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DALLAS-Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is miffed that a Houston market watcher has tread on its territory by releasing information about a multi-year massive building program. Industrial Information Resources Inc. calculates that the big-box retailer is rolling out another 400 stores and eight distribution centers in the US.

The building program started earlier this year, continues through 2002 and wraps up in summer 2003. The eight logistics sites, totaling 8.1 million sf, alone will cost Sam Walton’s Bentonville, AR-based team a cool $253 million, says Jay Brunson, the research firm’s food and beverage group manager. Factor in the known stores of all sizes, 147 of which have delivered and some 210 that are yet to be, and Brunson comes up with another 40 million sf–all in retail space coming to market. “I’ve never had this many projects happening at Wal-Mart at one time,” Brunson, who’s monitored the retail giant since 1997, tells GlobeSt.com. And, he believes there are another 43 stores in the pipeline to take the count to 400.

Wal-Mart has never had this many projects on and off the boards simultaneously either, but it isn’t Brunson’s information to disclose, Tom Williams, Wal-Mart’s spokesman, stresses to GlobeSt.com. It’s simply not Wal-Mart’s policy to release the highly classified project information. “When we’re ready to disclose it, we will disclose it,” Williams says, attacking the validity of Brunson’s data.

In a once-a-year press release, Wal-Mart loosely games out its building strategy, giving numbers but not locations of stores and distribution centers on the drawing boards. The October 2000 release says seven logistics centers, not eight, will open as will 40 discount stores, 170 to 180 supercenters, 15 to 20 neighborhood markets, 40 to 50 Sam’s Clubs (and another 100 in 2002) and 100 to 110 stores under the Wal-Mart International banner in existing foreign markets. The high end of the count points to roughly 390 in the US this year and next. “There’s not 400,” Williams says, chiding Brunson’s calculations. “That press release is wrong. I don’t know where he got his numbers.”

They do agree that it equates to another 40 million sf of US retail space. It is, Wal-Mart CEO and president Lee Scott said in the October 2000 release, “the largest square foot increase in the company’s history.” To date this year, the “build it and they will come” US strategy delivered 32 stores in March, 16 in April, 14 in May, five in June, 23 in July and eight in August. Do the math, that’s 98 out of a possible 390 up and running just in the past six months.

Though some logistics centers have delivered, others are close to delivering and still others are gearing up to break ground, Williams still considers the information a closely guarded secret. He repeatedly declined to confirm or deny Brunson’s locations for the facilities, which average about one million sf apiece.

Brunson, careful not to tread too much on Wal-Mart’s toes, has provided GlobeSt.com with general locations for the up and coming logistics rollout. An 880,000-sf center in Cleburne, TX opens in September along with a one million-sf hub in James City County in eastern Virginia. Between September and summer 2003, logistics centers will deliver in north Texas, northeastern Pennsylvania, Houston, north central North Carolina, western Kentucky and central Virginia. The centers vary in size and are going up in pockets of rural America that are close to major interstates, welcomed by most communities for the jobs and the flow of dollars into local economies.

Brunson could be more on target than Williams believes since even Wal-Mart apparently has trouble keeping track of its rapidly growing portfolio. On the retailer’s Web site, current investor information pegs the count at 1,667 stores, 998 supercenters (even though there’s a press release touting the 1,000 mark), 486 Sam’s Clubs, 23 neighborhood markets and 1,106 international locations. Yet, the October press release that Williams says is the “final word” professes that the Sam Walton package, as of Sept. 30, 2000, consisted of 1,742 stores, 835 supercenters, 469 Sam’s Clubs and 13 neighborhood markets in the US and 1,041 units in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Korea, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the UK.

Discount stores range in size from 40,000 sf to 125,000 sf; supercenters, 109,000 sf to 230,000 sf; neighborhood markets, 42,000 sf to 55,000 sf; and Sam’s Clubs, 110,000 sf to 130,000 sf. The bottom line is that Sam Walton’s team is cornering the market in construction and sales. At the Jan. 31 close of its fiscal year, Wal-Mart racked up $191 billion in sales or a 15.9% increase for the year, with $32 billion or a 41% jump coming from its foreign markets.

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