first color scheme (pictured below) has blue lettering with a gold/orange star-burst after "Walmart." The second color scheme has "Walmart" in white letters on an orange background, with a white star-burst after.
Wal-Mart, Inc. plans to officially unveil a new corporate logo next week, something that's being anxiously anticipated by company stakeholders, analysts and others. We believe Wal-Mart's new corporate logo might well be the one above, in one or the other color schemes. You read it (and viewed the logo) here first.

One of the handful of U.S. cities and counties Wal-Mart has submitted plans to for the new supercenter prototype stores is Cordova, in Shelby County, Tennessee, according to a senior Wal-Mart official.

That plan initially called for the new design prototype supercenter to be a whopping 267,000 square-feet, which would have made it Wal-Mart's largest supercenter built to date.

However, the Shelby County Land Use Control Board rejected the Wal-Mart's plan for the mega-supercenter earlier this year because of extensive objections by nearby residents over its size, along with having concerns about potential noise and traffic issues. The store's size also was objected to by the Shelby County Division of Planning and Development, along with it having some serious concerns about increased traffic on existing roads.

Wal-Mart went back to the drawing board, and on July 10 will present a revised plan to the Shelby County Land Use Control Board for a much smaller 151,908 new design prototype supercenter for the same site in Cordova, in Shelby County, according to the senior Wal-Mart official. Cordova is near Memphis. The supercenter site is at Macon and Houston Levee in Cordova. The county has jurisdiction over planning in Cordova.

The design elements of the revised, smaller 151,908 square-foot supercenter are identical to those of the initial 267,000 proposed monster-store, according to the Wal-Mart senior official. The only change is one of scale, he says.

One of the features of the new design prototype supercenter is that it can be used to build stores of various sizes - as big as the 267,000 square-foot model (and bigger if desired) described above, and as small as about 100,000 square feet, or even smaller. This feature allows Wal-Mart to more easily adapt the prototype to specific neighborhoods - urban settings for example - as well as municipal and county political situations and conditions.

The site for the supercenter in Cordova, in Shelby County, Tennessee, is a 26-acre development which includes numerous other commercial buildings besides the proposed supercenter. Wal-Mart has a contract to buy the land on which the proposed unit would sit and will do so if its plans for the 151,908 square foot new design prototype supercenter are approved by the county land use board, according to the senior Wal-Mart official.

If approved at or not to long after the Shelby County Land Use Control Board meeting on July 10, when Wal-Mart officials will present the revised supercenter plan, we're told by the Wal-Mart senior official the Tennessee new design prototype likely will be the first of the new design Superstores to be built and opened in the U.S.

It's far from certain the revised supercenter will gain approval though. There remains much opposition to it among various citizens and groups in the area, although they've yet to see Wal-Mart's plans for the smaller version supercenter.

The supercenter's opponents' primary concerns are traffic and noise. The county also has concerns because it says it will have to spend a considerable amount of money on road and intersection improvements because of the heavy volume of automobile traffic the new supercenter will generate in the area.

What's significant though, at least for this piece, is that Wal-Mart has created this new age design supercenter prototype. You can bet if this particular new supercenter doesn't get built in this particular part of Tennessee, one of the new design supercenters will be built soon elsewhere in the U.S.

As we wrote about in this April 27, 2008 piece [Going Smaller: Wal-Mart Might have Found A Solution or Two to Much of the Opposition to its Mega-Supercenter Stores in the USA] Wal-Mart has become flexible with its supercenter size recently, when historically it's been rigid over tweaking the size of the mega-stores. For example, the retailer is converting a 105,000 square- foot (about 75,00-80,000 square-feet of selling space) vacant big box retail building in Modesto, California into a "hybrid" supercenter, which will be the first such supercenter for the retailer in the U.S.

Additionally, Wal-Mart is converting a number of its Wal-Mart discount format stores in Southern California's Orange County into supercenters, adding about 30,000 -to- 75,000 square feet to them (the amount depends on the store), which will be used for food and grocery (including fresh foods) product merchandising.

These discount format-to-supercenter "hybrids" will be much smaller than the average 185,000 square-foot Wal-Mart supercenter, but will allow for a full selection of fresh foods and grocery products to be sold in them, which is a top priority for the mega-retailer, since food and grocery now comprise 41% of Wal-Mart's overall sales, according to the most recent category sales numbers from the retailer.

Despite being the world's largest corporation and retailer, Wal-Mart isn't letting that prevent it from innovating. In fact, when it comes to retail format innovation, Wal-Mart is currently innovating more so than it's done at any time in its history.

In addition to the multi-format supercenter concepts mentioned above, along with Wal-Mart's "green Wal-Mart supercenter prototype, the mega-retailer is set to open its new Marketside small-format grocery stores, or what we call "Small-Mart's," in four cities in the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan region this fall.

The Marketside "Small-Marts," at about 15,000 square feet, are about the size of the meat department in one of the retailer's 200,000 square-foot supercenters.

The stores are being positioned by Wal-Mart as small community grocery stores with a focus on service. The product merchandising focus in the Marketside stores will be on store-made fresh, prepared foods, fresh produce and meats, and basic and specialty grocery products, including some new store brands to be introduced by Wal-Mart just for the Marketside grocery stores.

Additionally, Fresh & Easy Buzz has learned, Wal-Mart plans to convert more former big box stores into smaller supercenters like it's doing in Modesto, California, in other selected cities, including urban markets.

Lastly on the format innovation front, we've learned Wal-Mart is working on some new design changes, tweaks and upgrades to its 45,000 square foot Neighborhood Market supermarkets.

The retailer hasn't done much in terms of expanding its Neighborhood Market supermarket's store count since it created the format and opened the first store in 1998. However, in the last couple years its opened a higher than historic annual average number of the supermarkets, and plans on continuing to do so for the next few years in select regions of the U.S.

For the last few years, Wal-Mart has been customizing the design of its supercenters in a few regions of the U.S., where doing so has helped it to gain approval for the stores. For example, in Colorado, Wal-Mart has built two supercenters that blend in with the respective communities' mountain setting, using earth-tone colors and brick on the store facades rather than the traditional blue and grey-colored materials it normally uses, as well as adding features like bicycle paths around the store, and even a bicycle shop inside one of the Colorado stores.

It appears to us the new design prototype supercenter is an evolution of that customization as well as a "mass customization" of many elements of the handful of "green" Wal-Mart supercenters the retailer has opened over the last few years in the U.S.

The flexibility of the new design prototype supercenter - to go from say 267,000 square-feet -to- 100,000 square-feet for example - also has an element of "mass customization" in it, which should serve Wal-Mart well.

The fact the new design prototype supercenter is much more upscale and attractive than the basic format supercenter (which wouldn't take much) seems to send a signal from the brawny big box retailer from Bentonville it believes its low and value price positioning won't be hurt by housing such merchandising - the key to the retailer's success - in a more sleek, upscale and considerably more attractive retail box - a box with design lines even.

As far as we're aware, Wal-Mart doesn't intend at this point in time to completely do away with its standard Wal-Mart supercenter battleship blue and grey big box. Although, based on information from our sources, we suspect eventually doing so will be the case for the mega-retailer from Arkansas, especially if the new logo "Walmart" logo it unveils is the one we have pictured in this story., which we believe to be the case.

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