Merchants brace for Wal-Mart Expert on retailer to speak on store's potential impact


WESTMINSTER -- Before Wal-Mart opens a store here in the fall, local merchants want to know what to expect. Next month, they'll hear advice from an expert.

Iowa State University professor Kenneth E. Stone, who has studied the impact the nation's largest retailer has on communities where it opens stores, will speak at 7:30 a.m. June 23 at Martin's Westminster.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Ark., will open a discount store with a garden center, pharmacy and snack bar at the Englar Business Park at Englar Road and Route 140.

"The proper attitude is to make the best of the situation," Stone said. "The more progressive merchants understand this is tough competition and are willing to make changes."

Bart Stephens, owner of the Carroll County True Value store in Hampstead, has been preparing for several years for Wal-Mart's arrival -- which he said was inevitable. He even bought a few shares of stock to enable him to follow the company's activities more closely.

He already has lowered prices on items in his store that he knows Wal-Mart will carry.

"We'll try to get as close to their prices as we possibly can," he said.

Stephens also closed his less profitable store in Reese to try to better position himself to compete, he said. Sales at the Hampstead store are between $500,000 and $1 million a year, he said, declining to give an exact figure.

Wal-Mart's sales nationwide were $32.6 billion last year.

"They are an absolutely awesome merchandiser," Stephens said. "Everybody in Carroll County will shop at Wal-Mart for certain things. It'll be good for Westminster."

Some competitors will be hurt initially by the new store, Stone said, but others will benefit because of the number of new shoppers the store will bring to the area.

His study, first done in 1987-1988 and updated annually, found that shoppers who come to Wal-Mart also shop in stores that sell things Wal-Mart doesn't. Furniture stores, specialty retail shops and service stations are examples, he said.

Half of his program, which lasts about two hours, will be devoted to strategies for competing with Wal-Mart or any large merchandiser, Stone


Stores that offer merchandise identical to Wal-Mart's are in jeopardy unless they make changes, he said.

The professor said he has spoken to at least 200 groups in the past 2 1/2 years.

Helen Utz, executive director of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, who arranged for Stone to speak, said he charges $750 for the speech, plus expenses.

He also will be speaking in Laurel, Prince George's County, and Leesburg, Va., on June 22 and 23, so groups there will help pay his expenses, she said. The total cost for his talk in Westminster probably will be $1,000 to $1,200, she said.

The price for tickets has not been set, Utz said last week.

Information: 848-9050.

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