Wal-Mart to Build First Express Stores in Arkansas

GENTRY, Ark. -- Building permits reveal that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will begin construction of its first Express store, which will be less than one-tenth the size of an average Wal-Mart super center, next week, reported the Bloomberg News.

The company will break ground on a 14,400-square-foot-store in Gentry, Arkansas, a town about 20 miles from Wal-Mart's Bentonville headquarters. Nearby towns Gravette and Prairie Grove reported that similar construction on Express stores is set to begin in the next two weeks. The company will open up to 40 more small stores this year, with the first set to open as early as May, the company said.

Though 76 percent of Wal-Mart stores were supercenters as of January 31, Bill Simon, Wal-Mart's U.S. president and CEO, has noted, "there are hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunities in the U.S." for smaller stores. "The aim here is to get the right model so that we can rapidly roll these things out," said Simon. "At our peak, we built about 350 supercenters in a year, so when we get this thing right, these are going to come real fast, and we're real excited about this format."

The average supercenter is around 185,000 square feet, employs 350 or more workers and sells approximately 142,000 items, according to the company's Web site. In contrast, building permits describe the Express stores as square, concrete boxes with metal roofs that sit on 5-acre lots.

City officials for Gentry and Prairie Grove said the new Express stores will have a pharmacy, sections for fresh produce and refrigerated food, about a dozen aisles and 3-4 checkout counters. It was not reported what percentage of floor space will be devoted to food versus general items. 51% of Wal-Mart's $258 billion in U.S. sales in fiscal 2010 came from groceries, according to the company.

This isn't Wal-Mart's first foray into smaller stores. In 2008, it introduced its Marketside stores in Arizona. Those stores are small grocery stores that specialize in prepared meals and fresh food, according to Wal-Mart's Web site. Earlier this year, the company opened its first Wal-Mart on Campus at the University of Arkansas.

Simon said this week that Wal-Mart is also considering purchasing retailers with smaller stores in order to boost its U.S. business. The company has seen seven quarterly declines in revenue at U.S. stores that have been open longer than a year, but its overall revenue has risen, with $421.8 billion in sales during the fiscal year that ended Jan. 31.


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