Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Simon Says: Walmart U.S. CEO Outlines Smaller Store Strategy and Plans; Walmart to Offer Groceries Online in USA

Walmart U.S. president and CEO Bill Simon outlined Walmart Stores, Inc.'s smaller store strategy and plans this morning at the retailer's annual conference for the investment community in Bentonville, Arkansas.

In addition, Walmart said today it plans to start offering packaged food and grocery items on its e-commerce website in the coming year.

Below is what Simon said in his talk this morning about the smaller-format stores and Walmart's "Three format" strategy:

"Over the next few years, we will introduce new formats to help us enter new markets.

"Walmart U.S. will move toward a three-format portfolio, which will drive expansion to urban markets and small towns, as well as fill in gaps in existing markets," Simon explained.

"The large format is our supercenter, which sells a broad assortment of groceries and general merchandise.

"We have integrated efficiencies into our supercenter design that have allowed us to decrease the average square footage for our supercenter format.

"The medium (store) format, between 30,000 and 60,000 square feet, will be based on the needs of an individual market.

"The small format, which is less than 30,000 square feet, will be targeted to urban markets and small towns."

Simon stressed in his talk this morning that although he believes there's room for "hundreds" of the smaller format stores in the U.S., Wal-Mart plans to open just 30 -to- 40 of the smaller stores in its 2012 fiscal year, as it tests the formats.

Walmart's head of U.S. operations also confirmed Walmart's plans to open the smaller format (and likely some medium) stores in Southern California and Northern California, as well as in Chicago and New York. Other major regions and cities are part of the plan as well. He didn't offer a specific laundry list of regions and cities but said "yes" to all of the above. [See - October 11, 2010: Walmart to Outline its Urban-Focused Smaller-Format Grocery Store Plans Wednesday; What Might Be In-Store? and July 6, 2010: Walmart Looking for Store Sites in Northern California For 20,000 Sq-Ft Neighborhood Market by Walmart Prototype Store] [Also see the column linked in the paragraph below.]

Simon also joked about liking the two musical numbers - "My Kind of Town (Chicago is)" and "New York, New York" - both of which were performed by the "Walmart Choir" during last night's conference kick off and dinner. Read what our 'The Insider' columnist had to say about it yesterday - October 12, 2010: 'The Insider': Live-Blogging Walmart Stores' 17th Annual Meeting For the Investment Community.

That announcement should surprise many of the equity analysts in the audience, who are among those who've recently been suggesting prior to today, like they did when 'Neighborhood Market' was launched in 1998 and again in 2008 with 'marketside,' that Walmart will build hundreds and even thousands of the smaller format stores. The proof will be in the pudding.

Walmart's track record with smaller stores - it's opened about 181 of the 39,000-42,000 square-foot Neighborhood Market supermarkets since 1998 and just four 'marketside by Walmart' units (about 15,000-18,000 square-feet) since 2008 - is less than stellar. Walmart U.S. is making the right decision to start slow, based on its track record with smaller format stores.

That Walmart plans to take a slow and cautious approach with its smaller store strategy and plans is good news for Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market. Were Walmart to go aggressive with the launch, opening a hundred or more stores over say a two year period of time, particularly in California where Tesco is putting most of its emphasis, the United Kingdom-based retailer would be under even more pressure than it already is under with its small-format Fresh & Easy venture.

Walmart plans to open 185 -to- 205 new stores in the next fiscal year, compared with 153 stores in the current year, but with the same increase in square footage, 11 million, and similar capital expenditure, $7.5 billion to $8 billion, Simon said.

Simon tied Walmart's U.S. supercenter strategy into its new, smaller store plans. And supercenters - new units and discount store conversions - remain Walmart's primary retailing - including food and grocery - format and growth instrument going forward in America, without a doubt.

"We also are allocating capital to continue converting discount stores to supercenters, which add no square footage, but are expected to increase sales," Simon said today.

"Of the 155 to 165 supercenters we will add next year, 45 to 50 will be new units, with the remainder conversions. Simon said U.S. supecenters now average about 180,000 square-feet.

"Neighborhood Markets will make up the bulk of the medium format stores, and there will be some pilots of the small store format included in next year's plan."

By the end of Walmart's current fiscal year, more than 550 U.S. stores will have been remodeled, Simon said today, adding that Walmart U.S. plans to remodel more than 500 stores next fiscal year.

"Remodeling costs will be lower next year, due to changes in design and schedules. The time to remodel a store will decrease by 40 percent, and with fewer disruptions, traffic and sales will improve sooner,"he said at today's investor conference.

"We are very excited about the additional growth opportunities that we have in the United States. We will have growth in geography, growth in formats and growth in multi-channels."

A key point noted by Simon this morning is that capital expenditures for Walmart U.S. next year will be flat when compared to the current year, as will square footage growth. But stores and sales are projected to grow, he said.

Simon commented that Walmart believes it can and should be grabbing a bigger share of U.S. consumer dollars, including food and grocery purchases, particularly from lower-income shoppers.

Consumers earning less than $70,000 a year account for 68% of Wal-Mart's U.S. customers, Simon said today, adding that its store remodels of the last couple years and the use of more-simplified product offerings have helped the retailer attract more affluent shoppers.

However, he said Walmart has lost ground with its lower-income customers, which the retailer is working hard to turn around adding-back SKUs and new merchandise and focusing its promotions on overall shopping basket value and savings rather than putting an emphasis on just a few items.

What Simon is referring to is the fact that some of Walmart's middle and lower-income customer base has been shopping other formats like dollar stores and deep-discount grocers, as well as cherry-picking among numerous retailers, over the last couple years, driven in large part by the recession, rather than being as loyal as they've been in the past to Walmart, particularly when it comes to grocery shopping.

"In this environment [poor economy, high unemployment] we should be thriving," Simon said in his talk, adding that while its true the economy is causing pain for Walmart's lower-income consumers, that posed an opportunity to gain market share by making its offering more appealing and getting them back.

America's Next Online Grocer: Walmart of course

Walmart also announced at the conference today it will begin offering packaged food and grocery items on its website in the coming year, which it's referring to as a pilot project.

Fresh & Easy Buzz first reported Walmart would do so in early 2009 on our feed (which you can view at the top/right) and have mentioned it in the blog a number of times since. It's been a long time coming, in fact.

The food and grocery products will be shipped to homes and business addresses by postal carriers like Federal Express, just as clothing, books, furniture and everything else ordered via the website is.

Online ordering with pick-up at selected stores via Walmart's "Pick Up Today" program will also be an option. Walmart is expanding its "Pick Up Today" and related "FedEx Site to Store" program to additional U.S. regions, including the San Francisco Bay Area and metropolitan Chicago, Phoenix and Washington D.C., along with expanding the program in general. See here for details.

Direct home grocery delivery isn't part of Walmart's plans. The retailer already offers a selection of non-food packaged goods like household cleaning products and laundry detergent, along with pet foods, on

Our 'The Insider' columnist nailed the online grocery offering announcement ahead of today's conference in his column yesterday - October 12, 2010: 'The Insider': Live-Blogging Walmart Stores' 17th Annual Meeting For the Investment Community.

[Editor's Note: Fresh & Easy Buzz will be offering additional coverage and analysis (including a follow-up column by 'The Insider') on Walmart's smaller store and "three format" strategy and plans, it's online grocery plans, international initiatives, and more. Stay tuned.

Related Stories:

October 12, 2010: 'The Insider': Live-Blogging Walmart Stores' 17th Annual Meeting For the Investment Community

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

July 6, 2010 story - Walmart Looking for Store Sites in Northern California For 20,000 Sq-Ft Neighborhood Market by Walmart Prototype Store

September 20, 2010: About Today's Walmart Stores, Inc. Smaller Stores Media Frenzy: We Scooped it On July 6, 2010

September 23, 2010: Revisting 'marketside by Walmart': Format As We Know it On the Way Out But Some or All Of the Four Stores Could Be Converted

April 25, 2008: Going Smaller: Wal-Mart Might have Found A Solution or Two to Much of the Opposition to its Mega-Supercenter Stores in the USA

June 27, 2008: Wal Mart Has Created A New, More Upscale Supercenter Store Design Prototype; Submitting Plans For the Stores Selectively in U.S.

September 15, 2008: Wal-Mart Expanding its Discount Store-to-Supercenter Conversion Program As Part of its Strategy to Grab Even More Food and Grocery Sales Market Share

February 11, 2009: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Isn't the Only Food & Grocery Retailer With its Eyes on Bakersfield: Wal-Mart's Bakersfield Push and Central Valley, CA Strategy

May 6, 2010: Going Smaller & Getting 'Hybrid': Walmart's Smaller Supercenter in Vacant Retail Buildings Strategy Began in 2008

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