"Victory Will be Mine!" "Blast!"

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Oct 2, 2008
Dallas, TX
Time Magazine:

Walmart loves to shock and awe. City-size stores, absurdly low prices ($8 jeans!) and everything from milk to Matchbox toys on its shelves. And with the recession forcing legions of stores into bankruptcy, the world's largest retailer now apparently wants to take out the remaining survivors.

Thus, the company is in the beginning stages of a massive store and strategy remodeling effort, which it has dubbed Project Impact. One goal of Project Impact is cleaner, less cluttered stores that will improve the shopping experience. Another is friendlier customer service. (Sorry...that one makes me laugh) A third: home in on categories where the competition can be killed. "They've got Kmart ready to take a standing eight-count next year," says retail consultant Burt Flickinger III, managing director for Strategic Resources Group and a veteran Walmart watcher. "Same with Rite Aid. They've knocked out four of the top five toy retailers, and are now going after the last one standing, Toys "R" Us. Project Impact will be the catalyst to wipe out a second round of national and regional retailers." (See 10 things to buy during the recession.)

Though that's bad news for many smaller businesses that can't compete, Walmart investors have clamored for this push. Despite the company's consistently strong financial performance, Wall Street hasn't cheered Walmart's growth rates. During the 1990s, the company's stock price jumped 1,173%. In this decade, it's down around 24% (Walmart's stock closed at $51.74 per share on Sept. 3). "Walmart is under excruciating pressure from employees and frustrated institutional investors to get the stock up," says Flickinger.

Many analysts believe that the store-operations background of new CEO Mike Duke will keep investors quite happy. Though the recession finally caught up to Walmart last quarter, when the company reported a 1.2% drop in U.S. same-store sales, Walmart was a consistent winner during the worst days of the financial crisis, as frugal consumers traded down. While most retailers are shutting down stores, Walmart has opened 52 Supercenters since Feb. 1. Joseph Feldman, retail analyst at Telsey Advisory Group, estimates that each store costs Walmart between $25 and $30 million. In order to continue the momentum that it has picked up during the retail recession, over the next five years the company plans to remodel 70% of its approximately 3,600 U.S. stores.

So what does a Project Impact store look like? One recent weekday afternoon I toured a brand new, 210,000-sq.-ft. Walmart in West Deptford, N.J., with Lance De La Rosa, the company's Northeast general manager. "We've listened to our customers, and they want an easier shopping experience," says De La Rosa. "We've brightened up the stores and opened things up to make it more navigable." One of the most noticeable changes is that Project Impact stores reshape Action Alley, the aisles where promotional items were pulled off the shelves and prominently displayed for shoppers. Those stacks both crowded the aisles and cut off sight lines. Now, the aisles are all clear, and you can see most sections of the store from any vantage point. For example, standing on the corner intersection of the auto-care and crafts areas, you can look straight ahead and see where shoes, pet care, groceries, the pharmacy and other areas are located. And the discount price tags are still at eye level, so the value message doesn't get lost. (See how Americans are spending now.)

"They are like roads," De La Rosa says proudly. "And look around, the customers are using them. We've already gotten feedback about the wider, more breathable aisles. Our shoppers love them."

The layout is also smarter. "You can kind of guess where everything is going to be," says Sharon Tilotta, 73, a shopper in the West Deptford store. The pharmacy, pet foods, cosmetics and health and beauty sections are now adjacent to the groceries. In the past, groceries and these other sections were often at opposite ends of the store, which made it more difficult for someone looking to pick up some quick consumables to get in and out of Walmart. "Under Project Impact, Walmart is providing more of a full supermarket experience within its walls," says Feldman. "The biggest complaint against them has always been that it takes a long time to get through everything. This definitely improves efficiency." De La Rosa also points out the party-supply section. Favors, wedding decorations, cards and scrapbooks are all in one area. "In the past, these products would be in three different places," he says.

And although Walmart won't admit to targeting specific competitors - "We're just listening to what our customers want," De La Rosa says - it's clear that, under Project Impact, Walmart will make major plays in winnable categories. The pharmacy, for example, has been pulled into the middle of the store, and its $4-prescriptions program has generated healthy buzz. With Circuit City out of business, the electronics section has been beefed up. Walmart is also expanding its presence in crafts. Sales at Michael's Stores, the country's largest specialty arts-and-crafts retailers, have sagged, and Walmart sees an opportunity. Stores are chock-full of scrapbooking material, baskets and yarns. "Look, they're selling the stuff that accounts for 80% of Michael's business, at 20% of the space," says Flickinger. "It's very hard for any company to compete with that."

Apparel, one of Target's traditional strengths, gets a prominent position at the center. The color palettes of the shirts and dresses are brighter and more appealing than they've been in the past. "Walmart has figured out fashion for the first time in 47 years," Flickinger says. "They've gone from a D to an A-minus." Briefs and underwear have been shuttled to the back. "That's a smart move," Flickinger says. "People know to come to Walmart for the commodity clothing. Now, they have to walk past the higher margin, more fashionable merchandise to get what they need."

Of course, Project Impact isn't perfect. You'd think that if Walmart was going to open a massive new store with a cutting-edge layout, the company would at least put a sign up. In West Deptford, it's easy to miss the entrance to the Walmart - which is buried in the back of a parking lot - while driving along a main thoroughfare. And of course, customers will always nitpick. One elderly shopper complained about a shortage of benches in the store (she needed a rest). Another had a more esoteric, yet legitimate, gripe. "Their meat is leaky," says Jeff Winter, 30, a West Deptford shopper. "And instead of giving you a wet wipe to clean it off, they give you a dry towel. How's that going to prevent E. coli or whatever?" (See which businesses are bucking the recession.)

What analysts really want to see from Project Impact, however, is a faster pace of implementation. "The biggest hurdle facing Walmart is the speed with which they can roll this out," says Feldman. As more Project Impact stores pop up, the existing stores appear worse by comparison. For example, while the merchandise at the Project Impact store outside of Philadelphia really speaks to that particular market - there's tons of Eagles and Phillies gear - at one regular discount store outside New York City, Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners pajama pants wasted away on the racks. There were plenty of associates staffing the electronics section at the Project Impact store; at the discount store, five frustrated shoppers waited in line for help from a customer-service rep. Soon, it was closer to 10.

What about the friendly service? In West Deptford, the associates were sunny and bright. At the New York–area discount store, not so much. "You'll notice we've been in the store for two hours, and no one has even said hello to us," Flickinger says after he and I toured that store. He's right, we weren't feeling any love. But if Project Impact keeps picking up momentum, many more Walmart salespeople, and shareholders, should be smiling.
I read this, too. I'd be fine with them taking over the world...as long as they employ more than 2 cashiers at a time. Waiting in line increases my Wal-Mart time by 1/3 easy.
I think if I had one wish for change within the company, it would be for management to identify those who hate their jobs and send them packing. This may very well dessimate the Sprawl Mart workforce, but at least they wouldn't have their own people alienating the general public.
Originally Posted By: BrianWC
I read this, too. I'd be fine with them taking over the world...as long as they employ more than 2 cashiers at a time. Waiting in line increases my Wal-Mart time by 1/3 easy.

I always enter and exit at Lawn and Garden. I rarely use the main checkout area unless the registers are wide open (not too often).

If its open and you just have a few things, check out in TLE. Almost no one thinks of the tire dept cashier. Enter and exit the store from the TLE area for a quick getaway.
Almost no one thinks of the tire dept cashier

Yep. The local (Johnstown) store is catching on, tho.., they just put up a "10 Items or Less" sign at the Tire/Battery checkout.

If you're in that area, the new'ish East Freedom store (just south of Altoona on I-99/US 220) always has more checkouts open than customers!!
They must not have gotten the 'make the customers suffer by standing in line' memo yet.
Im not surprised Walmart is becomming the largest and most powerfull retailer. Practically every thing they sell is made in China and thats where all the really good stuffs made nowaday's!!!
Customer service at the store level has always been a weak spot for WM. Although once you manage to grab the attention of somebody at a district or regional level, things get taken care of quickly!

There are certain Wal-Marts I'll shop at because of the staff being nicer and the store itself being nicer. Although I generally do not shop at Wal-Mart since it's often faster/nicer to shop elsewhere, and the quality of the foodstuffs I most frequently get is better elsewhere.
I used to have a co-worker who's wife was an assistant manager at a local Wal-Mart. She said a big problem is FINDING people to promote into management positions. She said most employees want to show up, get paid, and go home with as little thinking and effort as possible.
Many years ago when Wal-Mart (sans grocery) first came to this area I really liked them. The employees seemed friendly and eager to serve.

After Sam Walton died the customer service level took a nose dive, and at least around here never rebounded. They became big, impersonal and didn't care. About every 4 months or so I make the mistake of going in a Wal-Mart to pick up something and again realize why I don't shop there. Surly employees, long checkout lines and mediocre produce aren't my favorite things. A few years ago I waited 2 hours for a prescription to be filled (they kept promising me 10 more minutes).

There is a grocery store (Hy-Vee) that prides itself on friendly customer service. When I walk in the door I'm greeted by every employee I see, often by name. As I'm shopping I get asked at least once if I'm finding everything I need. If I want a special cut of meat they are happy to oblige. If I want a special order wine they'll find a way to make it happen and call me when it arrives. I've never waited more than 10 minutes for a prescription to be filled-there are always at least 6 people working in the pharmacy. If there are more than 2 people in a checkout line they immediately open another. I've often seen the assistant managers and the store director working the checkouts or bagging groceries.

So let's see. Go to a big, mediocre, impersonal store like Wal-Mart where I might save 2 or 3 dollars a week. Or go to a smaller chain, slightly more expensive, but vastly better customer service where my business is genuinely appreciated.

Pretty much a no brainer.
I don't mind Walmart. Its one of the few places that I don't feel like I'm getting ripped off. My wife and I save about $30 a week by shopping at Walmart instead of other stores. To me its worth it. Its convenient. Its cheap. We don't want to be greeted by everyone. We just want to go in, get what we need and get back to other aspects of life. If I need a specialty item then I usually order it online. But for week to week stuff, Walmart has everything I need.

BTW I'm mostly talking about groceries/toiletries and [censored] for the yard/cars.
We, my wife and myself, must not expect to much as we enjoy shopping at all but one WalMart in our area. The one we stay away from is because of the type of trash that shop there, but I guess they need stuff also, we just stay away.

All in all the employees (opps, associates) that we have delt with are usually helpful within their means, more than likely has something to do with the pay scale.

I feel WalMart offers extremally good value for money spent, plus we usually can get most everything in one stop. Some have said they don't like having to go through such a large store, well I don't like running from store to store trying to do my shopping.

BTW I've had the local WalMart store manger personally open a register and check me out.

I'm also diabetic, and had a sugar level crash once while in the
store, just happened to be an asst. mgr near and told him the problem. Immediatly was given a small orange juice free on the store's nickle. What more would one want.
The stores have grown so big it's getting really annoying. I once asked an employee if she could get me a bag of salt from the garden section, which was about 1/10th mile away.
Just think of the excerise you get. Now you don't have to get out on the road on your bike with that silly helmet on. Oh ya don't forget the spandex.
I am not impressed. My local store is having a ''Grand Reopening'' now. How can they have wider aisles without stocking less?
I used to check groceries for a little grocery chain down here. There are now 6 stores, then there were just 3. It was nothing unusual if a rush came up to see not only my manager, but the store manager and the sometimes the owner all either working a register or bagging groceries. I'll never forget, once during a rush I was checking out a large order and turned to my left to see the owner, a man in his 70s, with his sleeves rolled up working as my bagger. As I recall, he even took out the bags for the customer. He was a nice guy and all about making cash, but he didn't forget where his bread was buttered. I figure Sam Walton was probably that type of guy.

Wal-Mart is the natural progression of what happens when a small chain with a killer strategy loses it's founders and has only it's reason for being to guide it.
Originally Posted By: ViragoBry
What about the friendly service? In West Deptford, the associates were sunny and bright. At the New York–area discount store, not so much. "You'll notice we've been in the store for two hours, and no one has even said hello to us," Flickinger says after he and I toured that store.

I'd call that a bonus. I was in Best Buy last Monday and got approached by 3 or 4 roving "associates" within about five minutes. If I need your help figuring out what music I like, I'll ask for it.
After years of fighting the unwashed masses, (the employees AND patrons) I decided lower blood pressure was worth going somewhere where I would be treated with a speck of dignity and respect. The lowest common denominator shop at the WalMart closest to my house and I grew tired of playing "dodge the stopped fat-lady and her cart full of illegitimate children". People who darken the door of that store have no idea that there are other people in the world who treat grocery shopping as a secondary daily activity. Some of us actually have somewhere we need to get to THAT SAME DAY.

Now I support my local Target, Tom Thumb and Kroger, where the shopping experience is mostly devoid of trash.

How a chain of stores that offers so little in the way of customer care has grown to be this big is a testament to what's become important in this country. Sell it cheap, and sell a lot of it.
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