David Brancaccio: In case you haven’t stumbled into one yet, Walmart is experimenting with smaller stores. The retailer has rolled out several of these new Walmart Express stores in rural North Carolina where fresh food options can be scarce.
But as North Carolina Public Radio’s Leoneda Inge reports, Walmart Express has some competition from the corner dollar store.
Leoneda Inge: We all pretty much know what a Walmart Supercenter looks like — aisles for days.
Well, Walmart Express stores are only one-tenth the size of a Supercenter.
Danielle Palmer: How ya’ll doing today? Good.
Danielle Palmer manages the Walmart Express in tiny Snow Hill. It’s one of five mini-stores Walmart is piloting in North Carolina.
Palmer: It’s like, I feel that is was made for me. You know, it was back down home, very small, where I could really know every single one of my associates and every single customer that visits us on a daily basis.
Walmart Express stores are basically grocery stores, with a pharmacy and a few extras. Syrina Sturdivant shops here often.
Syrina Sturdivant: I only just come when I got to get a couple of things. It’s convenient, quick, easy.
Inge: What did you get today?
Sturdivant: Oh, french fries, and chicken tenders, and sugar, for the kids.
Ronny Hayes: So we see this as an opportunity to come into this community and offer them not only affordable, but healthy food options.
Ronny Hayes is a regional V.P. for Walmart.
Hayes: And let’s face it today, with the gas prices and everything else, I think our customers are going to appreciate that.
That sounds similar to the business model for chains like Dollar General and Dollar Tree. In fact, dollar stores have weathered the down economy better than Walmart.
Kiley Rawlins is V.P. of communications for Family Dollar. She says they’re not worried about Walmart Express.
Kiley Rawlins: We’ve operated stores for more than 50 years. And Walmart is certainly a formidable competitor, and someone we always have to be aware of. They serve our customer.
So far, Walmart has opened fewer than a dozen Walmart Express stores. In the past, Walmart said it could open hundreds if this model does well. Right now, the company is tight-lipped on any expansion of Walmart Express.
Meanwhile, Family Dollar is on a roll. Rawlins says it’s on track to open nearly 500 new stores this year.
I’m Leoneda Inge for Marketplace.