Walmart rolling out prototype of new look

A Walmart store in Reno is the first in Nevada to undertake a major renovation that will set the tone for most of the giant retailer's more than 2,600 Supercenters nationwide.

Remodeling of the store at 4855 Kietzke Lane is scheduled for completion in early July, but customers have watched the progress since it began April 5.

The store has remained open some departments have changed locations while construction crews worked feverishly overnight. That's been a management challenge, especially because the store is open to customers 24/7.

Key elements of the prototype include wider aisles, lower shelves, new signage and new color schemes.

"It's cleaner, and it's easier to navigate," said Amy Hill, a spokeswoman for Walmart as she walked through the store last week.

It's a look that will be used in all new Walmart stores, and the company will renovate 80 percent of its existing stores during the next five years in a program it's calling "Project Impact." The 208,000-square-foot Reno store will be the only Nevada location to get the new look this year.

The prototype, developed after three years of study and discussion with Walmart customers, deals with some gripes of consumers.

Pet food and bagged candy items often purchased during grocery runs previously were located far across the store from the grocery departments. Along with health and beauty merchandise, they're now located more closely to groceries.

Grocery aisles that formerly became clogged when two shopping carts stood side by side will be wide enough to allow a third to pass. Displays in the middle of major aisles will become a thing of the past.

Shelving that once stood well over 6 feet high in some departments has been cut down to eye level. In fact, shoppers will be able to see the electronics department in the back of the store within a few steps after they enter the front door.

Every department in the store is affected by the remodeling work.

But wider aisles and shorter shelves come at a price less room for merchandise.

Hill said some slow-selling items will be removed from the store's merchandising mix. On the other hand, the prototype allows for more localization of product offerings than the previous plan for Walmart stores.

The south Reno store sports the brand's new exterior color scheme. Earth tones replace the familiar red-and-blue paint job, complete with a horizontal stripe, that mark older Walmart locations.

And in a boon to newspaper copy editors everywhere, the store's name no longer is hyphenated or presented with a star. It's "Walmart" rather than "Wal-Mart."

The company doesn't disclose what it's investing in the renovation.

A building permit taken out by contractor Wadman Corp. of Ogden, Utah, for the project listed a construction value of $1.1 million.

But there's more than construction in the costs of the project.

For instance, Walmart hired 65 temporary employees to move merchandise around and get inventory onto the new shelves as one section after another of the store is completed.

Colin Warren, manager of the south Reno store, said much of the planning, down to detailed layout of each shelf in each aisle of the store, was developed at Walmart's corporate office in Bentonville, Ark.

The corporate office also developed the plan to move departments around inside the store to provide space for construction crews to work.

But the day-to-day management of the construction work depends on a 7 a.m. daily meeting of store and construction managers to review the previous night's accomplishments and set goals for the next night.

The challenge, Warren said, comes from chewing off just enough work each night so that it can be completed before the store gets busy during the daytime hours.

Construction crews have figured, for instance, that they can lay 3,000 square feet of tile in one overnight shift. Any sections of the store that are larger need more than one night to complete the flooring.

Customers appear to have taken the changes in stride, Warren said, partly because store employees have been proactive about offering help to shoppers who appear to be lost. Maps of the ever-changing store layout are posted at entrances and updated each day.

And he's counting on an immediate boost to sales at the store from the new look and improved ease of shopping.

The store, initially constructed as a traditional Walmart location, was expanded into a Supercenter with full grocery offerings in early 2003.

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