Story and photos by Hal Goodtree.
Cary, NC – I stopped by the new Walmart Neighborhood Market last week and had a quick look around. Here’s my take on the new store at the corner of High House and Highway 55.
Walmart Neighborhood Market
Walmart’s new store, a supermarket initiative, occupies the old Kroger space near West Park. Just last year, the very same spot was at the center of a massive controversy swirling around the potential tenancy of an immigration (ICE) facility.
ICE went away, thanks to a well-organized effort by the West Park HOA and Cary officials. It was with a sigh of relief that most in the community greeted the news that another tenant had stepped forward with plans for the former Kroger store. It’s a big property and had sat vacant for a number of years.
Last Thursday was bright and sunny. I had just dropped my younger daughter off at gymnastics. Approaching the corner of High House, I could see shoppers going in and out of the new Walmart store. I darted into the parking lot to have a look for myself.
Everything was clean and shiny as I approached the brand new Walmart Neighborhood Market. Balloons decorated the entrance and happy greeters were in abundance. I certainly felt welcome and part of the excitement.
With a whoosh, the doors opened in front of me.
I had heard that Walmart Neighborhood Markets were “smaller” stores. Smaller than an aircraft carrier perhaps, but my impression walking through the front door was “big.” It is certainly smaller than a Walmart Superstore or Sam’s Club, but it feels every bit as large as the largest supermarkets in Cary.
Nothing wrong with big. I like choices when I do my food shopping. But there’s nothing particularly “neighborhood-y” about the new store. I took my bearings and walked around.
Walmart Neighborhood Market has everything you’d expect in a Cary supermarket – nice looking fresh baked goods, a large produce section, and aisle upon aisle of packaged goods. All your favorite brands are there. There’s a deli, a meat department and a fish counter.
In fact, Walmart Neighborhood Market looks like a lot like a slightly less fancy Harris Teeter. Slightly. It’s very Harris Teeter-like.
First impression – if you like Harris Teeter but think it’s too expensive, you may like Walmart Neighborhood Market.
Of course, the point of discount stores is to save money. I do most of the food shopping in my family and I’m finely attuned to prices. Okay, I’m cheap. I prefer frugalista, but whatever.
My second impression – things were not so cheap at Walmart Neighborhood Market. I expected big discounts, but the savings were modest.
Big brand names predominate the store – Nabisco, Kellogg’s, P&G products. You’ll save a little bit at Walmart, but branded products always command a premium.
Typical offering – 2 for $4.99 on chips at WNM, 2 for $6.00 at H/T.
Hey, it’s a buck.
Ruined by Aldi
The truth is, I’ve been ruined by Aldi. Now that’s a discount supermarket. Chips, cookies, cereal are mostly under $2.00. Coffee is $3.99-$5.99. They have a nice German roast we enjoy at my house.
If you want to save money, Aldi is the place to go in Cary. Walmart Neighborhood Market can’t touch them.
The Problem of Positioning
Positioning is the art and science of deciding where your product fits into the cosmos of your competitors. Full disclosure – I did a lot of work for P&G and General Foods during my previous career as an ad guy. I’m finely tuned to the intricacies of positioning.
I was surprised by the positioning of the Walmart supermarket. Much closer to Harris Teeter than Aldi. That puts them on a par with Kroger and Lowes. Maybe Food Lion.
This is a tough spot. Ask Food Lion. Value shoppers are going to Aldi. Quality shoppers are going to Harris Teeter, Whole Foods and Fresh Market. The retailers in the middle are caught in a squeeze.
Attention Walmart Shoppers
The pitch may be to leverage Walmart’s popular brand and traditional customers into grocery sales. Like Target or Dillard or Starbucks, Walmart customers are loyal and believe the store delivers on its brand promise (“save money, live better”).
Walmart shoppers will not be disappointed in the new supermarket. It delivers a surprising upscale shopping experience and you’ll save a few bucks over Harris Teeter.
I doubt they will steal many Harris Teeter customers. They may pressure Food Lion and Lowes. Aldi has nothing to worry about.
More Walmarts on the Way?
Talk is circulating that Walmart is set to occupy the old Food Lion on Harrison and Maynard. That’s right across the street from Aldi and a Harris Teeter, putting a third supermarket at that one intersection. Now that’s going to be interesting.
Also circulating is news that Walmart may open a third supermarket in the area at the corner of Davis Drive and Morrisville-Carpenter Rd.
This all makes perfect sense. Many marketers go big when they decide to get into a market, opening several locations close together to maximize savings on distribution and warehousing.
Choice is Good
In any event, choice is good. We are fortunate in Cary to have lots of choices and the newest ideas in retailing all across our town.