Holiday Central

J.Lo, Lee and Wal-Mart


It started off as a rainy, muddy day here in Northwest Arkansas -- a fitting backdrop for the Wal-Mart annual meeting, given Wall Street's dampened expectations. By the end of day, it was a scorcher and Wal-Mart's stock price closed up 4% on the day.

Here are the nuggets I found interesting and overlooked by many:

- Russia and India were specifically referenced as potential international markets.

Jennifer Lopez

- After J. Lo finished performing, Lee Scott, Eduardo Castro-Wright and other executives stuck around to do their first press briefing ever. Clearly, Wal-Mart is starting to recognize that shutting out the press doesn't help us tell their story more accurately. (Scott did say that he didn't see any friendly faces in the crowd though, making clear he isn't happy with press coverage or the media's presence.)

- Sam's Club now makes up 1/3 of Wal-Mart's overall business. There's "no need" now (in the words of management) to spin it off, though the idea had been considered along with other strategic alternatives. 

- Fmr. JCP CEO Allen Questrom was added to the board, but the role that he will have was downplayed somewhat. I asked Lee Scott whether, given the regard with which Questrom is held in the retail industry, he will have any authority beyond a pure advisory role in order to execute his vision. Scott said he doesn't think Questrom wants to return to work full-time and he doesn't see the need to formalize his role

- Shares were trading up today on the news that Wal-Mart is cutting capital expenditures by $1.5B and decreasing store square footage to a 6% growth rate. That is key to boosting same-store sales numbers in the U.S. stores.

- It is hard to turn around a ship this size, but Chairman Rob Walton seems confident that Lee Scott will be able to captain it.

- Seeing that the world's biggest retailer is run out of Northwest, AR is key to understanding the heart and direction of merchandising. WMT was characterized repeatedly as a private sector company providing a public service with its low pricing strategy.

- When corporate brass did get to the bottom line, CEO Lee Scott took on an "us versus them" tone by saying that the "attacks by the opposition" are not working. Scott acknowledged that it is tough out there for the Wal-Mart customer and set out a few "test balloons" regarding a changing strategy to see how shareholders react. "Sustainability" continued to be a buzzword and Scott played down the entry of Tesco into the U.S. market.

Signing off from Bentonville.

Questions? Comments?