By  on September 14, 1994

TORONTO -- Wal-Mart has begun its assault on the Great White North.

The giant discounter is currently liquidating and converting the 122-unit Woolco chain purchased from Woolworth Canada Inc. last January.

The company is also considering up to five more units in Canada by spring.

It's all part of the chain's grand scheme for international expansion. Wal-Mart has units in Mexico and Puerto Rico and plans stores in Brazil, Argentina, Hong Kong and China. It is also exploring sites in Europe. Wal-Mart had sales of $67.3 billion in 1993, and is projecting volume at $85 billion this year.

In Canada, it's widely believed that Wal-Mart will easily surpass Woolco's $1.9 billion in sales last year and will be a bigger player in apparel than Woolco was. Overall, stockkeeping units will double to 70,000 from Woolco's 35,000, and clothing will receive its share of the growth, according to Wal-Mart.

"You'll see a significant increase in the amount of apparel we will be offering," the spokesman said.

Wal-Mart declined to reveal its sales goal, though a Wal-Mart Canada Inc. spokesman said same-store sales at Wal-Mart's Canadian stores are ahead of Woolco stores by "high double digits," and "as high as 60 to 80 percent" in the best stores.

Canadian units closely resemble U.S. stores, with 11 of 36 departments devoted to apparel, footwear and fashion accessories, he said. He noted, however, that apparel reflects Canadian tastes and regional differences. "The focus is on value, a higher quality with an affordable price," he added. "You'll see a greater emphasis on selection and more contemporary styling."

Wal-Mart also invested about $200 million (C$275 million) in store renovations that are slated for completion by December. New ceilings and floors, brighter lights, wider aisles and more dramatic merchandising layout and signs are "designed to create a more dynamic shopping environment," the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Canadian discounters, Wal-Mart's primary competitors in terms of apparel, are also sprucing up to meet the competition.

"It's really given us a call to action," said Don Beaumont, president and chief executive officer of Toronto-based Kmart Canada Ltd. "If anything, we're going to stay with them."

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