FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (FNS) -- Wal-Mart Stores may already be a $138 billion retailer, but its growth potential is endless, David D. Glass, president and chief executive officer, told stockholders attending the annual meeting here.
The meeting -- as big as Wal-Mart itself -- started at the crack of dawn and spanned nearly seven hours, playing itself out in front of 20,000 pumped-up spectators. Shareholders swarmed into the Bud Walton Arena on the campus of the University of Arkansas here to hear the likes of Richard Simmons, Alex Trebec and Kathie Gifford along with a rock band, the Wal-Mart choir and tons of testimonials. The meeting was held June 4.
On the business side, Glass said, "far more opportunities are ahead than what we experienced in the past."
And he reiterated previous statements to the effect that the firm's greatest growth vehicle will be in supercenters.
"We are committed to building 150 units a year," he said. Ninety of this year's openings will be conversions of existing Wal-Mart discount stores.
Glass said Wal-Mart currently has 600 of the big food and general-merchandise centers in operation.
International operations also will play a major role in future expansion, Glass noted. With 726 units in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, China, Korea and Germany, the company this year will open 75 to 80 new stores in existing international markets. One of the next openings will be a fifth store in Korea -- in July.
Glass promised shareholders "aggressive expansion" in foreign markets. "A significant portion of our growth will come from the International Division."
He said future growth also will come from traditional Wal-Mart discount stores and Sam's Club membership units.
But, he said, rollout of the new Neighborhood Market concept is less certain. Neighborhood Markets are conventional, price-driven supermarkets of about 40,000 square feet.
At the same time, Glass asserted that as a result of tests of four prototype stores in operation in Arkansas within the past year, the company is "more comfortable with the concept, and will continue to build others."
Another Neighborhood Market is to be opened here this year, and two more are slated for Oklahoma City.
Noting continuous efforts to refine the concept, Glass said jokingly that the Bentonville store has been remodeled so many times that "they have worn out the fixtures, the people and everything else."
Besides the 75 to 80 new international units and 150 supercenters projected for the current fiscal year, the company will open 40 discount stores and 10 to 15 Sam's Clubs. The totals will give the company a 34 million-square-foot increase in new retail space, a 9% gain over last year.
Expansion for fiscal 1999 included 37 Wal-Mart stores, 123 supercenters (including the conversion of 86 existing Wal-Mart stores), eight Sam's Club units, and the opening or acquisition of 114 international units.
Meanwhile, shareholders who asked about the firm's role with Internet selling were told that the company will "crank up its initiatives" this year. After experimenting with the Internet for two years, "we learned what our customers want to buy and what they don't want to buy," said Glass.