Tuesday, October 12, 2010

'The Insider': Live-Blogging Walmart Stores' 17th Annual Meeting For the Investment Community

'The Insider' - Heard on the Street

Walmart Stores, Inc. kicked off its 17th Annual Meeting for the Investment Community this evening at 7:15 p.m., with opening remarks by Tom Schoewe, the global retailer's chief financial officer.

As I write the column, Leslie Dach, Walmart's executive vice president, corporate affairs and government relations, is giving the keynote dinner presentation. He's set to conclude at 8 p.m.

Tonight is a warm-up for tomorrow, when Walmart executives, led by CEO Mike Duke, will make presentations from 8 am-3.35 pm . Duke will kick off the day with opening remarks at 8 a.m. and then bat clean up , closing the conference in the late afternoon.

Much of the focus of Dach's talk right now is on Walmart's sustainability, education and charitable giving practices, including Walmart USA's record-breaking donation to U.S. food banks this year.

Dach has finished his talk and is preparing to answer audience questions. But first a little entertainment. And it's entertainment with a message.

A group of Walmart associates, dressed in trademark blue shirts, has taken the stage and are singing: "New York, New York," as a slide show of various Big Apple sites, like Wall street, is shown on a big screen. New Jersey-born Frank Sinatra, often referred to as "The Chairman of the Board," made the song and New York City synonomous.

The message is this: Tomorrow morning Walmart USA CEO Bill Simon plans to outline the retailer's new urban-focused smaller-store strategy. One of the cities he's expected to discuss is...New York City, where Walmart has zero retail presence but wants to "Be A Part Of...Good Old New York, New York." [Read the story - October 11, 2010: Walmart to Outline its Urban-Focused Smaller-Format Grocery Store Plans Wednesday; What Might Be In-Store?]

After the song Dach said: "Any relationship between our choice of songs and any actual political strategy is purely fictional," a clear indication, using a little humor, Walmart wants to ink a similar deal with Mayor Bloomberg and legislators for stores in New York City like it did with Mayor Daley and legislators recently in Chicago. (See the linked story above for details.)

Further symbolism: The same "Walmart Choir" sang Dach on to the stage earlier tonight, singing another song - "My Kind of Town," (Chicago is) - made famous by Frank Sinatra. Walmart already has at least three-four stores, of various formats and sizes, approved in Chicago.

I expect Simon to mention three medium and smaller store formats tomorrow - a medium format store, a version of the about 20,000 square-foot 'Neighborhood Market by Walmart' prototype, and a small-format grocery store, which we've been calling an "American Bodega, along with discussing smaller supercenters (which already exists in various versions). There could be some surprises as well.

[Read the story - October 11, 2010: Walmart to Outline its Urban-Focused Smaller-Format Grocery Store Plans Wednesday; What Might Be In-Store?]

The Walmart associates' choir just finished singing the iconic song, "New York, New York." They did a good job, by the way. I see a singing future for the group. Pay attention Mike Duke. They would be great roving ambassodors for the chain.

Dach is back on stage to answer audience questions.

In response to a question from an audience member, Dach says Card Check (the Employee Free Choice Act), the legislation that would eliminate the secret ballot in union elections at companies, is essentially dead, according to his analysis. Walmart has few worries about the legislation at this point in time, he says.

He's not alone in that analysis. Even if the House of Representatives were to take up Card Check before the November election, which they won't, there aren't enough votes in the Senate to pass it. And with nearly every political analyst predicting the Democrats will lose some Senate seats in the November election, along with numerous U.S. House seats, the organized labor-backed legislation seems dead in its tracks.

You can believe Walmart CEO Duke and team are very happy Card Check won't happen in the near future.

Just two audience questions for Dach. He got off easy. The one above was the most significant from a Walmart political-economic perspective.

You can watch a webcast of this evenings activities here.

Below is tomorrow's agenda from Bentonville:

>8:00 a.m. -8:20 a.m.
Company Strategy and Priorities - Mike Duke, president and CEO

>8:20 a.m. -9:15 a.m.
Sam's Club, Brian Cornell, CEO, and team

>9:15 a.m. -10:35 a.m.
Walmart International, Doug McMillon, CEO, and team

>10:50 a.m. -12:05 p.m.
Walmart U.S., Bill Simon, CEO, and team

>1:05 p.m. -2:20 p.m.
Global Sourcing and Global eCommerce, Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman, and teams

>2:20 p.m. -2:55 p.m.
Consolidated Financial Update - Charles Holley, executive vice president finance and treasurer

>2:55 p.m. -3:35 p.m.
Closing Remarks - Mike Duke, president and CEO

Walmart Stores, Inc. executives collectively have much to talk about tomorrow - ranging on the international front from the company's September 27 announcement that it intends to acquire South Africa-based food and general merchandise chain 'Massmart' for 4.1 billion, and the September 24 conditional approval of its $1.2 billion acquisition of about 190 Netto stores in the United Kingdom, which after selling 47 units it plans to fold into its UK Asda chain, to its initiatives, operations and future plans in China, India, Mexico, Canada and elsewhere.

At home in America, in addition to outlining its small store plans, I think Walmart could either announce or offer some additional information about its eventual plans to offer a full selection of packaged food and grocery products on its Walmart.com site, to include home delivery via postal carriers (as it does now with packaged non-food items), along with an expansion of its site-to-store pick up program.

Also look for a discussion from Walmart USA CEO Bill Simon about new merchandising initiatives, including the new key role U.S. food and grocery retailing veteran Duncan McNaughton is assuming in Walmart's U.S. food and grocery operations.

McNaughton, who joined Walmart Canada after leaving Supervalu, Inc. in 2009, where he was corporate executive vice president of merchandising and marketing, started at Walmart HQ in Bentonville a little over a week ago, where he joins Jack Sinclair in heading up Walmart's U.S. food, grocery and packaged goods merchandising and marketing functions and initiatives.

These are just a few highlights of what's to come tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Walmart Stores, Inc. by the numbers: Walmart currently has over 8,600 retail stores operating under 59 different banners in 15 countries. The company had fiscal year 2010 sales of $405 billion. Walmart currently employs more than two million associates worldwide.

Recent columns by 'The Insider':

~October 8, 2010: Incoming Tesco CEO Philip Clarke Needs to 'Imagine' When it Comes to Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA

~September 13, 2010: Reading Philip Clarke's Tea Leaves: Might A Mixed Corporate/Franchise Model Be in Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's Future?

~September 3, 2010: How the California Grocers Association and its Members Can Snatch Victory From the Jaws of the Defeat of California's Plastic Bag Ban

~August 22, 2010: Challenges & Opportunities: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Will Supply its Northern CA Stores From its Riverside County DC in Southern CA

~July 18, 2010: When it Comes to Northern California - its Competitors are Rome Burning and Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is Nero Playing the Fiddle

~July 13, 2010: A Few Words on The Life and Death of Veteran Southern California Grocer Roger K. Hughes

~June 27, 2010: The Insider: Will Tesco Acquire Supervalu, Inc. and Change its 'Fresh & Easy' Game in America?

~June 12, 2010: Will Phil Clarke Shake Things up at Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA When He Becomes Tesco CEO in 2011?

~May 20, 2010: Welcome to Discountopia USA

~April 29, 2010: Heard on the Street: There's Something About Albertsons ... In Southern California

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