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Wal-Mart gets schooled: Retailer expands tiny on-campus format

by Martha C. White /  / Updated 
A Walmart Neighborhood Market sign is seen outside a newly opened store in Chicago September 21, 2011. Wal-Mart is experimenting with a similar small ...
A Walmart Neighborhood Market sign is seen outside a newly opened store in Chicago September 21, 2011. Wal-Mart is experimenting with a similar small format, only this time on college campuses.JIM YOUNG / Reuters

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Wal-Mart is synonymous with the term “big-box store,” but it’s scaling down to a miniscule 2,500 square feet for a new store coming to the Georgia Institute of Technology next quarter. 

The second in a test format the company is calling Walmart on Campus, the Georgia Tech store will be the smallest in the country, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The single Walmart on Campus store currently in operation is at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., less than an hour’s drive from the company’s Bentonville headquarters. There’s a company tie to the new location, too; Wal-Mart president and CEO Mike Duke is a Georgia Tech alum.

Wal-Mart has explored smaller-sized stores before. It launched Walmart Neighborhood Market, a format that averages 40,000 square feet and now includes 230 stores,  in 1998. It also is testing 12 Walmart Express stores that average 15,000 square feet in three markets. 

“The large format stores remain our engine for growth,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo, but he added that smaller store footprints were a growing part of the company’s strategy. “We’ve become more flexible in our approach to communities,” he said.

The footprint for the Georgia Tech store is a fraction of Wal-Mart’s Supercenters, which average 182,000 square feet. Its comparatively limited merchandise mix is tailored to reflect its student customer base: some groceries, convenience and general non-food items, plus health and beauty products. It will also include a pharmacy and a financial services center where students can cash checks and pay bills.

“We want the store size and the merchandise mix to be a reflection of the community it’s in,” Restivo said.

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