By  on June 20, 2007

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. vice chairman John Menzer said Tuesday that the retailer is scaling back U.S. growth to concentrate on getting its troubled merchandising operation back on course and improving same-store sales.

"Our new stores have done well, but at some point we need to improve comp-store sales," he said, speaking at a financial conference. "We have a big, big focus on that."

Menzer described the $345 billion retailer's year-to-date performance in apparel and home as "very weak," adding "we hope back-to-school will show a slight improvement." He reemphasized Wal-Mart's commitment to low-price leadership and rollbacks. When it strayed from those messages to focus on trendy apparel and pricier home decor, sales flagged. The company announced this spring that its leading hardlines merchant was retiring and that Claire Watts, the top executive over home and apparel, would no longer lead home.

"We've got to get the merchandising right," Menzer said. "That's our challenge right now.'' He said the company has created six store-trait profiles (based on demographics, geography and other factors), organized its U.S. stores based on those profiles and has begun to test specific merchandising initiatives for each.

Menzer also disclosed:

-- Wal-Mart plans big growth in financial services, a segment that includes check cashing and money orders, and is growing 30 percent per year. The company plans to roll out the services in a department called Wal-Mart Money Centers.

-- In order to reduce cannibalization of existing stores, Wal-Mart might purchase and hold sites for three to five years before building a Supercenter.

-- The company will open stores only from March to October each year to free its team to focus on fourth-quarter sales in December and January. Eighty stores slated to open in January 2009 will be moved to later in the year.

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