Behind the scenes: Opening a Walmart Supercenter

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

Wal-Mart store manager Sherry Curtis-Swenson is putting the finishing touches on worker schedules, overseeing the store stocking and making sure the region’s newest Walmart Supercenter in Springdale runs without a hitch when the doors swing open Aug. 13.

This is not Curtis-Swenson’s first time around the block when it comes to overseeing a new store opening. In 2005 she opened the Walmart Supercenter in Jane, Mo., which was her first time as a store manager. She was recently transferred to the new Springdale store after applying for the position several months ago.

“I love opening a store from the ground floor. You get to handpick your store personnel, build your own team of managers and literally have your hands in every aspect of store operations. It’s a wild rush of excitement but a very rewarding experience,” Curtis-Swenson told The City Wire in a recent interview.

STORE STAFFING
At roughly 189,000 square feet, the big box supercenter will employ more 300 workers, including 70 people who transferred from other area stores – like her personnel manager who first hired Curtis-Swenson 21 years ago as an hourly cashier.

She said the 70 transferring workers opened up positions in other area stores, some supervisory.

“We have about 40 supervisor positions, mostly hourly with around 15 salary. ... We skewed a little higher on managers because I wanted to make sure there was adequate operational experience which makes for smooth openings and efficient day-to-day business,” she said.

The employees with limited experience trained in area stores over the past two months to get them ready for opening day.

“I like to see the new hires train in a store because that is real hands-on experience,” Curtis-Swenson said.

STOCKING THE STORE
To date, Curtis-Swenson said the store received between 40 and 50 truckloads of merchandise which is still being set up in the supercenter.

“It takes about 5.5 weeks to set up a store before opening. Aside from Coca Cola and Pepsi, who bring in and set up their own displays, my associates will stock the vast majority of the store. Wal-Mart builds all the modular displays as we stock them from unloading the trucks to stacking up the shelves,” Curtis-Swenson said.

She said her young apparel team has limited merchandising experience and relied heavily on Jeannette Harris from the home office to help set up that department. But typically, store workers roll-in the merchandise from the back room and set up the displays on their own.

WHAT’S NEW?
The new supercenter is Springdale is the retail giant’s latest model and at 189,000 square feet, there is a smaller back room and not as much floor space in the rear section of the store or vendor space at the front of the store.

The Springdale store does have a Razorback Souvenir Shop configured in the center of the large supercenter format. It’s a shop within store concept that Curtis-Swenson is proud to have as part of the store.

There is vendor space for a Regal Nails and a hair salon and some restaurant – yet-to-be named – in the front of the store. The fuel center located on the east side of the store parking lot will include a 1,450 square-foot walk-in mini-convenience store. 

“I am excited about the mini-convenience store. It will stock drinks, milk, bread and those convenience items people often need to pick up without a full grocery purchase. It’s not a big as the Walmart to Go in Bentonville, but it will have adequate convenience items,” Curtis-Swenson said.

Arvest Bank and McDonald’s, which usually lease space in Wal-Mart supercenters in the area, have opted to build stand alone facilities adjacent to the Walmart fueling station.

STORE PROFITS
While the retail giant continues to push smaller and alternative pick-up formats for its growing online business, the supercenter remains the cash cow and the vast majority of its 4,200 U.S. stores.

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Insiders estimate the average supercenter rings up annual sales of $125 million. From that store managers can earn between $125,000 and $250,000 per year in salary. Each store also receives annual bonus pay based on performance goals, which is shared among eligible workers.

Wal-Mart said in the last year alone it promoted more than 190,000 people at Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club and paid more than $500 million in bonuses to hourly workers.

Curtis-Swenson is excited about the profit prospects of the new store in Springdale, but she knows firsthand what it takes to run this large business day-in and day-out. 

“Serving the people’s needs and promoting my team are best part of this challenging job,” she said.

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