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Lots of news about Walmart this week...

• The Financial Times reports that Walmart is planning “a new US expansion drive in major cities using smaller and more efficient versions of its superstores, even as it continued to reduce its rate of annual square-footage growth in the US.” In other words, it plans on going where no Walmart has gone before.

“We do have considerable opportunities to expand here in the US and especially in major metropolitan areas; and we will introduce new innovative formats here in the US,” CEO Mike Duke told analysts meeting this week.

Walmart had previously announced that it plans to dedicate new money and staff to its small store initiatives. Also on the table - more of its 39,000 square foot Supermercado de Walmart Hispanic supermarkets to build on the success of two opened this year in Texas and Arizona.

Eduardo Castro-Wright, head of Walmart’s US stores division, said the moves “will help us penetrate markets that have been traditionally difficult for us.”

FT also reports that Walmart “expects its international store footprint to grow faster than its US operations next year, accounting for more than two-thirds of its new square footage growth ... This year marked the first in Walmart's history in which its US store footprint has expanded more slowly than its international business.”

The story also notes that Walmart expects “to accelerate store growth in the US in 2011 as the economy recovers, after focusing capital expenditure for the coming year on remodels aimed at improving returns from its existing stores.”

Reuters reports that the company’s Sam’s Club division “is shifting its focus from opening new clubs to remodeling existing ones as it strives to increase sales ... The No. 2 U.S. warehouse club operator also said it is testing a new store layout, revamping merchandise to add more food and drugs, and streamlining operations so it can reduce labor hours in its clubs 6 percent to 8 percent over the next five years.”

The company said it would “increase space in its clubs for produce, meat and bakery items, over-the-counter drugs, and health and beauty-care items. It is cutting space for large appliances, sporting goods, furniture, movies and DVDs,” according to the Reuters story.

"We are absolutely raising the bar on club productivity, while also focusing on improving that in-club experience," Sam's Club CEO Brian Cornell told analysts this week.
KC's View:
Not sure what it is, but one gets the sense that Walmart suddenly has thrown its marketing vehicle into a higher gear...perhaps (to stretch the metaphor a little further) because the engine has been firing on pretty much all cylinders.

In which case, it is going to be an even tougher competitor.

Bring your A game, folks. You’re going to need it.