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NEW YORK (AP) – Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Sunday it is cutting about 11,200 jobs at its Sam’s Club warehouse division as it outsources its product-sampling department to marketing company Shopper Events in an effort to win more customers and boost lagging sales.
The terminations represent about 10 percent of the warehouse club operator’s 110,000 staffers across its 600 stores. About 10,000 members of the demonstration department, most part-time workers, were let go. Employees were told the news at mandatory meetings on Sunday morning.
“In the club channel, demo sampling events are a very important part of the experience,” said Sam’s Club CEO Brian Cornell in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “Shopper Events specializes in this area and they can take our sampling program to the next level.”
Shopper Events, based in Rogers, Ark., currently works with Wal-Mart’s namesake stores on in-store demonstrations.
As consumers eat out less in the shaky economy, Sam’s Club has tried to steal customers from grocery chains and rival warehouse stores like Costco Wholesale Corp. by offering more everyday goods like food and health and beauty items and paring its assortment of general merchandise like furniture and clothes.
The move to outsource its food sampling efforts is a way for the company to tout its fresh food offerings in a cost-effective manner, said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy.
“‘Fresh’ is where the real competitive battles are being fought in the club sector,” he said.
Shopper Events will launch a new demo program called “Tastes and Tips” with new carts, signs, uniforms and a trained team, said Cornell. He said the move was not made to save money.
“It’s not a cost cutting measure, its really an investment in enhancing our demo program,” he said. Cornell said Shopper Events would hire “roughly the same number of people” cut, adding that Sam’s Club workers are invited to apply for those positions.
The company also cut its new business membership representative positions, affecting about 2 staffers per store, or about 1,200 staffers in total.
“We have found that we can more effectively drive membership through targeted member acquisition events and by increasing our partner membership programs,” Cornell said.
“I feel betrayed,” said Sally Grueling, 56, who had worked at Sam’s Club for nine years, most recently in Hilliard, Ohio as a new business membership representative.
Sam’s Club has performed weaker than Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s namesake stores in the U.S. and abroad. Cornell has been working to improve results since taking the helm in early 2009, introducing new store formats, price cuts and offering more variety and more brands of items from take-home meals to baked goods.
But during the company’s most recent quarter, U.S. Walmart stores posted a 1.2 percent sales increase to $61.81 billion while revenue at the Sam’s Club division slipped nearly 1 percent to $11.55 billion. Earlier this month, Wal-Mart closed 10 underperforming Sam’s Club stores, resulting in about 1,500 jobs being lost.
“Sam’s has been the relative laggard, and it has lagged relative to its direct competitors, Costco and the smaller BJ’s (Wholesale Club),” said Johnson.