Wal-Mart continues to look for ways to differentiate its growing number of Neighborhood Markets within Northwest Arkansas, which is often a testing ground for all other stores. The newest Neighborhood Market located on North Walton Boulevard in Bentonville provides an updated example of the retailer’s “store-of-the-community” program that has been part of Wal-Mart’s DNA for many years.
Located roughly one-mile from the retailer’s home office and Supercenter No. 100 and another mile or so from the relatively new Neighborhood Market on Central Avenue, the newest Neighborhood Market is testing its own pizza service in the deli department at the back of the store.
Wal-Mart told The City Wire that take-and-bake pizzas are made fresh in that store and are available 24/7. Corporate spokesman John Forrest Ales said the store also offers made-to-order pizzas while customers wait. The shopper has the option of having it baked by Wal-Mart or simply wrapped for baking at home.
Store associates told The City Wire that the pizza is popular with shoppers, many who call ahead and place their order and pick it up a few minutes later while also grabbing a six pack of beer or some other beverages.
Ales said Wal-Mart’s store management teams are looking at each store and what it could offer within that community. He said teams from within the home office work together with store management teams deciding what special products they may offer which are unique to the neighborhoods they serve. For instance, Ales said a number of Neighborhood Markets across the region carried Arkansas-grown blueberries this year as part of the store-of-the-community and buy-local push.
While Ales could not say if pizza services would be added in other stores, retail analyst Budd Bugatch, of Raymond James & Associates, said the option for shoppers to order pizzas online and pick-up in the store is likely to catch on.
Another new feature in the North Walton Boulevard store is a pastry counter supplied by Rick’s Bakery, which is based in Fayetteville.
Store workers told The City Wire the baked pastries are popular with shoppers and the best selling item to date are the petit fours. The separate pastry case at the back of the store is restocked as needed daily or every other day. It contains cake pops, gourmet cupcakes, petit fours and single-serving cake slices.
Rick’s bakery has been a local favorite for sugary confections since 1980 and is owned by Rick Boone of Fayetteville. This is the first time Rick’s pastries have been sold outside his flagship bakery on South College Avenue in Fayetteville. Boone did not respond to calls from The City Wire in time for this story.
Given the popularity of gourmet cheese among home office employees, the new store also has a fixture devoted to a wider cheese selection, according to Bugatch.
The store also offers smaller carts that are easier to navigate, while larger carts are also available if the customer needs the added space. Retail management also has moved the site-to-store pickup counter to the front of the stores which is easily seen from anywhere within the store.
Wal-Mart also increased its use of "top stock" methodology to facilitate restocking shelves. Neighborhood Markets have small backrooms. This methodology facilitates a more rapid restocking when customers pick stock from the shelves, Bugatch said.
The retailer also is using the top of its modulars in these grocery stores to highlight its general merchandise items like baby strollers that can be purchased online and picked up in-store.
In this new Neighborhood Market format Wal-Mart is also highlighting its organic produce at a separate aisle location in the front center of the store near the registers. Bugatch said store management are culling older produce more quickly than previously in an effort to carryout it’s promise for fresher produce year round.
Lastly the new Neighborhood Market format utilizes split aisles, so customers do not have to walk a long aisle from the front-to-back of the store. The split aisle concept which is commonly seen in competitors H-E-B and Kroger.
Walmart U.S. CEO Greg Foran said the new model for Neighborhood Markets will have fueling stations and mini convenience stores. At the new store on North Walton Boulevard the fueling station has two separate entrances for added customer service.
RETURNING TO THE COMMUNITY FOCUS
Carol Spieckerman, CEO of newmarketbuilders in Bentonville, said store-of-the community was a prominent push at Wal-Mart a few years back, at least from a buzz-generating perspective, but it seemed to have taken a back seat to other e-commerce and other initiatives in recent years.
“This is a good time for Walmart to ramp it back up as masters of localization such as Whole Foods expands their footprint and as localization laggards like Target begin to take localization more seriously,” Spieckerman told The City Wire.
On the grocery front, she said Whole Foods has been known to spend months conducting localized research, fostering community engagement and developing supplier procurement strategies prior to opening stores. She said Whole Foods often uses these insights to incorporate store design elements that will resonate with local shoppers.
“Target has long been a one-size-fits-all retailer but it too is waking up to the localization movement, having just forged a partnership with designer Todd Snyder to craft collections that will resonate with specific markets. Neighborhood Markets are a perfect localization vehicle for Walmart. The name says it all,” Spieckerman added.