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Firm Designs 'Anti-Walmart' ... for Wal-Mart

Creates big-box behemoth's c-store opposite, providing a Walmart for all occasions

TAMPA, Fla. -- The firm that designed the first traditional convenience store with gasoline for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. offered details about the retail concept to The Tampa Bay Times. Api(+) designed Walmart to Go for customers seeking fast, one-stop shopping without trekking through a parking lot and cavernous store--like a Walmart.

Walmart to Go (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores / Gas Stations)

The 5,200-square-foot store opened in March near Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. It has eight gasoline pumps and a convenience store selling fresh and packaged foods, snacks, coffee and basic household goods. Bentonville Butcher & Deli runs a counter serving sandwiches and sides.

Prices are comparable to full-sized Walmart stores. "You can't have Walmart on the side and then have high prices,'' Tom Henken, vice president and director of design for Api(+), told the newspaper.

When it launched Walmart to Go in March, the retailer said it was a "one-off project" and that it is not planning additional locations. But elements could be incorporated elsewhere in the chain, said the report.

"Today, more than ever, we recognize that our customers are looking for different ways to shop,'' Walmart spokesperson Deisha Barnett told the paper. "When a customer is looking to stock up, they will go to a supercenter; when they just need groceries, they may go to a Neighborhood Market; and when they are looking to fill up the gas tank and take home a meal, they can stop at Walmart to Go."

Api(+) started consulting for Wal-Mart in 1997. The Tampa, Fla.-based company, which specializes in grocery, restaurant and retail space, designed Walmart to Go with large front windows and interior signs, so customers getting gasoline can see into the store and will want to go inside. A canopy between the pump and front door keeps people shaded and dry.

"We wanted it not to look like a fuel-based concept,'' Henken said. "If you tore the pumps off, it would look more like a restaurant.''

"It's a way to drive sales and get customers used to coming to their brand,'' Steven Montgomery, president of Lake Forest, Ill.-based convenience store consulting company b2b Solutions, told the paper. "It's a way to extend yourself further in the marketplace.''

Financially, he doubts Walmart to Go will be successful. Convenience stores generally have to charge higher prices because they don't do the volume of larger stores and are on highly visible, more expensive street corners.

Wal-Mart may solve that volume conundrum and find small-format success, not from Walmart to Go, but from its convenience-like Walmart Express concept, 10,000-to-15,000-square-foot locations that will be anchored to a local Supercenter as a distribution hub. The company recently announced that Walmart Express has moved beyond proof of concept and market density trials into a third phase of supply-chain logistics and network building.

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