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After many false starts, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. ? the world?s largest retailer ? finally appears to have gotten it right when it comes to operating a convenience store.
Walmart to Go is the retailer?s newest attempt to crack into the convenience business. Located on a busy intersection near the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., Walmart to Go, which Convenience Store News visited the day before its official grand opening on March 19, is sharp-looking, well-merchandised and looks like a real convenience store ? not some kind of hybrid or smaller version of the retailer?s giant Walmart Supercenters.
With a forecourt featuring six gasoline dispensers pumping out the company?s own brand of gas (priced competitively at $3.25 per gallon on March 18), Walmart to Go is a match regarding product mix and pricing for most modern convenience stores.
The store even features a strong foodservice operation run by a local company, Bentonville Butcher Shop & Deli. Its offerings include made-to-order gourmet sandwiches, chicken pot pie, traditional side salads and a variety of other meat dishes such as hot barbecue brisket, ribs and smoked chicken.
The left side of the store is set up like a typical convenience store with salty snacks, sweet snacks, candy, bread and other dry grocery products. The store also carries a robust (for a c-store) selection of automotive products and health and beauty care items.
On the left side and back walls is the cold vault, which features a walk-in cooler and stocks cold beer, frozen foods, soft drinks and dairy products.
Upon entering the store, customers face a large central checkout counter, with registers on two sides and assorted front-end products merchandised along all four sides. The Bentonville Butcher Shop & Deli counter is directly behind this checkout area and to the right are the store?s grab-and-go food and beverage offerings, including fountain drinks, a f?real milkshake mixer, an ICEE dispenser, and a floor cooler holding grab-and-go salads, heroes and take-home meals ready to heat. These refrigerated to-go meals include many different varieties of pizza.
This side of the store also features a coffee bar, which consists of six varieties of coffee and a cappuccino machine, selling a 12-ounce cup for 98 cents; a 16-ounce cup for $1.18; and a 20-ounce cup for $1.28. A display case of Krispy Kreme doughnuts is spotlighted along the right-side wall next to the coffee bar.
Walmart to Go offers an ATM and provides free Wi-Fi as well. Customers may also go online before visiting the store and place their order at the Bentonville Butcher Shop & Deli via a new mobile app. The store includes a picnic area outdoors, as well as counter space for indoor seating near one of the front windows.
YEARS OF TRIAL & ERROR
Walmart has tested several ?small-box? concepts over the years, the most recent being its Marketside by Walmart concept in Arizona. The only Walmart small-box concept that has seen any major expansion is the company?s Neighborhood Market concept, which at 40,000 square feet is hardly small compared to the typical 2,500- to 4,000-square-foot convenience store.
In the past, company management has always found it difficult to invest in growing smaller concepts like Marketside when it could generate so much more revenue and profits from a single 150,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter. Now, however, Walmart management finally appears resigned to the fact that its large store format has just about saturated the nation and the company?s future depends on the development of a viable small-box concept.
However, the multibillion-dollar retailer would have to quickly open thousands of Walmart to Go stores to make an impact on its bottom line. This would entail a massive store opening blitz or, more likely, a major acquisition of an existing small-box or c-store retailer.
It remains to be seen if company leaders will make the investment necessary to grow this concept. But this time, they seem to have a concept that works.