As they say in the child-rearing game, “bigger children, bigger problems.”

Take Wal-Mart’s misfortunes of the past year. The largest retailer in the world experienced slowing comp-store gains, lawsuits, raids, government probes and consumer backlash against sprawl created by supercenters in exurban areas. Royal Ahold has been engulfed in a billion-dollar accounting scandal that led to the resignation of several key executives and Target’s sales have been soft. But the big boys never let much stand in their way. Wal-Mart is pressing on with a variety of initiatives. Ahold has a tougher road to hoe, especially the U.S. Foodservice unit. Target is setting its sights on Baby Boomers after avidly courting 40-plus customers, while others like Tesco are taking a closer look at fashion as a profit center. Below, rankings based on 2002 volume, the most recent data available.

1) WAL-MART STORES INC., U.S.
Volume: $229 billion
Despite a challenging 2003 marked by slowing comp-store gains, lawsuits on gender discrimination, a highly publicized raid of undocumented workers and subsequent government probe, disappointing results in Germany, image problems and some resistance by certain cities to supercenters, Wal-Mart is forging ahead. The company said China is one of its biggest opportunities and earlier this week hinted at breaking into India and Russia.

2) CARREFOUR GROUP, France
Volume: $65 billion
Chief executive Daniel Bernard said the group is focused on organic growth and controlling costs while making strategic acquisitions in countries where Carrefour is already an established presence. The group had more than 10,000 stores at the end of 2003. The company is upgrading its fashion offerings. Carrefour hypermarkets are expected to begin distributing Levi’s Signature jeans in France this month.

3) THE HOME DEPOT INC., U.S.
Volume: $58 billion
Home Depot tapped into the do-it-yourself trend that’s had Americans repairing their own plumbing and updating their kitchens. The company also operates the more upscale and pricey Design Expo. Home Depot has been exploring inner cities with sites in Los Angeles and Harlem. However, Home Depot is being challenged by Lowe’s, which offers a more upscale warehouse environment with better service. The company has been active in Canada, Chile and Argentina.
4) THE KROGER CO., U.S.
Volume: $52 billion
Cincinnati-based Kroger is the largest traditional supermarket company in America. After acquiring Dillon Cos. in 1982, the company in June promoted David Dillon, the grandson and great-nephew of Dillon’s founders, to chief executive officer of Kroger Co. He is expected to be named chairman sometime this year. The company operated 2,461 stores in 2002, including 69 new stores, a 2.9 percent gain over the previous year.

5) METRO AG, Germany
Volume: $48 billion
The company operates 1,744 units in 26 countries. Besides the Metro Cash & Carry food and nonfood membership stores and Real and Extra supermarket chains, the company owns Media Markt, an electronics chain, Praktiker hardware stores and Kaufhof department stores. Metro Group’s latest initiative is an Extra Future Store, unveiled in April.

6) ROYAL AHOLD, The Netherlands
Volume: $47 billion
Last year Ahold was engulfed in a billion-dollar accounting scandal that led to the resignation of several key executives, a sell-off of Asian and South American assets, reduced vendor trust and lost profits. The Dutch-based international mega-chain has substantial holdings in the U.S. Ahold, the world's third-largest food retailer, said in February it had discovered accounting irregularities at U.S. Foodservice, Columbia, Md., whose customers include restaurants, hotels, schools and other institutions.

7) TARGET CORP., U.S.
Volume: $43 billion
Target Stores turned from a nondescript regional discounter into “Targét,” the chicest of discounters with a signature bull’s-eye. Architect Michael Graves and designer Isaac Mizrahi, among others, supply exclusive merchandise to the chain. But industry experts now wonder if Target has become a victim of its success — too trendy for its core customers and too inexpensive for the upscale shoppers who are feeling better about the economy and returning to their old designer haunts.

8) TESCO PLC, U.K.
Volume: $40 billion
Tesco, the U.K.’s largest food marketer, operates convenience stores, hypermarkets and supermarkets in France, Taiwan and Thailand. It’s the second-largest operator of hypermarkets in Eastern Europe, behind Ahold. Experts say the company is years ahead of American retailers, in terms of merchandising and creativity. Like Wal-Mart and Carrefour, Tesco has become bullish on fashion in the last few years. The company recently raised $1.4 billion through a share sale to add clothing and skin care to its stores.9) COSTCO COS., U.S.
Volume: $38 billion
Costco sells large pack sizes of gourmet consumer goods and a range of fine jewelry, leather outerwear and electronics. The company expects to do $45 billion in fiscal 2004 with a tightly edited 4,000 sku’s. In 2003, Costco’s U.S. clubs averaged $112 million in annual sales per store.Costco operated 365 clubs in 2002, including 25 new units, for a 7.35 percent increase over the previous year.

10) ITM ENTERPRISES, France
Volume: $36 billion
French retailer ITM Enterprises is still having trouble in Germany, where its Spar Handels grocery chain is losing money. A German newspaper reported that the company is prepared to sell or close the 340-unit chain. ITM’s Intermarche has more than 1,600 supermarkets in France and is also active in Belgium, Bosnia, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain.


SOURCES: RETAIL FORWARD INC., WWD AND SUPERMARKET NEWS

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