story and photos by Kim Souza
After more than a year of planning, the Walmart to Go convenience-store format quietly opened in Bentonville on Saturday (March 15), with the grand opening set for March 19.
Store workers told The City Wire this was a soft opening and it was a busy day with heavy in-store traffic as travelers on the busy intersection near 1300 S. Walton Blvd., sought a look inside what is the first store in a new effort by Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to capture a different and growing element of the retail market.
The small store is a hybrid format — part traditional convenience store, part grocery, part quick serve restaurant. Walmart partnered with Bentonville Butcher & Deli, one of the more popular names around in terms of quality meat, to operate a quick serve meat counter in the back of the store. Fresh deli sandwiches or hot barbecue brisket, ribs, smoked chicken and traditional sides were available by the plate or by the pound.
Krispy Kreme has a donut stand between the beverage stations on the right wall of the store. There is a traditional soda fountain, Icee fountain, milk shake option and full coffee/cappuccino area.
Refrigerated food-to-go includes market fresh pizzas, sandwiches and other meat entrees. There is also fresh fruit and a Greek yogurt smoothy station. The center of the store closely resembles a traditional convenience format with cashiers in a corral with a wide range of tobacco products.
The left side of the store is merchandised much like a tiny grocery. Coolers line the outer wall offering wine and beer with a walk-in cooler. Frozen foods can be found in two large freezers along the outer left wall.
The mini grocery includes five wide aisles that contain hundreds of packaged foods and non-edible items from breakfast cereals to dog food and diapers. Shirley’s Flowers has a fresh floral stand near the front doors next to Hallmark Cards. The store also has magazines, books, and ATM and a seating area near the front of the store.
The convenience store also features six gas pumps out front with a covered awning that sports the Walmart sunburst on the underside. One unusual feature is a large awning that connects the pump area to the front door. Ice, Blue Rhino propane and Red Box are all positioned outside the store under awnings. There is a picnic area outdoors to seat those wanting to eat onsite.
With this new convenience format Wal-Mart hopes to capture some of the $415 billion quick trip marketshare it is losing to Dollar General and other convenience stores. Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon said earlier this month that the retailer has just 10% of that marketshare and is vying for more with the hybrid stores that can serve consumer fill-in trips, which Walmart estimates to be 40% of their grocery spend.