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Walmart tests ideas at NWA store

Constant innovation called key to retail giant’s success by Serenah McKay | June 2, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
Flight Engineer Carter Firquain (center) shows visitors the DroneUp delivery system, Thursday, June 1, 2023 during a tour outside of Walmarts Market Fulfillment Center in Bentonville. Walmart opened its first Market Fulfillment Center in Arkansas at Store 100 located at 406 S Walton Blvd in Bentonville on Monday, underlining the retailers move toward expanding the use of its stores as fulfillment centers. Visit for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

ELM SPRINGS -- Walmart Inc. employees call the Elm Springs Supercenter the "store of the future" because it's used to test new ideas in a real-life shopping environment.

The store at 4870 Elm Springs Road was built to operate as a prototype for serving both in-store and online customers. For instance, it was one of the first to adopt the self-checkout technology that Walmart had tested in a Fayetteville store.

Product and technology teams work in the store continuously to try out new digital tools and physical enhancements. One of the most visible of these is the use of product displays on end-cap platforms set up to show bedding and home decor as they might look in a bedroom or living room.

This model of innovation reflects Walmart's efforts to constantly try out new ways to serve its customers, Walmart has said.

In fact, innovation is the name of the game across all categories, a panel of Walmart executives said Thursday.

Speaking with media at the Elm Springs store, Scott Morris, senior vice president of food and consumables, and private brands manufacturing, said the company now has more than 25 private-label brands. Also, Walmart's Great Value brand is the single largest consumer packaged goods brand in the United States.

Julie Barber, executive vice president of general merchandising for Walmart U.S., added that Walmart's Spring Valley brand of vitamins is the largest-selling vitamin brand in the country.

At Walmart's Culinary and Innovation Center, Morris said, the chefs work hard to create tasty foods. One of the newest is a line of pizzas.

Even higher-income customers who've been shopping at Walmart -- because of inflationary pressures -- buy Walmart's private brands repeatedly.

Also, Walmart's younger shoppers, "who are brand-agnostic," have been buying private-label brands, Morris said.

Actress and entrepreneur Drew Barrymore, who has had products in Walmart stores for 11 years, said innovation is the company's north star.

Barrymore said she used to stand in front of the Walton 5 & Dime and think, "This is the place every aspiring entrepreneur should try to be."

The first brand she sold in Walmart stores was her Flower beauty line. She said she wanted to create quality products that cost much less than prestige brands.

Barrymore expanded the Flower line to include home decor called Flower Home. More recently, she added a line of cookware and appliances called Beautiful.

As for innovating, she said a piece of advice she received along the way was "Tell me what you don't see, and then do that."

Barrymore advises entrepreneurs to do what they personally believe in, and maintain relationships with their merchants and buyers, and especially the people on the sales floor.

"The people on the floor are the keepers of the castle," Barrymore said. "They are your story keepers."

A media tour as part of shareholders week also included Walmart's new Market Fulfillment Center, recently opened in the Supercenter at 406 S. Walton Blvd. in Bentonville.

The high-tech, in-store fulfillment center is the first of its kind in Arkansas and only the second in the United States, Walmart said. The company opened the first one in a New Hampshire Supercenter as a test location in 2019.

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