Wal-Mart indicated this week that the company hopes to open up to 55 new discount stores, and 230 supercenters in the fiscal year that starts February 1, 2004. That means a new Wal-Mart supercenter would cut a ribbon in America every 38 hours. The Home Channel News reported that just over half of these supercenters would be expansions of existing discount stores. But many of these new supercenters will close down existing Wal-Marts, which is why the company has nearly 400 dead stores on the market today, roughly 25 million square feet of dead air. Wal-Mart has become America’s King of Empty Space — and its metastasizing around the globe. The company hopes to have 130 to 140 openings in its international division across 9 different countries. If the company has its way, this growth plan will add 50 million square feet to its current level of 606 million square feet.
Here’s a novel concept: Wal-Mart could satisfy half of its 2004 expansion needs by expanding into its own dead stores. If the company has 25 million square feet of available buildings, it could recycle that dead space and cut in half the number of new stores it needs to build. In FY 1996, Wal-Mart had 1,995 discount stores. By 2004, it is estimated to have only 1,478 discount stores. In the same time period, Wal-Mart supercenters grew from 239 to 1,463. Wal-Mart has been systematically shutting down its discount stores, and replacing them with supercenters. The phenomenon has been called the “empty box syndrome”, and the company’s latest growth plans make it clear that this trend will only accelerate in the coming years.