Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Walmart Supercenters Come to Winnipeg

It was inevitable once that Target made its announcement that Walmart would have to respond and fast. The supercenter format that they have only really used in Ontario so far will be unrolled to the rest of the country, Manitoba and Quebec first.

There will be some cheering this move while others will be horrified.

Competitive retailing should always be applauded. The winner is the consumer. What would the The Bay been without Eaton's over the years? Price and product were competed for by those department stores at every turn. Canadian consumers benefited.

When Walmart bought the tired Woolco stores in Canada, they created a competition on price on a wide variety of products. However, it has taken more than ten years for that competition to fully encompass food. Real Canadian Superstore has had a long time to get ready for this move. Safeway has taken a while longer to realize that price and size of their stores have to improve or they will lose market.

Few people remember that Grand Forks, North Dakota had an Albertson's grocery store in the Columbia Mall parking lot but that small format lost favour with the arrival of Walmart in that community.

Walmart and Target are going to battle it out as they do all over the U.S. and only nimble Canadian companies will do well against them. And yes, it is possible to succeed even with that competition. If we look once more to Grand Forks, we see local and regional groceries holding their own such as Hugo's and Super One Foods.

Cheers to the competition we can expect in the next while on price and product.

Okay, so now that we are done cheering, let's address the horrors aspect that other people are likely to focus on.

Some of the biggest complaints will be how the large size of the stores contributes to sprawl. From a local perspective this is starting to be a big problem as municipal services are continued to be stretched to the limit. The lower prices at these superstores has to be measured against how much extra tax might end up being paid to pay for roads. I don't know that we have ever really addressed in a meaningful way.

Still, the emergence of the superstores in Winnipeg appears to be more of an expansion of the footprint of the stores rather than a move to further out into the suburbs.

While the issue of sprawl and Walmart cannot be denied, the expansion of the present stores is a harder case to hang one's hat in opposition.

Generally, the arguments against Walmart supercenters is a more generalized one. The issue of employment standards, foreign products, quality and the like is where some naysayers have legitimate arguments.

Choice and price usually rule the day in Canada.

The battle of sprawl will part of a larger debate on car culture and land use that Canadians will only confront when costs become to difficult to ignore.


As an add on, the Free Press reported that a company in Canada plans a factory outlet mall for the city. The story falls slightly short of an announcement that shovels are in the ground.

The factory outlet concept in the U.S. often places these mall outside a large city. One example is Albertville in Minnesota.

A few locations were mentioned within city limits for this development. I wouldn't be surprised if this mall is developed outside the city in a place such as Headingley.

If such a mall is to be built, it hard to argue that outside city limits would be better for Winnipeg.

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