published Friday, March 21st, 2014

Wal-Mart looks to shake winter with sales push

After enduring a severe winter that chilled business, Wal-Mart is trying to lure shoppers into its stores with the biggest weapon in its arsenal: a big sale. The world’s largest retailer is offering up to 50 percent on more than 60 outdoor items such as lawn mowers and bags of mulch, starting today  and ending the following Saturday.
After enduring a severe winter that chilled business, Wal-Mart is trying to lure shoppers into its stores with the biggest weapon in its arsenal: a big sale. The world’s largest retailer is offering up to 50 percent on more than 60 outdoor items such as lawn mowers and bags of mulch, starting today and ending the following Saturday.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NEW YORK — Wal-Mart is hoping the same winter storms that kept shoppers away in the winter, will bring them into stores in the spring.

Starting today, Wal-Mart is having a weeklong sale of up to 50 percent on more than 60 outdoor items, including lawn mowers and bags of mulch.

The world's largest retailer said the move, which pits it against home-improvement rivals Home Depot and Lowe's, is aimed at luring shoppers who are looking to restore patios and gardens that were battered by severe winter weather.

Retailers don't typically discount new spring merchandise so quickly and aggressively, opting instead to slash prices slightly throughout the season. This spring, however, will be more important to many retailers that were hurt by strong winter storms that kept shoppers indoors and forced stores to close hundreds of locations. Industry watchers say other retailers are likely to follow Wal-Mart and offer their own promotions on home improvement merchandise, which has high profit margins.

"This is trying to get growth," said Craig R. Johnson, president of retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners. "The early bird catches the worm."

Johnson, from Customer Growth Partners, said Wal-Mart is taking a page from Home Depot, which has been offering a similar sales event for years each spring. Home Depot Inc. did not immediately respond to questions about Wal-Mart's sale.

Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's, the nation's two largest home-improvement chains, declined to comment on Wal-Mart's move. But Amanda Manna, a spokeswoman at Lowe's, said: "Our expertise in home improvement allows us to serve customers as a partner throughout an entire home improvement project, from inspiration to completion."

In the past, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which is based in Bentonville, Ark., typically offered discounts on outdoor items or offered some special buys throughout the season. This sale, which ends next Saturday, marks the first time it has pulled the items together to kick off a spring sale, Wal-Mart said.

Wal-Mart said the spring sale was planned last summer as executives received forecasts that the winter was going to be especially harsh. But the company made changes since then because the winter was even more severe than expected.

During the height of the winter weather, Wal-Mart closed more than 200 stores. And Wal-Mart's U.S. discount stores posted a 0.4 percent decline in revenue at stores opened at least a year for the fourth quarter, which encompasses the winter months.

As a result of the more severe weather, Wal-Mart said it bought pallets more of mulch, barbecue grills, patio furniture and other items, though it declined to give specific quantities.

"I love the fact that we had a rough winter because people are going to be so ready," said Michelle Gloeckler, senior vice president of Home at Wal-Mart's U.S. division.

Among the items that will be on sale: a seven piece-Mainstays patio furniture set for $298, $15 stacking sling chairs, $88 Kingsford charcoal grills and $144 lawnmowers from brands like Murray and Snapper. Shoppers can also find five bags of Miracle-Gro garden soil for $10 and bags of mulch for $1.97 each.

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