Wal-Mart sets its sights on blighted urban areas

Filed under: Retail |

The nation’s biggest retailer announced its urban renewal plan this week: Wal-Mart plans to build stores in distressed metropolitan areas.

Lee Scott, the company’s CEO, said that during the next two years Wal-Mart will open 50 stores that will create between 15,000 and 25,000 new jobs.

Wal-Mart said it would designate 10 of those markets as “Wal-Mart Jobs & Opportunity Zones,” where the retailer will provide assistance to businesses in those communities. Assistance will be provided through seminars about how best to do business with Wal-Mart. The company also will work with and make contributions to local chambers of commerce to develop programs to help area businesses.

The move is part of an effort Wal-Mart has made to soften its image. The company has made its health insurance more affordable to employees, and announced initiatives to make its stores more environmentally friendly.

Scott said that Chicago, a city where Wal-Mart has faced strong opposition, will be the first of Wal-Mart’s 10 Opportunity Zones.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company would donate $1.5 million in cash and advertising in the 10 communities.

Experts say this is a good move because most major retailers have continued to ignore urban markets.

Gap to open 10 more F&Ts

Clothing purchases by women who are 35 and older account for 39 percent of all apparel expenditures. To tap into this market segment, Gap Inc. plans to open 10 Forth & Towne women’s apparel stores in Los Angeles, Houston and Atlanta, Seattle and San Francisco.

Most customers at Gap’s other brands are between 18 and 34.

The company launched the Forth & Towne concept in August with a store in Palisades Center, West Nyack, N.Y., and four in the Chicago area.

Gap Inc. declined to break out sales at Forth & Towne, but executives say the concept will help boost the company’s financials at a time when its main brands – Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy – are having mixed success in attracting customers. The company reported slightly more than $16 billion in sales last year, compared to nearly $16.3 billion the year before.

Prices at Forth & Towne stores fall between those of Gap and Banana Republic.

New Fast Signs opens

A new Fast Signs has opened at the corner of Union and North Academy boulevards.

There are nearly 500 Fast Signs centers in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Jack Parsons is the owner of the center.

Bing! announces new site

Bing! Promotional Products has moved to 517 S. Tejon St.

The company, which provides business premiums, has been in the Springs since 1989.

Broughton joins shop.org

Joan Broughton has joined Shop.org, the online division of the National Retail Federation, as vice president of content and education.

Broughton will oversee all Shop.org events, which include speakers, format, content and networking for conferences, retailer-only workshops, tele-seminars, and regional events and meetings. Broughton also will oversee Shop.org research and publications.

Broughton comes to Shop.org from REI, where she was vice president of multi-channel programs.

Founded in 1996, Shop.org became a division of the National Retail Federation in January 2001.

Honey Baked Ham moves

The Honey Baked Ham Co. is ready to celebrate Easter at a new location – 3771 Bloomington St., near the intersection of Powers Boulevard and North Carefree Circle.

The company has more than 400 stores nationwide.

Harry J. Hoenselaar, who founded the company in 1957, also invented the spiral-slicing machine that is still used today to slice authentic Honey Baked Ham.

U.S. chain store sales flat

U.S. chain store sales were flat last week compared to the previous week, according to International Council of Shopping Center’s index. The year-over-year pace of growth slowed to 2.4 percent for the week.

“This past week, sales once again reflected the Easter-shift and the shifting weather patterns across the country,” said Michael P. Niemira, ICSC’s chief economist and director of research.

Specialty retailers, or those most sensitive to seasonal clothing transitions, are projected to have the worst showing and possibly even decline on a year-over-year basis. But warehouse clubs like Costco Wholesale Corp. and BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. and certain department stores – think Kohl’s Corp. and J.C. Penney – should turn in relatively stronger numbers, analysts said.

However, what’s lost in March sales this year is anticipated to be recovered in April. Apart from spring break, analysts say the unofficial start to the spring shopping season usually begins with a blast of hot weather or a new Easter outfit.

For March, Niemira said he expects same-store sales to rise between 2.5 percent and 3 percent, on a year-over-year basis.

Joan Johnson covers retail for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.