Mark Byrd, manager for the new Sam’s Club under construction in Springdale, has signed on with Wal-Mart’s Lifetime Learning program to learn Spanish because many store customers are likely to be Latino small business owners. It’s part of his goal to make sure the store is a reflection of the community.
Byrd’s language lessons are with the Rosetta Stone software system – which is sold at SamsClub.com.
He’s hired about 80 of the 200 employees (full-time and part-time) who will staff the club when it opens late spring. Most of those hired are in the area selling memberships to local residents and businesses. The Sam’s Club model is dependent on its membership base given that merchandise is sold at near cost. Though Byrd would not say how many members it takes to support a typical club, he said the local membership drive is going well. Last week one employee came in toting a $10,000 check from a local new car dealer who bought the memberships to give away to their prospective customers.
Byrd co-managed the Sam’s Club in Fayetteville several years ago before taking over a club in Hot Springs for an 18-month period. He most recently spent four years as a club manager in Tulsa.
“I knew if I could I get back to Northwest Arkansas that’s where I wanted to be. We love this area,” Byrd said.
The new Sam’s Club will have all the bells and whistles as the Bentonville Club, including the meat island that features fresh fish, premium deli, high-end steaks and a fresh sushi bar. Byrd said the Club will have a fuel station and a Club Pickup lane.
When asked how he planned to make the Springdale club unique, he said it will carry more brands that Hispanics favor. Byrd has been in contact with Scott Swenson, manager of the Walmart Supercenter on Thompson Street in Springdale, which also caters to special requests by Latino shoppers. He hopes to be the supplier for food truck owners and restaurant owners in the Springdale area. He said the club pickup option with a more convenient location should resonate with small business owners in Springdale.
While the club will offer ethnic foods and consumables, he said it will also cater to families with the same type of products found in the other two clubs in the area. One area where the Springdale Club plans to help local eateries and product suppliers is giving them priority for in-club demos. He hopes local companies looking to get their products in Sam’s Club will seek out the Springdale Club first. Byrd said he will put them in touch with a team at the corporate office to work out the details. He said he’s also eager to work with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals on various partnerships during the baseball season given they are geographic neighbors.
With two other clubs in Northwest Arkansas, Byrd isn’t concerned about market saturation or cannibalization of the other clubs’ sales or the local Walmart U.S. stores.
“Sam’s doesn’t open clubs unless the corporate office is confident it will be supported by local members. We hope to draw members from the Siloam Springs area and Eastern, Oklahoma, in addition to Springdale and elsewhere,” Byrd said.
He said hiring will ramp up in the next few weeks and these employees will be training in the other clubs as well as stocking merchandise as they prepare to open before June, weather permitting. Sam’s Club will give away $25,000 in local grants to nonprofits who apply. Byrd said there will be a meeting on the requirements at 10:30 a.m., March 22 at the Hiring and Membership Center setup at 1110 Mathias Drive in Springdale, across from the construction site. He said the meeting will include brunch, and nonprofits interested in grant money should attend. Byrd said the local club employees decide how the money is divided, giving them some ownership in the process.
The Sam’s Club Community Grant Program awards grants ranging from $250 to $2,500. Eligible nonprofit organizations must operate on the local level – or be an affiliate/chapter of a larger organization that operates locally – and directly benefit the service area of the facility from which they are requesting funding. Interested applicants can apply online at www.foundation.walmart.com.
With the opening date approaching, Byrd said he’s eager to get employees hired and trained. He said many of the new hires are local to the Springdale community and there are some transfers from other clubs blended into the mix. He said having a blend of experiences and cultures is a reflection of the community the club will serve.
The last time Springdale had a Sam’s Club was 2006 when parent Wal-Mart Stores failed to secure a liquor license. A new club with a liquor store was built in North Fayetteville in 2006. A second club was added in North Bentonville in 2008. The population of Northwest Arkansas is estimated at roughly 530,000 residents and is expected to grow to 670,000 by 2025, according to the Northwest Arkansas Council. Since 2000, the regional population has grown from 330,000, according to U.S.Census records.
Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse said it’s hard to estimate the financial impact of the new Sam’s Club given the landscape of Springdale has dramatically changed since 2006. But he said it will be another great anchor for the development to come near the Arvest Ballpark, Arkansas Children’s Northwest and NorthWest Arkansas Community College which has also planned to build just west of Interstate 49.