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Walmart Enhances Fashion

Better Homes & Gardens the Key

Brent Felgner -- Home Textiles Today, March 23, 2009

Walmart is rolling out a new home branding effort that places the Better Homes & Gardens license at the core across both soft and hard home categories.

The latest iteration of the company's merchandising intentions could be seen clearly in the grand opening of the newest Walmart Superstore here, on an outparcel adjacent to a Sam's Club in a heavily traveled corridor just off Interstate 95. There were striking changes in the soft home department, as well as in the store overall — with Springmaid apparently relegated mostly to a niche in bedding, and little visibility in bath.

Walmart has been rolling out the new home sets over the past couple of weeks, and recently signed a separate deal to extend the Better Homes license to its Canadian stores.

"Fall in love with your home all over again," the Better Homes signage beckoned. This is Walmart too, making a fashion statement. Throughout the store, many fixtures have been lowered, sight lines improved, often dramatically, and adjacencies massaged to deliver fewer barriers to buying.

There are new products, striking color palettes — and higher price points. Some new category breakouts, notably in bath towels and tabletop, featured 9- to 10-foot-high boundary walls forming two sides of boutique-like shops with 4-1/2 foot-high gondolas. In bath towels, roughly 600 square feet had Better Homes front and center on the first low gondola, visible from one store entrance. The still-new Canopy brand occupied a back wall. Walmart's basic Mainstays rounded out the towel selection on the lower gondolas.

Every individual product had clear and distinctive labeling, leaving no doubt in customers' minds where it belonged in the fashion/value chain. There's no question that this is a Walmart. At the same time, there are merchandising overtones that could easily pass for a Target store, though to be sure, Target is doing nothing similar at the moment.

Eighty-eight-cent wash cloths — for years, Walmart's opening price point in the bath towel assortment — may have been hiding somewhere, but they were hard to find. Instead, good, better, best branding and price points were clear. Better Homes bath towels in a dozen colorways were priced at $7, considerably above the old ceiling of $5.88 for a Springmaid bath towel. Even Canopy, which featured roughly 15 colorways, were priced at $6, still above the old ceiling.

No less significant, Walmart now includes a selection of bath sheets, a subcategory it largely ignored in the past.

Before even entering the store, it quickly became apparent that something a bit different was going on. One of the two main entrances to the store was tagged "Home & Living," while the other held a more traditional appeal, "Market/Pharmacy." Still a third entrance, though not to the main part of the store, called out "Outdoor Living."

Walmart's home textiles are now bisected by several housewares and decorative hard home categories. For instance, bed and bath are separated from table linens, mats, rugs and window treatments.

The Better Homes goods are displayed by category, but within each category, the brand takes the lead position, commonly occupying the first several feet of the run. In the amalgam, Better Homes & Gardens occupies at least 110 running feet in soft home.

In sheet sets, two high walls bounded a low gondola run with featured product, including a 12-foot section of Springmaid Luxury sheet sets. Another high wall at the back end features Better Homes and other comforter sets.

Throughout the store, Wal-Mart has generally widened aisles and lowered fixturing. In some areas, traditional gondola runs have been interrupted by new layouts, including diagonal runs. The pharmacy here is now on the infield of the store. Color schemes have also softened: blue signage is now closer to a powder blue, rather than the deeper scheme before. And giant signs with the word "Happy" adorn the front of the store.

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