Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Eight Days of Truth - Day Four

Today we travel from the Southwest to the Midwest. Neenah, WI is a small lakeside community of 24,557. A Wal-Mart Supercenter opened there in 2004. The Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development’s mantra (and bumper sticker) about Wal-Mart has been “We Can Find a Better neighbor.” This article from the Appleton – Fox Cites Post Crescent relates how good of a neighbor a Wal-Mart Supercenter has become in Neenah:

Wal-Mart fitting in

Neenah makes room for the king of retail stores

NEENAH — One year ago, Wal-Mart, the world’s largest company, roared into Neenah like a lion.

Wal-Mart’s 200,000-square-foot Supercenter on Winneconne Avenue dwarfed competitors in size and might. And it spread fear that it would swallow mom-and-pop retailers whole with its discount prices.

Today, Wal-Mart is thriving, but none of its competitors has scattered. If anything, they are rethinking their approach to business to the benefit of consumers.

Jim Webb Jr., president of Krueger’s True Value, 999 Winneconne Ave., said Wal-Mart’s greatest effect was providing an impetus for Krueger’s to re-examine pricing, services and marketing.

“We have to pay attention to what we are doing,” he said. “There are more options for people to go shopping.”

Sales at Krueger’s fell slightly below projections during 2004, but Webb said it was far more related to weather than to Wal-Mart.

May is Krueger’s strongest month for sales because the lawn and gardening season is at its peak. Last year, however, it rained for 18 days in May.

“We are not talking drizzle,” Webb said. “We are talking sheets of rain. The weather wiped out a sizeable amount of sales for our store.”

The rest of the summer was no better. The heat and humidity never came, so sales of fans and air conditioners were sluggish. The rains stopped after May and June, holding back mosquitoes that lead to sales of insect repellant.

Webb said that with normal weather, Wal-Mart’s effect on his sales would have been negligible.

“I think we would have been just fine,” he said. “We are hiking our trousers up and are going to have at it this year.”

Karen Harkness, executive director of Future Neenah Inc., said Wal-Mart has produced no noticeable effect on home-grown retailers.

She credited businessmen like Webb for their take-charge approach to Wal-Mart.

“They set the tone by saying, ‘We need to step up,’” Harkness said. “As long as they are providing customer service and the products consumers are asking for, they aren’t viewing Wal-Mart as a threat.”

Wal-Mart has lived up to its own expectations. Although the Supercenter — a combined supermarket and discount store — declined to release sales figures, store manager Gary Gabor said business has been brisk.

“We had a very successful first year,” Gabor said. “We take care of a lot customers every day. Our main focus is to continue to serve them well.”

Wal-Mart has become an integral part of the Neenah community. The store employs 320 people, nearly 75 percent of whom work full time, and it draws customers from all reaches of the area.

Michelle Moulton of the Town of Menasha said she shops at the Neenah Wal-Mart at least once a week, primarily for items for her 2-year-old son. Before the store opened, she shopped at the Grand Chute Wal-Mart.

“It’s convenient,” Moulton said. “I find it to be a clean store with helpful people and a good selection.”

Neenah planners had predicted that Wal-Mart would slow the leakage of retail dollars from Neenah. They also correctly predicted that a multitude of businesses would ride into Neenah on Wal-Mart’s coattails.

A four-tenant retail center was built in front of Wal-Mart, and across the street, the Westowne Village commercial development is under construction.

Westowne will feature a $6 million Aurora Health Care Center, a multitenant retail center, a credit union and at least four restaurants — Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar, Culver’s Frozen Custard, Arby’s Restaurant and Taco Bell.

More developments are in the works.

“We are seeing businesses coming (to Neenah) because of Wal-Mart and Kohl’s,” Director of Community Development Bob Buckingham said.

Neenah invested $1.7 million in land, utilities and streets to prepare the area for development. Officials plan to recover the money through property taxes on new development in the area.

Gabor said Wal-Mart’s presence in Neenah transcends retail business. He said the Neenah store and its employees donated $33,000 toward nonprofit causes last year.

Wal-Mart helped raise money for the Neenah Riverwalk. It also purchased a defibrillator for the Clayton-Winchester Fire Department, donated candy for a Halloween event, filled food pantries and distributed groceries to the needy at Christmas.

“We have been involved in the community,” Gabor said. “That is good for us, and it’s good for the Neenah area.”

1 comment:

Ray Lindquist said...

What say you PARD??? This is a no brainier, we need Wal-Martthe sooner the better.