Walmart’s Ruiz talks heritage, customer demands and price focus

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

Proud to be from small town America and the daughter of migrant farmers turned business owners, Gisel Ruiz said she has witnessed the American Dream unfold for her Latino family. 

Ruiz, chief operating officer of Walmart U.S., was the featured speaker at the Bentonville-Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce WalStreet Breakfast on Thursday (May 22) at the Hammons Convention Center in Rogers. She drew the largest crowd for the year for the regularly held event, according to chamber officials.

Ruiz shared some insight to her family history, one of hard work, service to others and confronting challenges head-on. She said her mom opened her own boutique with just a sixth-grade education and limited English. Her dad founded a labor company that placed migrant field workers and he never attended school.

“My dad learned to speak English from watching baseball games on television. He loved the game. My mom learned to speak English from watching soap operas — ‘The Young and Restless,’” Ruiz said.

She said watching her family struggle up the socio-economic ladder from migrant workers to business owners prepared her for the challenges and hard work she faces daily at Wal-Mart.

“It’s not enough to have what customers want today, we have to try and anticipate what they are going to want tomorrow and the day after that,” Ruiz said. “It’’s anybody’s guess.”

She said it’s like what Henry Ford must have felt when he asked people in his day how to better transportation and heard them reply “faster horses.” Swimming upstream – one of Sam Walton’s principles – is where Ruiz said Wal-Mart constantly finds itself in the rapidly changing world of retail.

“We are working to create what consumers want, before they know they want it,” she said. “We have got to be fluid in our delivery, because consumers today don’t think in silos or channels. So, you may wonder why we have accelerated our brick and mortar expansion with 400 to 500 new stores,” Ruiz said.

One of the exciting elements of the small-store expansion is the tethering concept, which Ruiz said is now underway in the Oriental, N.C., Express store — in a coastal town of under 1,000 in population. She said the top item sold in that newly tethered Express Store is a Huffy Beach Cruiser and the No. 2 most popular item sold since May 2 is the Google Chrome Phone. Both products are only offered online.

Ruiz said the Express with its 12,000 square feet can be a fill-in trip for groceries but Wal-Mart believes shoppers see it as much more – they see it as a “pick-up depot for the endless isles of products they can choose from at Walmart.com.”

She said new Wal-Mart Stores CEO Doug McMillon sees the company differently than Mike Duke, though both are equally dedicated to preserving culture and serving Wal-Mart customers better.

“Doug grew up with the company and is able to balance his perspective between what has to happen, always keeping one eye on the future,” she said.

Ruiz was asked how the retailer is able to keep top talent flowing in as Wal-Mart ramps up its store count.

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“We are promoting from within some but we have also been recruiting across the industry. I recently brought on a new management trainee who spent several years managing at Family Dollar. I will say this, there is never a shortage of people applying to work at Wal-Mart,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz was quick to respond when asked by suppliers attending the event about an area on which they should focus.

“Price,” Ruiz said emphatically. “We know price matters and we are committed to investing in price with our suppliers, always looking for more ways to keep costs down, so those savings can be passed on to more people.”

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family ties

Isn't Ruiz closely related to Lee Scott by marriage? Regardless of family ties, she will never live up to Don Soderquist as COO/keeper of the culture.