Most shoppers don't think of Walmart when they think of a quick, in-and-out shopping trip.
But that's what the retail giant is shooting for with the new Walmart Supercenter in Blair, Neb.
Today's 8 a.m. opening of that store marks the first time a Nebraska Walmart was designed specifically to offer consumers a more convenient and time-saving shopping experience.
"Convenience is important for our customers," store manager Joe McBreen said. "Blair was missing a one-stop shopping experience, and we are helping to keep money in town instead of having shoppers drive out of town to another store."
In recent months, Walmart has taken major steps to refresh its stores by researching ways to make the stores flow better for faster service, including aligning the departments where customers shop most frequently.
"The layout of the store is easy to navigate, which will save our customers time as they shop for everyday necessities," McBreen said. "By grouping the products that our customers most often purchase, including health and beauty and pet supplies, we are making one-stop shopping even easier."
A layout designed for convenience isn't new to the retail industry, said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates Inc., a New York City-based national retail consulting and investment banking firm.
"Convenience is critical and Walmart recognizes that."
Davidowitz said shoppers want stores with good signage and lighting that allows them to immediately see where they have to go.
"That's what Walmart is trying to do, and I couldn't agree with them more," Davidowitz said. "People don't want to walk into a gigantic store, feel overwhelmed and not be able to find what they want."
When you walk into the Blair Walmart, you can immediately see signs for every department as well as directional signs in every aisle. The customer service desk and Site-to-Store pickup location are combined in one area near the single entrance.
A brightly colored interior helps define the store's merchandise areas. For example, yellow and green mean food, and blue means mostly everything else.
Unlike a lot of other Walmart stores in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area, housewares are located next to the food. McBreen said that was one change made after the company researched where shoppers go most frequently and how they travel around the store.
It makes sense for a customer to buy fresh fruits and smoothie ingredients and then need a blender, he said. Under older store designs, groceries are adjacent to apparel, and housewares are at the other end of the store.
The Blair store, which will be open 24 hours, seven days a week, features a full line of groceries, an expanded electronics department and a drive-thru pharmacy. It also has a fabrics department and a hunting and firearms department, unlike many stores in the Omaha area.
"We are trying to add assortment back into our stores for our customers," McBreen said. Most stores dropped fabric departments in 2009.
Davidowitz said that over the last four years Walmart stores across the country reduced assortment and went for a more upgraded look with fancier apparel and better lighting, but it didn't work.
"They lost their price image and sales were down for years," he said. "The No. 1 reason people shop at Walmart is price, and their monster remodel was not consistent with that."
Davidowitz said the company's newest stores are combining everything Walmart officials have learned over the years, resulting in smaller, more convenient stores.
"I think Walmart will be more customer-friendly and fit the market," he said.
The Blair store, like all new Walmart stores, also has energy-efficient features, including skylights, LED lighting, concrete flooring made with recycled materials, low-flow toilets and faucets and a recycling program.
Blair Mayor James Realph said that although there has been some apprehension about the store's opening from local small-business owners, he doesn't think they will be greatly affected by the new store.
"Most of the businesses in town are all surviving because of their service," he said. "I think Walmart is going to a be an asset to our community and surrounding communities. People who already shop at Walmart will no longer have to drive into Omaha or Fremont."
He said it also means more jobs for Blair and the surrounding communities.
So far the store has hired 130 of about 140 employees. The store is still hiring for part-time overnight positions. McBreen, who is a graduate of Creighton Prep and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, began his Walmart career in 2000 as a store associate in the toys department at the store near 99th and Fort Streets. He's having a home built in Blair.
Several of the Blair store's associates have worked for Walmart for more than 10 years and come from nearby stores.
Walmart now has 32 supercenters and three Sam's Clubs in Nebraska. The company also has announced plans for six grocery-only neighborhood markets in the Omaha area.
On Saturday, the Blair store will host an event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the store's parking lot. The free event will allow customers to sample grilled meats, win bakery treats at a cake walk and win prizes by catching fake money in a cash cube.
"I'm excited to meet our customers," McBreen said.
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