Sam Walton bragged that his company “became our own competition.” Wall Street analysts have noted that the retailer’s superstores are so close together that they cannibalize each other’s sales per square foot. Residents in West Mobile, Alabama say that a proposed supercenter on Airport Boulevard is unnecessary because there is already a superstore less than 3 miles away on Airport Boulevard. There is a second supercenter just 5 miles away, plus a Neighborhood Market owned by Wal-Mart. According to the Mobile Register, the 20 acres of land Wal-Mart wants is already zoned for “heavy retail,” and the company’s self-serving traffic impact study says that adding a traffic signal will make the added burden of cars easily handled. “Our study indicated that with the improvements we are making in the general area, the level of service would be equal or better than it is now,” the developer said. This is always the conclusion of Wal-Mart-financed traffic studies, and many communities make the mistake of never asking for an independent peer review of their methodology and assumptions. The proposed store at 121,340 s.f. is smaller than the four existing 200,000 s.f. supercenters in Mobile county. The smaller store would have a full line of groceries, but less general merchandise. The project will come before the city’s Planning Commission on December 21st. Wal-Mart needs approval for a planned unit development and new subdivision lines. If residents are unhappy with the Planning Commission’s decision, they can appeals to the City Council. One neighbor on Airport Boulevard told the Register, “The traffic situation is horrendous.” Residents complain that city officials led them to believe that the retail zoning of this parcel would be for smaller, boutique shops. The developer who stands to make money on the project, told the newspaper, “I think at the end of the day when people see the product that is going to be put there, they are going to be pleasantly surprised.” If rising crime rates and lowered residential values are a pleasant surprise, then he’s correct. In a letter to the City Council, one resident wrote, “we all know that a Wal-Mart on Airport Boulevard will cause nightmarish traffic on an already congested and dangerous street, not to mention a potential increase in crime, increased noise levels, bright lights, and an overall decline in property values and quality of life.” Residents in the Willow Brook and Huntleigh Woods subdivisions will find the character of their neighborhood changed dramatically. According to the Mobile Register, the biggest question being asked over and over again is: Why does Wal-Mart think it needs another store here? “I’m curious as to the need for another super Wal-Mart,” said the City Councilor who represents the affected area.
The Register quoted one analyst from America’s Research Group, based in South Carolina, as saying, “When they open up a new store, 30 or 40 percent of new volume may be cannibalized from existing stores.” Wal-Mart is picking its own pocket when it piles on stores in such close proximity. Two stores will definitely create more sales than one, but the sales per square foot of each store will drop, making each store less profitable. Recently Wal-Mart told investors that it was going to slow down the production of new stores — but the numbers revealed that the “slow down” in numbers of stores was negligible. The group Trade Dimensions International claims that Wal-Mart already controls 44% of Alabama’s grocery market. Regardless of what decisions the retailer makes about jamming new stores in Mobile, it is clear that consumers don’t need another Wal-Mart supercenter. And, for the opposition thus far, it’s also obvious that many area residents don’t want the store either.