By  on June 6, 2008

ROGERS, Ark. — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. executives stayed on message to the point of redundancy during presentations at the company's media day on Thursday.

"Save people money so they can live better" was the mantra.

Reporters from around the world arrived here for a day of briefings and store tours to be followed today by the company's annual meeting.

"We've initiated a transformation," said Eduardo Castro-Wright, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart U.S. "We are understanding better how we deliver value and defining the value proposition."

Castro-Wright said the second piece of the transformation is ensuring that assortments are relevant. "The last part of the transformation is the experience in our stores," he said.

The company cited initiatives for faster checkout, friendlier service and cleaner, uncluttered stores — goals it has been trying for years to achieve.

The presentations came as Wal-Mart beat same-store sales expectations released Thursday, posting a 4 percent increase for its U.S. namesake stores, while Sam's Club rose 3.6 percent. Analysts were expecting growth of 1.4 percent for the Wal-Mart stores.

The Supercenter in Rogers, always at its best because of its proximity to corporate headquarters in nearby Bentonville, had sleek new signage and lower shelves for clearer sight views.

"We've never had better alignment between marketing, merchandising and operations," said Stephen Quinn, executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "Merchants are on trend, there's greater inventory management, clarity of merchandise and crisp presentations."

Dottie Mattison, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of apparel, said, "What we're working on in apparel is price leadership and investing in growth categories. Our promise is to be the price leader on basics such as socks and underwear. More recently, we launched the OP brand, and we are able to exert our position of price leadership." Mattison cited women's boardshorts for $8.72. "The growth categories that we know we're getting outsized increases in are key items for $10 or less. We've had a great response to knit tops."

Mattison said there has been a megatrend developing around activewear, from casual leisure to performance, with brands such as Hanes, Starter and Danskin Now."We have a very large denim business. We're bringing out L.E.I. for back-to-school," she said. She noted Wal-Mart is satisfied with the performance of George ME and Metro 7 and added the company is always examining its portfolio and is interested in new brands. Asked whether George ME and Metro 7 will be expanded — the latter was pulled back after a disappointing performance — she said only, "We have them both in this store."

At a Sam's Club in Fayetteville, Ark., a variety of brand-name watches were on display, including Coach (Legacy, $184.24 and Bridle, $373) and Movado ($2,300), as well as diamond jewelry (4.14-carat ear studs from the Premiere Diamonds Collection, $30,555 and a 2.24-carat platinum ring for $22,703).

Apparel seems to be an opportunistic buy for Sam's, including Jones New York Sport knit dresses for $17.73, Calvin Klein Jeans burn-out tops for $19.77, and Nine West matte jersey tops for $19.86.

Doug McMillon, president and ceo of Sam's Club, said the division's small business membership is growing faster than its Advantage customer base of individuals. In fact, the company is opening its first unit devoted exclusively to small business in Houston in July.

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