Walmart has spent the past 18 months consolidating two older distribution facilities in Bentonville and Fort Smith into one new state-of-the-art fashion and apparel distribution center. On Tuesday (March 5), Walmart executives unveiled the new 1.25 million-square-foot facility (DC 7842) at 5800 S.W. Regional Airport Road in Bentonville.
It’s one of six warehouses focused on apparel for Walmart U.S., and with a price tag of $170 million, the expansive warehouse serves 452 stores in 15 states. Walmart said the new DC will eventually serve 1,000 stores as far west as New Mexico and as far north as Nebraska. The facility employs about 600 and runs three shifts per day as one of six fashion-dedicated warehouses.
Greg Smith, executive vice president of Walmart U.S. supply chain, told Talk Business & Politics the new center replaces DC 6008, located at the site now within part of the retailer’s planned new home office footprint. DC 6007 in Fort Smith was closed late last year and that business was also transferred to the new facility. Smith said many of the employees working at the new facility transferred from one of the two shuttered warehouses. The larger facility also allowed for about 50 additional jobs over the employment in the former sites, he said.
Smith said the apparel business is important to Walmart and the more efficient warehouse should provide for Walmart’s need for several more years. He said DC 7842 will serve stores only at this juncture.
During the unveiling ceremony, Wes Waddell, DC 7842 general manager, said there were four distribution centers integrated into the new facility when considering the number of locations — two in Bentonville and two in Fort Smith. He said the shoe business has been a tradition at Walmart since Sam Walton purchased Hutcheson Shoes in Fort Smith in 1978 from Bill Hutcheson. Waddell said that is why the shoe distribution center remained separate for all those years. He said Walmart added to the shoe warehouse in Fort Smith in 1990s with a second location. Hutchinson died in 2017, and in 2018 the retailer chose to consolidate shoes with the apparel business into the DC.
The former Hutcheson shoe facility in east Fort Smith was donated by the Hutcheson family to the Fort Smith Public School District for use as the career and technology center planned under the district’s capital improvement plan. The 181,710-square-foot building that sits on almost 17 acres at the corner of Zero Street and Painter Lane in Fort Smith will save the district at least $3 million that had been budgeted to buy an existing building for the career center.
“DC 7842 is another example of the work we’re doing within the supply chain to better serve our customers with quality through innovation and process improvements,” Smith said.
The new center features some of the latest equipment in apparel distribution, including a high-velocity apparel sorter, which makes the task of order filling easier and more precise. The facility also includes a next-generation shoe sorter, which requires 15% less space than the one at DC 6007 and makes shipping shoes easier on employees. Walmart said the new DC is an example of the commitment to lead retail innovation in every aspect of the business. By merging the businesses, Smith said Walmart was able to create synergies that support lower costs by ensuring freight is moved faster and with better quality in full trucks. The new warehouse has 82 receiving and 62 shipping doors with parking that can accommodate more than 1,000 trailers on the 120-acre site.
While Smith said the large facility should serve existing needs, there is another 300,000 square feet of space ready for expansion when demand dictates. Operations at the new warehouse are split into an area that serves shoes and one that handles apparel and a few bulky items like home linens and sporting goods. Walmart said the sorter on the shoe side has the capacity of 9,600 units per hour. There is a de-casing area where workers unpack the boxes of shoes and sort to fill orders for specific stores. When including the de-casing volume the capacity rises to 12,000 items per hour. About 40% of the warehouse is dedicated to shoes, the company said.
On the apparel side of the warehouse, the operation runs similarly but the capacity for sorting and order filling is 75,000 units per hour when all lanes are open and merged. Walmart said it is also using a fleet of 147 forklifts powered by hydrogen cells. The retailer chose hydrogen cell forklifts because they have a greener footprint compared to battery powered units and they also run longer, adding to overall efficiency. Walmart told Talk Business & Politics there are no drones used in this facility.
Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer at Walmart U.S., said the retailer has invested heavily in the new private branded clothing announced last year for adults and kids. He said consumers continue to ask Walmart for a greater selection of apparel in sizes, styles and price ranges. He said Walmart has reinvented itself with apparel and the apparel business grew sales by 7.5% over the past three years while reducing inventory by 21%.
Greg Foran, CEO of Walmart U.S., said founders Sam and Helen Walton would be pleased with how far Walmart has come.
“Walmart customers continue to change and that forces us to how we operate,” he said.
He issued a challenge to workers at DC 7842 to lead with “precision,” setting a high standard for other warehouses. Foran said precision retail is demanded by consumers who have the luxury of shopping anytime, anywhere they chose.