Wal-Mart Tapping Convenience Market

PHILADELPHIA -- It's a one-stop shop designed for ultimate convenience. Now customers can have their cars serviced while inside buying clothes for the kids, filling prescriptions or searching for a copy of the Sopranos first season on DVD. Watch out Hertz and Avis, customers can now rent cars for Thanksgiving. As for prices, "always low," according to the company's slogan.

Finding out a Wal-Mart discount store is coming to an area can make many local retailers shudder. Studies over the years have shown that while Wal-Mart may bring more customers to an area, they will shop at the mega-store and not the local mom and pop.

Convenience stores and supermarkets are feeling this pressure now that Wal-Mart is expanding its grocery store concept. Some reports indicate that the Arkansas based company is the country's number one grocery seller, the The (Pa.) Intelligencer reports. Wal-Mart Supercenters, which first appeared in 1988, offer customers 100,000 general merchandise items including a full line of groceries. Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets, around since 1998, are smaller, more convenient food stores.

There are nearly 1,200 Supercenters and 36 Neighborhood Markets, most in the Midwest and Southeast, but the company announced in early October plans to add 200 Supercenters and 25 Neighborhood Markets in the coming year. Wal-Mart relies on focus groups to determine where to build its stores.

"Some people said that Supercenters are not convenient for those in-between trips or normal purchases, when all they need is milk and diapers and they don't want to navigate a 150,000 square-foot store," Keith Morris, community affairs manager for Wal-Mart's eastern region, told The Intelligencer. "The Neighborhood Market is designed to compliment the Supercenter, built in the same communities where we already have Supercenters.

As Wal-Mart continues its expansion, Acme Markets, which operates Albertsons supermarkets, said that Wal-Mart is just another competitor and not a major consideration for the chain.

"We compete with lots of competitors, Genuardi's, Clemens, Wegmans, and react accordingly," said Walt Rubel, Acme spokesman. "We compete around the country where Wal-Mart has stores, efficiently and effectively. We respect them as competitors."

The large chains are hurting. Stores such as The Kroger Co. and Safeway Inc. have cut costs and prices to stay in the game. In March, Albertsons, exited from its under-performing markets in Houston, Memphis, Nashville and San Antonio primarily because of Wal-Mart's strangle hold on the region.