Wal-Mart says it’s listening to employees, makes several store changes

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 788 views 

The new Walmart U.S. executive team told more than 3,000 employees that it’s listening to their concerns. In response to thousands of emails Walmart U.S. CEO Greg Foran received late last year and more than 150 store visits he’s made this year, the company announced several changes underway at the company’s annual meeting for its U.S. employees held in Fayetteville on Wednesday (June 3).

“You know what makes our business better,” Foran told Walmart store employees. “The best part of my job is getting out in stores and learning from associates. There is nothing I like better than hearing about your jobs, your ideas, your hopes and dreams, your frustrations and listening to how we can make your lives easier.”

He said 40 years ago when he first began working in retail, a manager told him “not to think, but do the job.” 

“I knew if I ever had his job I would listen to the workers.”

Wal-Mart used a puppet named “Willie Sellmore” as the representative of store workers to introduce several changes – new name tags, Walmart Radio, tweaks to dress code and training formats, and many others – that workers applauded. Wille Sellimore said he was so tired of listening to the same old Justin Bieber and Celine Dion music in his store, to which the retailer announced the return of Walmart Radio in the coming weeks.

Walmart Radio will be a satellite radio station in Bentonville that plays music throughout its U.S. store fleet and will provide local news updates. They have already selected a disc jockey within their corporate ranks in Bentonville who works on the retailer's marketing team, according to Deisha Barnett, Wal-Mart corporate spokeswoman.

Judith McKenna, chief operating officer for Walmart U.S., said one employee suggested that the phrase “Our people make the difference” be on their name tags. She asked each worker to look under the seats for an envelope that contained the new name tags. The company set up a tent at the expo fair to personalize the new name tags for those attending the meeting. She said all store workers will get a new tag.

Willie also complained about the temperature in his store. He said when it’s hot in Bentonville, it’s ice cold in his store. Wal-Mart regulates its stores’ temperatures from its home office in Bentonville as part of an energy savings plan. McKenna said the home office was listening and they have raised the temperature 1 degree in response which helped. Wal-Mart said it keeps its store cooling longer in part because of the heavy traffic in and out. The company does allow store managers to call Bentonville and request an adjustment in times of extreme cold.

McKenna said the U.S. team is working to ensure all Wal-Mart stores are “clean, fast, friendly” and in-stock by the holidays. She said there is a lot going on behind the scenes to reach this goal, but that the entire army of workers will need to get onboard.

Willie Sellmore had plenty to say about the dress code, which he broke by wearing a St. Louis Cardinals jersey. 

Mike Moore, the executive vice president for Walmart Supercenter operations, told Willie that the dress code rules were being tweaked again staring this fall. He said store workers would be able to wear black denim or Khaki denim pants in additional to the Khaki slack policy that has been in place for the past couple of years. Moore said stockers and lawn and garden workers will be permitted to wear blue jeans and tee shirts.

Moore told Willie that stores also are allowing workers to express their support for certain causes and rally their favorite team on special event days to beef up the “retailtainment” factor. He said even ugly Christmas sweaters would be permitted on special event days.

No retail meeting is complete without a thorough discussion on merchandising. Michelle Gloeckler, executive vice president, consumables and health and wellness and U.S. Manufacturing Lead, took the stage modeling apparel she purchased at the new Walmart Supercenter in Springdale last Friday.

Gloeckler said Wal-Mart is paying attention to apparel and she thanked the workers for helping push more sales in recent months. She said merchandising the right items can make all the difference, which is why the company has decided to attach cash to its VPI program (Value Producing Items) that are merchandised to bring more sales. VPIs were introduced by Sam Walton years ago, and his favorite VPI was Moon Pie. 

Gloeckler told the workers that cash prices will be given for the top VPI on a monthly basis across regions and companywide. The cash prices at the local level range from $50 for first place and $25 for second place.

Foran shared how one little pie item has garnered $100 million in sales. He said the 50-cent individual-serving boxed pies (apple, cherry, pecan, etc.) which are sold near the bakery section have been a huge hit. He first saw them merchandised in a south Louisiana store at the front of the store. He said that store moves $1,000 worth of pies per week at 50 cents each.

“Our customers love them. It’s family dessert for four for $2,” Foran said.

Willie Sellmore also had issues with the company’s training program, which is managed on a computer in the back of store. He said it’s a no brainer that customer service was a problem when the training puts people to sleep. Julie Murphy, executive vie president over Neighborhood Markets, said the company heard that complaint and is now moving to a new training format they call Pathways. This program provides for actual store experience, not scenario setups. 

Workers were also glad to hear the company will end use of the Telxon inventory tracking devices which are hard to find in the store and getting a signal is also a challenge. Foran said new department managers would receive MC40 devices, which are more like a tablet and provide better connectivity.

He said the checkout promise is also alive and well because customers want it. Wal-Mart promises to add checkers during peak times for quicker service. 

Foran also challenged each of the workers to implement the 10-foot rule which means they will greet any and every customer that comes within 10-feet of them every day. He said the 10-foot Rule if mobilized by everyone will make a huge difference in customer service companywide.

“Taking care of our customers begins with taking care of you. It's that simple. My commitment to you is that we will continue to listen, and, more importantly, act on what we hear,” McKenna said.

Foran also pledged to continue working for associates to make it easier for them to serve customers.

“We know you need the tools to do your job well. You make a difference for customers, so our job in Bentonville is to get you what you need. We will win one customer at a time and if we work together, we will get the army that is Walmart to march and we can make a difference for our customers.”

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