Wal-Mart, the big box retailer that altered the face of America with its supersized discount stores, now wants to restore a sense of place to thousands of communities. PPS can claim a major role in this surprising about-face. Last January, PPS President Fred Kent addressed the Wal-Mart annual board meeting with a well-received keynote address titled "Thinking Outside The Big Box: How Wal-Mart Can Turn A Place Around." Kent's ideas seemed to strike an immediate chord with Wal-Mart executives and stockholders, and by March the nation's largest retailer announced that it will begin shifting its operations from mega stores on the edge of town to small, downtown stores with independent owners.
The Arkansas-based retail giant also announced it would favor local manufacturers over national distributors, and that it is looking into establishing local farmers markets featuring locally-grown produce outside its thousands of North American stores. This would be a huge boon for small farmers, as Wal-Mart accounts for nearly 30% of all grocery purchases nationwide. "We were all moved by the placemaking message and the potential it represents for the towns and cities in which we operate," explained David D. Glass, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of Wal-Mart.
"We're tired of being on the wrong side of the community-building equation."
"We're tired of being on the wrong side of the community-building equation," he added, noting that he believes the firm's bottom line can take a back seat to broader community [regional] goals. "We think we can take that to the shareholders and make a convincing case that a stronger local economy will be better for our stores in the long run," Glass said.
Kent said he was surprised but pleased that his speech had created such an immediate impact. "Frankly I expected a hostile reaction," he admitted, "but the slide show depicting small, public markets around the world seemed to win them over, especially the shots of couples kissing over various varieties of fresh vegetables. Those images can sway even the most hardcore bottom-line oriented people."
Kent added that he looks forward to seeing what happens with the new Wal-Mart near the PPS office in Greenwich Village storefront, but that he intends to stick to familiar grocers and shops in the neighborhood.