Walmart courts market-based niche

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Even for Walmart, bigger apparently isn’t always better.

This week, the retail giant long known for sprawling supercenters opened five new “neighborhood markets” in Colorado, including two along Aurora’s border.

The Colorado stores, which range in size from 48,000 square feet to 57,000 square feet, are substantially smaller than the company’s larger supercenters, which average about 185,000 square feet and in the case of one two-story behemoth in Hawaii, top 300,000 square feet. On average, the neighborhood markets around the country are about 39,000 square feet.

Company officials expect customers to notice the difference in size right away.

“It’s not so big,” said Audrell Johnson, manager at the new store at 1442 S. Parker road. “They will be able to walk around the store and get all their stuff and won’t be tired.”

The stores close to Aurora — Johnson’s at Parker and East Florida Avenue and another at 16746 Smoky Hill Rd. — along with one in Arvada opened June 20. Those three stores are the first Walmart Neighborhood Markets to open in Colorado. Other new neighborhood markets in Denver and Littleton are scheduled to open June 29.

The neighborhood markets are similar to other grocery stores and don’t have the massive garden centers, electronics sections and sporting goods sections that the company’s supercenters have.

At the Parker Road store, Johnson said the 57,219-square-foot space allowed for an expanded general merchandise section, so some of the items commonly seen at supercenters are still available.

“They will be able to come in and get anything from a microwave to some sheets, they can grocery shop, get their pharmacy prescription, get their dog food,” she said.

Walmart opened its first neighborhood market in 1988 near its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. Since then, the company has added nearly 200 stores around the country. In addition to the five new Colorado stores, the company plans to open three others in June.

Delia Garcia, a spokeswoman for Walmart, said while the company remains focused primarily on the supercenters, the neighborhood markets fill a different niche.

“The neighborhood markets complement the supercenters because they are a smaller format and designed for convenient and efficient grocery shopping,” she said.

This year, the company plans between 210 and 235 new supercenters, a figure that includes new stores, expansions, relocations and conversions. Another 80 to 100 neighborhood markets are planned.

Garcia said in many cases the neighborhood markets will move into spaces vacated by other grocery stores, as it did at Parker Road. Other times, the company plans to build new structures for the markets, she said. In Colorado Springs, for example, one store opening this year will be new construction, and one will move into an existing building.

“It really depends on the opportunity,” she said.

At the Parker road location, Walmart officials said the new store has created 80 jobs, some part-time, some full-time. Statewide, the new stores will hire a total of 400 people, averaging about $13.24 per hour, the store said in a statement.

Tom Clark, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, said the new stores are a positive sign for the region’s economy.

“Walmart’s decision to make a multi-million dollar investment in our region demonstrates that the nation’s largest retailer has confidence in the strength of our market today and into the future,” he said.

In the case of the new Colorado stores, Walmart moved into locations that were once grocery stores. At the Smoky Hill location and the Parker Road location, the store fronts were home to Albertson’s until that chain closed many of its Colorado stores in 2009. Later, California-based SmartCo Foods moved into the two stores but didn’t last, closing in November 2010 after less than six months in business.

 

Reach reporter Brandon Johansson at 720-449-9040 or [email protected]