PLANO, Tex. — Sales associates wear khakis and navy polo shirts and the public announcements have been silenced.
There are $3,500 plasma TVs, free Internet access in the coffee shop, bottles of French burgundy that sell for $557 each and, oh, yes, tuna and avocado roll.
The Wal-Mart Supercenter that opened Wednesday in this Dallas suburb, where J.C. Penney has its headquarters and the average house measures 3,800 square feet, is different, to say the least. For one thing, no guns are being sold.
The world’s largest retailer is trying to broaden its discount base and better compete with rival Target by enticing affluent shoppers — from the “Look Beyond the Basics’’ ad campaign to its forward fashion program. The store here is in the forefront of that initiative.
Apparel is located front and center in the 203,091-square-foot store, with its own cash registers to reduce congestion at checkout. Shoppers can walk out with fashions draped on hangers and covered in plastic as they would in a department store. While the fashion is similar to other doors, Wal-Mart spaced out the fixtures and improved the merchandising.
Shoes are arrayed by style instead of by size, and Metro 7 brand contemporary footwear is highlighted in Plexiglas fixtures at aisle ends. Junior T-shirts screened with art are neatly framed in squares on a wall so that each design may be seen easily.
The layout places all consumables, from dog food to organic apples, in one end with the pharmacy and beauty products. The blueprint is a response to consumers who complained that they didn’t want to crisscross the store for grocery items.
“It’s a great idea,” said Richard Hastings, an analyst with Bernard Sands. “You have to change the whole atmosphere of the store, the merchandising, lighting and fixtures, to bring in a different type of shopper.”
Describing the concept as a “specialty supercenter,” Hastings said it probably cost Wal-Mart only incrementally more than other units, but its profit margin should be higher because of the rise in volume of pricier goods.
Eduardo Castro-Wright, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart USA, said during a Merrill Lynch conference in New York on Wednesday that the Bentonville, Ark.-based company was reexamining what consumers want in individual markets.
“Everything we’re trying to do is focused around the customer,’’ he said.
Wal-Mart said it doesn’t have current plans to replicate the Plano Supercenter. Still, company spokesman Martin Heires said, “There certainly are other areas where something similar might be successful, so we’re going to look at those opportunities.”
The retailer is remodeling 1,800 stores in the next 18 months, “and our hope is that some of the learning from this store can be incorporated into those stores as well,” Heires said.
The Plano store’s exterior avoids a discounter look in favor of the classic brick and green facade of Wal-Mart’s Neighborhood Market grocery stores, and the interior bears little resemblance to many Wal-Mart Supercenters. While there is still plenty of fluorescent lighting, polished concrete aisles are extra wide, clear and easy to navigate. Book and greeting card fixtures are made of warm cherry-tone wood to give the feeling of a cozy bookshop. Rest rooms are tiled in marble with egg-shaped stainless steel sinks, including one at a lower height for children.
“They have a huge selection of kids’ clothes,” said customer Jill Humphrey. “I think it’s the same amount as at the Colony [store], but the presentation was nicer.”
Shoppers also praised the higher style of home goods and the addition of specialty products in the grocery, where Wal-Mart said it added more than 2,000 premium items. The olive oil selection alone carried more than four-dozen varieties, including those infused with white truffles and porcini mushrooms.
The parking lot — across from a SuperTarget and near Costco — was packed on opening day.
“Target is better for cheap stuff you’re going to wear for fun,” said Mary Clanton, who was disappointed that the new Wal-Mart didn’t stock White Stag, one of the chain’s staple misses’ sportswear labels.
“They’ve stepped it up,’’ said shopper Alyssa Chapman. “And I hope they do it at other Wal-Marts.”