Sam’s opens its ‘Portfolio’ to a health-and-wellness focus

Sam’s Club’s Project Portfolio has as one of its key elements an increased focus on health and wellness, with space devoted to those categories being expanded as clubs are remodeled.

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Sam’s Club promises to be an even more formidable competitor in the health-and-wellness space in the years ahead, judging from the strategic priorities now in place as part of a broad-based strategy known as Project Portfolio.

Not to be confused with Walmart’s Project Impact strategy, despite the abundant similarities, Sam’s Project Portfolio approach has as one of its key elements an increased focus on health and wellness. Space devoted to those categories, as well as to food, is being expanded as clubs are remodeled. Unchanged in the new Project Portfolio merchandise layout is the prominent position of the health-and-wellness area at the front of clubs.

The changes are occurring under the leadership of president and CEO Brian Cornell, who joined the retailer a little less than two years ago and quickly embarked on a strategy to expand space and improve the productivity of frequently shopped categories while reducing exposure to such less-attractive growth areas as large appliances and hardlines.

By the end of the current year, Sam’s expected to have 100 of its approximately 600 clubs in the Project Portfolio format, which Cornell contended improves sight lines and clarity, and results in sales improvement in focus categories. As evidence of the strategy’s success, Cornell highlighted the 2.4% increase in same-store sales Sam’s produced in the third quarter.

During the coming year, Sam’s expects about $700 million of its approximately $1 billion capital budget will be used to remodel 60 to 70 clubs, with an additional $300 million spent on the new construction or the relocation and expansion of seven to 12 clubs.

The emphasis on food and health and wellness in the Project Portfolio strategy is understandable given the growth characteristics, frequent replenishment cycle and a margin profile that enables Sam’s to demonstrate value. Also playing a factor is the background of the executives now leading the company. Cornell joined Sam’s in March 2009, after serving as president and CEO of Michael’s for two years. However, his more relevant experience was obtained in the supermarket and consumer packaged goods world. He arrived at Michael’s from Safeway, where he served as chief marketing officer, and prior to that he held senior management positions with PepsiCo and Tropicana.

A month after Cornell’s arrival, Sam’s named Linda Hefner as EVP merchandising. She joined Walmart in 2007 as a merchandising EVP to lead the home business. Hefner came to Walmart from Kraft Foods, where she served as EVP global strategy and business development, and prior to that was a senior executive with Hanes, which at the time was a division of Sara Lee.

In August, Sam’s appointed Todd Harbaugh EVP operations. He is a 20-year veteran of Walmart who spent the past seven years at Sam’s, where prior to his current position he served as SVP inventory management, supply chain, pricing, planning and execution.

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