story by Kim Souza
Bentonville’s Planning Commission rubber stamped Wal-Mart’s request for three waivers needed to get approval for the planned drive-in grocery fulfillment center to be located near the intersection of S. Walton Boulevard and J Street.
The retailer asked the city to approve slight variations in its parking stall depths, number of curb cuts and the building materials. The planning commission approved each of these waivers with no discussion.
Wal-Mart then obtained approval to build to the 15,000 square-foot retail warehouse facility with 52 parking places — 33 for customers driving through to pick up grocery orders and 19 for employee parking. The company is also providing an onsite-storm water detention vault, according to the plan submission. The building will be brick and composite wood construction with steel and structural insulated panel, which required a waiver.
The lot is flag shaped with a narrow strip of frontage facing Walton Boulevard, where the NWA Psychic has been located. That house will be torn down. The facility will be built facing north toward Walton Boulevard and shoppers will drive into the lot from the west side along Dotson Road.
According to the plan the consumers will drive up to the kiosk and get a parking slot number where they will park and wait on the delivery of their groceries. Early descriptions of the drive-in facility were Sonic-like, a closer examination of the plans look to be more like a cross between a Boomerang Car Wash and a Sonic. The consumer drives up to the kiosk similar to Boomerang and then instead of pulling through the carwash they drive into a parking space and wait on the delivery, said Jon Stanley, city planner.
Construction crews were already moving dirt on the lot Tuesday (May 6) as Wal-Mart said it plans to open this facility and begin offering online grocery service before the end of this year.
Wal-Mart has not yet disclosed the name of this drive-in initiative, city officials refer to it as “Project Drive”. The 15,000 square-foot facility will house 10,000 fresh and dry grocery products – from cereal, chips and bread to fresh produce, meat and milk, according to Deisha Barnett, corporate spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Barnett said the concept will allow consumers to shop online for their grocery items, schedule a pickup time at their convenience then drive up like they would at a Sonic drive-in, call to the associates who then bring their grocery order to car.
“We know at Wal-Mart our customers’ needs are changing. They want and need more shopping options and we have the means to give them low prices, wide assortments along with value and convenience in a seamless shopping experience,” Barnett said.
Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart U.S., first announced plans for this type of new format earlier this year. He said these drive-in formats will give consumers the option of ordering online and picking up their groceries on their way from work. He said some of the pick-up centers would sell fuel. The plans for the concept facility in Bentonville do not include fuel.
Simon has said the concept centers are designed to provide convenience and in no way are meant to replace traditional stock-up trips that its supercenters provide. Those trips are valued annually at $585 billion and remain about 60% of the total grocery spend.