Cheers and jeers
Wal-Mart prepares for highly anticipated opening
The shelves are stocked, the employees are trained and the Wal-Mart greeters are ready with their smiles.
Let the New Richmond super center experience begin.
When the clock strikes 8 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, shoppers will stream into the new 155,000-square-foot store on the southern edge of the city. An official ribbon-cutting ceremony will precede the opening at 7:30 a.m.
From Oct. 26 on, the store will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The only day Wal-Mart will be closed is Christmas.
The anticipated opening is the culmination of several years of planning, and about nine months of construction.
"It's starting off with a roar," store manager Sandy Schleicher said in an interview Monday. "The associates are excited, the management team is excited, and everybody in the community is excited. We're so happy to be here."
The store will include everything from groceries to electronics to clothing to sporting goods. A Papa Murphy's, snack bar, quick lube and other services are also planned.
If Wal-Mart research is correct, the new retail development will be an immediate success.
Schleicher said area residents already shop at Wal-Mart. Thousands spend money at nearby stores in Hudson, St. Croix Falls and other locations.
Looking at zip code studies of Wal-Mart's current customers, Schleicher said many people have been traveling elsewhere to do their shopping.
"We had a sizeable customer base here," she said. "That's why Wal-Mart decided to build a store."
Schleicher said with a store even closer to home, most people in the area will benefit.
"For the local community, it's a matter of convenience," she said. "This offers them the same merchandise, but it will save them a lot of money, with gas prices the way they are. We're happy to be here and provide that opportunity."
As opening day draws near, Schleicher is excited about what lies ahead. There are a few anxious moments expected, such as certain seasonal products not being shipped on time due to recent hurricanes near Wal-Mart distribution centers in Houston.
Even with the small glitches, the New Richmond store is almost fully stocked after five weeks and three days of hard work.
"The set up has gone extremely well," she said. "It's pretty taxing, but everyone has worked pretty well together. I can't say enough about the sales associates we hired. It's a tribute to the work ethic of the people here."
Of the nearly 300 employees at the new store, 58 are transfers from other Wal-Marts nearby. About 240 are new Wal-Mart employees from the surrounding area.
"There was a lot of competition for jobs," Schleicher admitted. The store received more than 1,800 applications for the available positions.
"The number of applications were a little bit higher than what I thought we'd get. We were really pleased, because you're able to have a little more selection," she said. "I really appreciate everyone who applied. It was tough making the decisions about who to hire."
Ahead of the official opening, the store is planning a special invitation-only preview event from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday.
As part of the event, Wal-Mart officials will announce a number of grant recipients in the community.
Between now and then, Schleicher said employees will be working hard to put the finishing touches on the store.
"We look forward to getting it open," she said.
Critics of Wal-Mart claim the retailer's entry into New Richmond is nothing but bad news. Store manager Sandy Schleicher asks local people to wait and see before passing judgement.
The average Wal-Mart job in Wisconsin pays $10.06.
"I don't think that qualifies as low pay," she said.
By using a system of job credits, people with experience can attract a higher pay scale, she noted.
Wal-Mart is often battered by the impression that its benefit package is weak. Schleicher, a 15-year veteran of the retailer, said the perception is wrong.
"I think the benefits are pretty good," she said.
She explained that the company's medical insurance has no cap on it, unlike many plans in the nation. Part-time employees qualify for benefits if they work for Wal-Mart for two years.
Critics blast Wal-Mart for using large numbers of part-time employees. Schleicher said the claim is false. The company goal is to hire 70 percent full-time and 30 percent part-time employees.
"We're pretty close to that," she said.
Schleicher said she likes to focus on the positive aspects of Wal-Mart coming to a community. She said more people will shop in town and that leaves opportunities for others.
"If you can keep your people local, other retailers will benefit from that," she said.
She also noted that Wal-Mart's building adds to the tax base of the community, helping to pay for police, fire and other services.
Sandy Schleicher, store manager
Years with Wal-Mart: 15
Previous jobs with Wal-Mart: Rice Lake, St. Croix Falls, Oak Park Heights, Red Wing. Several stores in New York as well.
Family: Husband, Robert, is manager of the Menomonie Super Center. Her son and step-daughter also work with Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart start-ups: Schleicher has worked in four "ground-up" operations in the past. This is her first top manager position.