The world's biggest retailer is growing in the Chattanooga market by getting smaller -- at least with its newest stores.
Wal-Mart opened its first area Neighborhood Market grocery store in Fort Oglethorpe on Wednesday -- the first of a half dozen such stores now under development in the Chattanooga region.
"This is a great day for Wal-Mart and our customers," Casey Robertson, store manager for the Fort Oglethorpe Neighborhood Market, told cheering employees and customers before cutting the ribbon to open the 41,000-square-foot store Wednesday morning. "This gives customers convenience and affordability in a smaller store format."
Wal-Mart has scheduled a "Big Family Welcome" from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at the new Fort Oglethorpe store with family activities such as face painting, cupcake decorating and free food samples while supplies last.
The new store will operate 24 hours, seven days a week and employs 86 workers.
Wal-Mart introduced the Neighborhood Markets format in 1998 to offer a smaller footprint option for communities and has grown the brand to include nearly 500 stores nationwide.
"These stores offer the same price advantage that other Wal-Mart stores offer but they are more convenient and easier for many shoppers to use for their regular grocery shopping," said Tracey Lloyd, the market manager for Neighborhood Market in the Southeast.
The convenience of buying groceries in a smaller, more accessible store attracted Francine Slatton to the new store.
"It's not as big as most Wal-Mart stores so it's easier to get in and buy what you need, plus it's close to my home," she said.
Rachel Lockhart, another Fort Oglethorpe resident, also liked the proximity to her home of the new grocery.
"It seems like a great store and it's easier to get to from where I live," she said.
Wal-Mart, which already operates 22 stores within a 50-mile radius of Chattanooga, is eager to expand its market presence to capture food sales that dollar stores and convenience stores are increasingly getting at smaller stores.
"Neighborhood Markets compete very well with other retail formats and help Wal-Mart to fill in the voids where they are not already reaching," said Jon Springer, retail editor for the industry publication Supermarket News. "The smaller formats attract customers that might be going to traditional grocery stores or convenience stores close to where they live or work."
The Fort Oglethorpe Neighborhood Market offers fresh produce, a full-line of groceries, a pharmacy, bakery and deli. But the store is only about one fourth the size of Wal-Mart's superstores in the area.
Wal-Mart entered the Georgia market with its Neighborhood Market format three years ago in the northern Atlanta suburbs of Marietta. Wal-Mart is planning at least a half dozen Neighborhood Market stores in the Chattanooga region this year, including the next Neighborhood Market store set to open within the next couple of months in Dalton, Ga.
Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Lynn Long, who helped recruit the first Wal-Mart to Fort Oglethorpe 25 years ago, said the Neighborhood Market is the third Wal-Mart store in the city and is only a couple of miles away from a larger superstore.
While the new store may be smaller in size, it opened Tuesday with store employees giving the customary morning Wal-Mart cheer. Robertson, the new store manager, previously worked at the Wal-Mart on Gunbarrel Road in Chattanooga.
"These new stores complement very well what we already have in the market and are going in areas where we see a need or demand for a local grocery," Lloyd said.
Lloyd said the Neighborhood Market in Dalton will be the next store to open. She declined to discuss Wal-Mart's future plans for other stores. Polester Development LLC, a subsidiary of The Hutton Co. in Chattanooga, is developing at least three sites that are expected to become Neighborhood Markets in East Ridge, East Brainerd and Middle Valley.
Dalton is getting a Neighborhood Market at Bry-Man's Plaza, and North Chattanooga is getting a Neighborhood Market at Highland Plaza.
Developers are planning or already building grocery stores that are believed to be Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets at:
1505 N. Moore Road in Chattanooga
Monroe Street at the old community center lot in East Ridge
7911 East Brainerd Road in Chattanooga
Highland Plaza on Hixson Pike and Ashland Terrace in Chattanooga
Thrasher Pike and Middle Valley Road in north Hixson
Bry-Man's Plaza in Dalton, Ga.