Find out which facts surprised neighbors and business people about the nation’s largest retailer – once vilified by Portland’s mayor – when a corporate spokesman came to the 82nd Avenue of Roses Business Association meeting …
This outer East Portland’s Wal-Mart store at Eastport Plaza is scheduled for expansion within the next year.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
After taking care of organizational matters, members and guests of the 82nd Avenue of Roses Business Association introduced their guest speaker, William C. Wertz, divisional Director of Community and Media Relations for Wal-Mart.
Wertz said he stopped by the January 26 meeting to let businesspeople and neighbors know of their plans to expand and renovate the outer East Portland Wal-Mart store at Eastport Plaza.
“We’re in the midst of a large-scale remodeling process at Wal-Mart,” Wertz began. “We’re going to many of our stores, even the ones are not expanding, to reconfigure them. We do consumer research all the time, in an effort to make our stores more appealing and convenient for customers. Part of that research tells us that that we don’t have our stores organized quite right.”
Wal-Mart corporate spokesman William C. Wertz says the company is working to more-logically arrange departments within their stores, in addition to expanding many of these facilities.
He observed that customers have been remarking that the merchandise isn’t organized logically and intuitively. “My wife asked me why is the pet food all the way off in the corner. Some people say that Wal-Mart does deliberately because we want them to pass merchandise they might not otherwise see to buy. Wal-Mart does not do that, I promise you. We’re working to make sure you can get what need, and be on your way, as quickly as possible.”
Construction plans not yet set
Asked about specific plans for expanding the Eastport Plaza store, Wertz told the group of about 20 attendees in the 82nd Avenue of Roses Bank of the West’s community room, “I wish I could say we knew we were going ‘40 feet to the west and 20 feet north’, but right now, we don’t know. We’re looking at the designs for the expansion; we haven’t yet cemented any plans.”
Long time Lents Neighborhood booster Judy Welch asked if they considered adding a second floor to the store.
“No, we’re very unlikely to put a second level on that store,” Wertz responded. “Although there are some urban areas where a multilevel store makes sense from a space utilization standpoint. In Japan, we have three-level stores; in China, we have some stores that are built underground. Organizing a multi-level store has many complications, however.”
Opportunities for community involvement
“Will there be opportunities for community involvement of the planning process?” asked a neighbor. “I know the neighborhood association would really like to be involved [in the process] before you come to us with the plan.”
“At the risk of creating false expectations here, I would say yes, we invite your involvement,” Wertz said. “We would love to hear what you think – that’s a big part of what we do all the time – listening to customers’ likes and dislikes. If there’s something you like about the store today, please tell us – if there’s something you’d like to see in the remodeled store, were very interested in hearing about that.
“At the same time, we’re not going to let a committee design the store. It won’t be a committee of Wal-Mart people, or a committee of people from the community. We have, as any retailer does, requirements. The store has to look like a Wal-Mart store.”
A Lents neighbor rejoined, “But we’ve seen other stores – like in Yelm, Washington and Austin, Texas – they don’t look like typical Wal-Mart stores.”
Wertz agreed, “You’re right. We’ve come a long way from the cinderblock blue building. Yes, we are interested in community input, and we’re happy to listen to your ideas and thoughts about it.”
Store to provide 100 jobs
Another neighbor observed that the remodeled store will support about 100 jobs. “But, will these be full-time or mostly part-time jobs? What are we really looking at?”
“A store manager would tell you that it depends a lot on people’s schedules, and how many people we can get to do certain jobs,” answered Wertz. “The majority of the jobs will be full-time, but I can’t tell you specifically that 76% of the jobs will be full-time.”
More locally sourced products to be merchandised
Another neighbor asked, “Of the grocery products, will any of the produce the locally grown? Will it come from a close-in source, or far-away huge distribution centers?”
Ron West, manager of the Eastport Plaza Wal-Mart fielded the question. “Our grocery merchandiser is now trying to work with Oregon and Washington farmers to bring in local products. First, we’ll get produce more quickly, and it will be fresher; and secondarily, it helps support our local economy. And, not having to transport produce from a distant distribution center is also better for the environment.”
“That’’ really smart; that’s really a good move,” the neighbor stated.
Both businesspeople and neighbors learn about Wal-Mart as an employer, chartable donor and practitioner of sustainable business practices.
Asks if Mayor Sam Adams concerns have been alleviated
“I probably hold a similar perspective [about Wal-Mart] as does the mayor,” another neighbor said. “You mentioned that you’ve alleviated some of Mayor Sam Adams’ concerns – and become a better company. Could you talk about some of the changes that you have made that may have alleviated his concerns?”
Wertz replied, “You’d have to ask the mayor what was most compelling to him, but I have some examples of things we talked about.
“The mayor was concerned about the way we treat own employees. He talked with the store manager and learned how, as a 16-year-old kid, out on the streets, and had no job and no prospects. He was hired by Wal-Mart is a cart-pusher; the lowest end of the spectrum. He worked his way up to manager. I’m not saying it happens to every cart-pusher, because it depends on the individual’s energy and enthusiasm and aptitude. Some people come to us looking for a career; others come to work for Wal-Mart for very specific temporary reasons.
“We talked about our community contributions – hundreds of millions of dollars – at the national level. We also have always contributed at the store level. Ron’s store supports local community organizations. During the last two years, we’ve created a ‘state-level giving counsel’ with around a $500,000 budget; the giving decisions are made by people in Oregon.
“Regarding sustainability – a whether it’s improving mileage for truck fleets, improving the packaging of all the things we sell our stores to make it more energy efficient, and make it less of a burden on landfills and other disposal mechanisms – we are really working hard.”
Wal-Mart’s William Wertz tells about the company’s plan to develop a “sustainability label” for all of their products.
Look for the ‘sustainable’ label
Wertz said Wal-Mart is working to develop an environmental or sustainability label for all the products they sell.
“It’s an extremely complicated, multiyear initiative. It will allow a customer to compare products’ sustainability; including how much energy was consumed in manufacturing the item, and how enlightened were the processes that led to its manufacturer is far as human rights and that sort of thing.”
Asked if Wal-Mart will donate excess produce to food banks, Wertz replied, “We’re working to get to zero-waste in all of our stores. Part is to be contributing food that’s almost to a ‘sell-date’ to food banks as part of that process.”
Questioned if a timeline has been established for their Eastport Plaza store, Wertz said they expect to begin the project before year’s end.
> To learn more about Wal-Mart, see their website: CLICK HERE.
> To discover more about Eastport Plaza, see their website: CLICK HERE!
> To learn more about the 82nd Ave. of Roses Business Association, visit their website: CLICK HERE.
© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News