ROGERS, AR—Wal-Mart will begin diversifying merchandise mix and store design by shopper segment sometime next year, even as it remains on track to open 270 to 280 Supercenters in the United States in 2006, senior executives said in a meeting with analysts on Friday.

“We are now designing Wal-Mart stores to reflect the unique characteristics of the market we’re entering,” said John B. Menzer, vice chairman of US operations.

The product mix and interior design will be tailored to five shopper categories: suburban affluent, rural, boomers, urban/multicultural and Hispanic. A Plano, TX test store for higher-income shoppers, which has an extensive wine collection and cutting-edge electronics, has a gross profit per square foot 24% higher than others in the area. A unit in Evergreen Park, IL, remerchandised to appeal to a multicultural market, has sales 25% higher than other units in the area. A plan for rolling out the program to other stores will be set next year.

Store exteriors, however, already are being geared to their market. A unit in Pella, IA will boast Dutch-style gables and stucco. The first Wal-Mart within Chicago city limits, opening this fall, will boast the chain’s first observation tower.

The new program partially derives from lessons learned from the company’s expansion outside the United States, particularly Mexico. Wal-Mart’s 6,500 stores in 15 countries worldwide operate under such banners as Asda (United Kingdom), Mi Bodega (Mexico) and Seiyu (Japan).

“This is a great laboratory for other countries in how multiple formats can serve different markets,” said Mike Duke, vice chairman of Wal-Mart Stores. Some 70% of the division’s sales come from non-Wal-Mart stores.

In addition, Wal-Mart’s long-standing policy of cannibalizing existing store sales by opening additional units in still-developing markets is falling by the wayside as the company focuses on balancing growth with return on invested capital.

“If we saw that a market had a three-store potential, we wouldn’t hesitate to open store three, even though store one would get hit by 20%, and store two would get hit by 20%,” Menzer said. “We are now waiting on that third store. We have plenty of projects to pick from.”

The company has 1,400 sites for possible future expansion, he said.

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