The strategy is built on hummus, halal meat, tubs of olive oil and the belief that by appealing to regional tastes, a store can build a loyal customer base.
Wal-Mart, known for being a big-bad big-box retailer, is trying to feel like your local neighborhood store.
For the new Dearborn, Michigan store, that means adding produce, meat, food, music and games that appeal to the large Arab-American population that lives in the area.
While 95% of the products available in store could be found in the aisles of any Wal-Mart, this location has a specialized aisle and parts of other sections dedicated to Arabic food supplies. Much of it is made by local vendors.
The strategy: grow Wal-Mart’s stores by narrowing their focus. While some communities have resisted Wal-Mart’s entry, the retailer reached out to the Dearborn community to see what products would be appropriate and well-received on their shelves. The idea here is to integrate into the community and adapt to its needs.
How can a store built on stocking price-conscious basics in its seven thousand stores specialize each location? The effort is a big project but one that Wal-Mart hopes will help it to grow sales and build customer loyalty. It is also something that Wal-Mart is doing in Hispanic, Asian and other ethnic neighborhoods. Of course, these populations are far more common than concentrations of Arab-Americans in cities across America.
The fact that Wal-Mart would make the effort to specialize a singular store like this says a lot about their dedication to the concept. That’s why I traveled to Dearborn, Michigan to see this strategy in play.
The fear in many communities is that when Wal-Mart enters the market, that it drives local Mom and Pops out of business. Members of the Arab community that I spoke with in Dearborn said that they still go to their local vendors for fresh meat and specialized items.
The Arab shoppers at Wal-Mart did say though that they stock up on the staples like olive oil and rice (which store manager Bill Bartell also said were top sellers.) My producer (who lives in Dearborn) also said that she thought local non-Arabs might feel more comfortable buying Middle Eastern food items in a standard grocery aisle at Wal-Mart rather than at a specialized local vendor.
Wal-Mart would not disclose just how successful the project has been so far but store manager Bill Bartell did say that they’d been meeting their sales goals for the area.
He also mentioned that this strategy is similar concept to those adopted in German towns in which the U.S. has army bases; give a touch of ‘home’ to the store (in this case swap out Oreos for pita bread) and shoppers are happy.
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