Walmart stakes its claim to fashion home

Better Homes & Gardens the key

Brent Felgner, March 25, 2009

"Home & Living" is the exterior callout at one of the store's two main entrances. A third beckons with "Outdoor Living."

West Palm Beach, Fla. — 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. Springmaid has been relegated mostly to a niche in bedding, with no visibility in bath towels, although the Springs private label store brands are still plainly being sold.

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.

(It’s no small challenge. On a Monday, less than a week after opening, a gaggle of store employees was working the department hard to replenish and maintain the shelves following the weekend crush. It’s an issue many general merchandise and even some specialty retailers have always struggled with.)

The Better Homes & Gardens bath assortment features a dozen colorways merchandised front-and-center as shoppers enter the recast bath
The Better Homes & Gardens bath assortment features a dozen colorways merchandised front-and-center as shoppers enter the recast bath "shop."

Throughout the department and the store, many fixtures have been lowered, sight lines improved, often dramatically, and adjacencies massaged to deliver better customer flow and fewer barriers to buying.

There are new products, striking color palettes — and new 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 the foreground. In bath towels, for instance, that amounted to roughly 600 sq. ft. with Better Homes front and center on the first low gondola, immediately visible from one store entrance. The still-new Canopy store brand occupied one back wall. And Walmart’s basic Mainstays rounded out the towel selection on the lower gondolas.

Individual products had clear and distinctive labeling, leaving little doubt in customers’ minds where they

Better Homes quilted coverlets are highlighted on an endcap in bedding, which features a low gondola run with higher gondola walls and graphics on either side.
Better Homes quilted coverlets are highlighted on an endcap in bedding, which features a low gondola run with higher gondola walls and graphics on either side.

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 not easily discernible. Instead, good, better, best branding and price points were readily apparent. Better Homes bath towels in a dozen colorways were priced at $7.00, considerably above the old ceiling of $5.88 for a Springmaid bath towel. Even Canopy, which featured roughly 15 colorways, was priced at $6.00, still above the old ceiling.

No less significant, Walmart now includes a selection of bath sheets, a subcategory it largely ignored in the past, under the Mainstays store brand and priced at $6.00.

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, with small appliances, cookware, kitchen gadgets and decorative accessories intervening. As a result, shoppers roam freely from soft home to hard and back to soft again.

Like other home textiles labels, The Better Homes goods are merchandised 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 — just about the only remaining showcase for the brand. Another high- wall is visible at the back end of the run featuring Better Homes and other comforter sets; the Better Homes sets were priced at $74.76 queen. A front endcap featured full/queen coverlets priced at $64.76.

Your Zone is Walmart’s statement to a more youthful customer — tweens, teens and perhaps college kids. It is bold and bright, and speaks to its base with statements of individuality and independence. 

In bedding, the goods are merchandised in a traditional 20-foot-long gondola run, positioned opposite kids’ merchandise. A queen sheet set was priced at $28.50; a reversible comforter and sham set in queen was set at $29.50.

Throughout the store, Walmart has generally widened aisles — six to eight feet is common; in some instances by up to 10-feet — and lowered fixturing. In some areas, traditional gondola runs have been interrupted by new layouts, including diagonal runs, for instance, in cosmetics. The pharmacy here is now on the infield of the store, opposite groceries.

Color schemes in signage have also softened: blue signs are now closer to a powder blue, rather than the deeper scheme before. Giant suspended signs with the word “Happy” as a core theme stretch across the entire front of the store.

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