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Tampa firm designs first Walmart To Go convenience store

TAMPA — A local design and architectural firm is on the front lines of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s efforts to fight increasing competition from convenience stores, dollar stores and discount supermarkets.

The firm, Api(+), has designed Wal-Mart's first convenience store for customers seeking fast, one-stop shopping without trekking through a parking lot and cavernous store.

Walmart To Go opened in March near Walmart's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. It has eight gasoline pumps and a store selling fresh and packaged foods, snacks, coffee and basic household goods. Bentonville Butcher & Deli runs a counter serving sandwiches and sides.

At 5,200 square feet, the store is about the same size as a Wawa store and quite a bit larger than traditional convenience stores like Shell.

Prices are comparable to full-sized Walmart stores, making them considerably cheaper than at most convenience stores that charge a premium for fast and easy.

"You can't have Walmart on the side and then have high prices,'' said Tom Henken, vice president and director of design for Api(+).

Walmart says the store is a test concept and no others are planned nationwide. But elements could be incorporated elsewhere in the chain.

"Today, more than ever, we recognize that our customers are looking for different ways to shop,'' said Walmart spokeswoman Deisha Barnett. "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."

Based in Tampa's Rocky Point, Api(+) started consulting for the retail giant in 1997. It has worked on every store format, including the smaller supercenter at Dale Mabry Highway and Waters Avenue, which became a model for others in urban and suburban areas nationwide.

The company, which specializes in grocery, restaurant and retail space, designed Walmart To Go with large front windows and interior signs, so customers getting gas 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.''

Walmart To Go is the retailer's latest small-store concept. A few years ago the chain started rolling out 15,000-square-foot Walmart Express stores. It also is testing 2,500-square-foot college-based Walmart on Campus stores.

"It's a way to drive sales and get customers used to coming to their brand,'' said Steven Montgomery, president of b2b Solutions, a convenience store consulting company. "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.

Selling gas will draw customers but not huge profits. Industrywide, convenience stores generate about two-thirds of their sales from gas and the rest from store goods, Montgomery said. But when it comes to the profit, the reverse is true. Most of the money stores make comes from shoppers who walk in to buy something.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

Convenience stores

in the United States

The total number of convenience stores in the United States has grown steadily over the past decade to 151,282 in 2013, up by nearly 20,000 since 2003, according to the Nielsen Convenience Industry Store Count. Texas had the most with 15,191, followed by California (11,188) and Florida (9,737). Almost 84 percent sell gas and nearly 80 percent sell beer.

Largest convenience store chains*

NameStores
1. 7-Eleven Inc.7,790
2. Alimentation Couche-Tard

(Mac's, Circle K)
5,700
3. CST Brands Inc. (Valero)1,887
4. Casey's General Stores Inc.1,759
5. The Pantry (Kangaroo Express)1,567
6. Speedway LLC1,468
7. Hess Corp.1,354
8. Murphy USA Inc.1,184
9. BP America (ampm)950
10. Kroger Co., Convenience Division784

* Combined company-owned and franchised store counts in the United States and Canada as of March.

Source: CSP

Tampa firm designs first Walmart To Go convenience store 05/26/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 26, 2014 10:49pm]
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