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BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Despite declining sales from the nation's increasingly challenged small businesses, Sam's Club is doubling down on its efforts to cater to business members.
According to Fortune, new Sam's Club initiatives include the pilot of a curbside order pickup service, helping to provide small business owners' employees with discounted health insurance, and offering services such as help submitting a patent application.
The goal is to give small-business owners more reasons to go to their local Sam's Club location.
"That group is financially strapped and right now, our exposure to that group is behind our deflated traffic," Sam's Club CEO Rosalind Brewer told Fortune in an interview. "But we try not to forget our heritage in that space."
To that end, the big-box operator introduced Aetna Marketplace for Sam's Club, the first retailer-supported private health insurance exchange for small businesses. In addition, business owners can get payroll systems from Execupay, and access legal services form LegalZoom via their Sam's Club membership.
The retailer is also making improvements online, according to the news report. Office supplies are a smaller part of its small-business segment than convenience stores or restaurants; however, Sam's Club has expanded its online selection geared toward small businesses to 13,000 kinds of items.
Visits from business members began declining after the economic downturn in 2008 and that has continued until now, the magazine reported.
Small-business owners account for as much as one-third of Sam’s Club's membership, according to Kantar Retail estimates. These same members have cut back on spending on their businesses and themselves. At rival Costco, small businesses only account for about 10 percent of membership, Fortune reported.
Even though the micro-business segment has been an obstacle to the retailer's growth, it gives Sam's Club an opportunity to differentiate itself, according to the report.
"Sam's has a lot more it can still lose with small businesses, so stepping up as a continued resource for this constituency is a good move that will help," said Sara Altukhaim, director of retail insights at Kantar, noting these initiatives will take time to lift Sam's Club. "If a retailer can get it right, these small businesses can use all the help they can get."
Bentonville-based Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., has grown into a $57.2 billion-a-year company since its inception in 1984.