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NC Test Site for Walmart Express

Walmart Express
Leoneda Inge

There are five new Walmart stores in North Carolina that might make you do a double-take.  They’re mini Walmarts popping up in rural communities, miles away from the nearest Walmart Supercenter.  They’re called Walmart Express and some say they are designed to compete with your corner “dollar” stores that are shining in this down economy.

Leoneda Inge:  We all pretty much know what a Walmart “Supercenter” looks like, aisles for days.  Well, Walmart Express stores run 10 to 15-thousand square feet.   That’s one- tenth the size of a supercenter.

Danielle Palmer:  How ya’ll doing today? Good.

Danielle Palmer manages the Walmart Express in Snow Hill.   The IGA across the street has been closed for more than three years and the nearest Walmart Supercenter is in Kinston.
Danielle Palmer:  It’s like, I feel that is was made for me, you know it was back down home, very small, where I could really know every single one of my associates and every single customer that visits us on a daily basis.

These Walmart Express stores are basically grocery stores, with a pharmacy and a few extras.  Syrina Sturdivant shops at the new Snow Hill store often.

Syrina Sturdivant:  I only just come just to get a couple of things, it’s convenient, quick, easy.

Leoneda Inge:  What did you get today?

Syrina Sturdivant:  Oh, french fries, and chicken tenders, and sugar, for the kids.

There are plans to build three more Walmart Express stores in North Carolina by the end of the year.  Ronny Hayes is the Regional VP for Walmart in North Carolina.  He says there is a void to fill when small communities are 20 or more miles from a Walmart Supercenter.

Ronny Hayes:  So we see this as an opportunity to come into this community and offer them, not only affordable but healthy food options and let’s face it today, with the gas prices and everything else, our customers are going to appreciate that.

What customers appreciate these days are low prices and convenience.  And analysts say smaller, convenience-size dollar stores like Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar have weathered the down economy better than Walmart.  Family Dollar, headquartered just outside Charlotte, has been making a lot of money for its shareholders.  The company recently reported its 16th consecutive quarter of double-digit earnings per share growth.  Kiley Rawlins is VP of Communications and Investor Relations for Family Dollar.

Kiley Rawlins:  Our stores are pretty small, so on average they are about 7,400 square feet. You can get in and out of a Family Dollar in 10 minutes.

Rawlins says customers spend about $10 per visit. She says they’re not worried about Walmart Express.

Kiley Rawlins:  We’ve operated stores for more than 50 years. And Walmart is certainly a formidable competitor and someone we always have to be aware of. They serve our customer.  I think Walmart probably serves almost every customer today.

It’s hard to ignore the world’s largest retailer. So far, Walmart has opened fewer than a dozen Walmart Express stores in Arkansas, North Carolina and Chicago. They say more are on the way.  Family Dollar is on track to open close to 500 new stores this year.

Leoneda Inge is WUNC’s race and southern culture reporter, the first public radio journalist in the South to hold such a position. She also is co-host of the podcast Tested and host of the special podcast series, PAULI. Leoneda is the recipient of numerous awards from AP, RTDNA and NABJ. She’s been a reporting fellow in Berlin and Tokyo. You can follow her on Twitter @LeonedaInge.
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