Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wal-Mart Opens Upscale Test Store in Texas

Chain Store Age

PLANO, Tx. - Wal-Mart Stores opened a first-of-its-kind laboratory store in Plano, Texas, to see if it can entice consumers to shop at the store for more than everyday essentials. Targeting upscale shoppers, the 203,091-sq.-ft. Wal-Mart Supercenter carries about 1,500 premium items not normally found in typical Wal-Mart stores and includes the company’s only sushi shop. It features an expanded selection of high-end electronics, fine jewelry and produce, and carries hundreds of types of wine ranging up to $500 a bottle. Employees sport a more polished look, wearing a navy polo and khaki uniform instead of the standard aprons and vests. Other attractions include a Wi-Fi café (with two computers set up for public e-mail access) and a kiosk in the meat department that prints recipes and shopping lists. In another first for Wal-Mart, the store also offers baggers at the checkout.

The Plano store doesn’t sell fabric or guns and it carries less fishing gear, camping goods and automotive products than a standard Wal-Mart. Instead, the space is devoted to items like fitness equipment, patio furniture and hot tubs. Wal-Mart says it won't duplicate this format anywhere else. However, if some of the featured specialty items sell successfully, those products could be added to other stores in affluent communities.

The look of this Wal-Mart is much different than its other stores, with many departments having a specialty-store look (women’s apparel has its own checkout). Dressing rooms have been redesigned for more privacy.

"We created a store with departments that have their own special look and feel. We don't want the entire store to look the same," Wal-Mart senior analyst and project manager Ryan Lincks told The Dallas Morning News. Greeting cards are in wooden shelves with halogen lighting, making them easier to access. Wood floors set off departments from concrete pathways, and aisles are 18 inches wider than usual, while the book section, found on cherry wood shelves, is designed to tie in with the company's Web site. "We're trying to make the connection more in this store to,” Lincks said.

The Dallas Morning News also reported that the home goods and furniture area feels more like a Target than a Wal-Mart, while window treatment section is more reminiscent of Pottery Barn. The store also has a quieter shopping experience with fewer PA announcements, no in-store radio and softer-sounding cash registers. Although many Plano residents initially opposed the store, most are now focusing on what it could do for the community.


  1. That's too bad they don't plan to open more stores like it.

  2. I wish they had one closer. I would like to see this place in person. My mom would be rather bummed that they don't carry fabric though.

  3. Im guessing they are running out of ideas, they needed to make money, because sometime recently, they had lost quite a lot.

  4. It sounds a little like desparation to me too. Thing is, usually when stores start tryig to go upscale, they alienate their core customer base, which leads to more sales problems.

    I wish them luck. They're gonna need it.

  5. It all just sounds so...Target. Plus those greeting card fixtures and product are all Hallmark. And if there are two factions in this world which garner my disdain, they are certainly Wal*Mart and Hallmark (the reasoning behind this is quite obvious for those who know me). Anyways, I'll spare you all my mile long rant about Wal*Mart's lack of originality (blue polos and khaki's??) and alienation of core customer base because, well, I've done it a billion times before. More power to the Bullseye!

  6. I don't belive Wal-Mart's claims that "it won't duplicate this format anywhere else." Sure, it won't build a store exactly like the Plano unit, but you better believe it will export the "best" of this store to future units as well as its existing ones. Wal-Mart is an experimental and innovative operation, and it is quick to exploit what works.

    I'm reminded of a recent news item that Wal-Mart will open a similar store in Phoenix. While only about 100,000 square feet, it will be near to some of the poshest neighborhoods in Paradise Valley and include many of the same features of the Plano store. We may see many more "upscale" Wal-Marts in the future, which I think is less a sign of desperation that a sign of a desire to grow market share in wealthier areas.

    We all know that Wal-Mart has "saturated" the lower end of the spectrum. The challenge is to appeal to more customers while not alienating its customer base. Don't expect Wal-Mart to stop selling fabric and start selling sushi at its thousands of units in the American heartland, but do expect them to do so at the units it hopes to build in wealthier and more urbane markets. If Wal-Mart wnats to infiltrate the cities, it has to give "city-folk" what they want. The learning curve is steep, to be sure, but I think they might be able to pull it off.

    A running joke between one of my friends who worked at Target is that there are "Tar-jays" and "Tar-ghettos." Wal-Mart can target its stores to the local demographics, and they should. There's a big difference between the Ralphs stores in South L.A. and those in the wealthier districts, especially the "Fresh Fare" units. Wal-Mart can't be all things to all people in all cities. It can have a limited number of "upscale" stores in "upscale" markets, but I wonder if just the Wal-Mart name alone will scare wealthier customers away entirely. Maybe it should come up with a different name for the store in Plano and similar stores elsewhere? Wal-Mart suffers from an image problem, not a retailing problem.

  7. It'd be weird if the new one at Carolina Circle was going to be like that. From the way it sounds, I'd probably walk in and get lost in there.

  8. I think you'd do okay.

    Anyway, Carolina Circle's Wal-Mart will likely have a few elements form the Plano store, but will probably be more like the Wal-Marts you're familiar with.

  9. Carrie: Definately a Target copy. You'd think with all that money, they'd be able to think outside the bullseye.

    Mitch: I'm, already seeing elements of the test show up in my local Wal-Mart. Unique, my ass!

    Never thought about the "Tar-jays" and "Tar-ghettos" until you mentioned it, but it's true.