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Thursday, April 22, 2004The world's biggest retailer is defying its critics by continuing to grow vigorouslyHow big can Wal-Mart grow? With $256 billion in sales in the year to January 31st, the firm is already the world's biggest company by that measure. Its nearest retailing rival, a French supermarket chain called Carrefour, is less than half Wal-Mart's size. In America, Wal-Mart manages nearly 3,000 giant discount stores and hypermarket “supercentres”.Eight out of ten American households shop at Wal-Mart at least once a year. Worldwide, more than 100m customers visit Wal-Mart stores every week.The mathematics of big numbers suggests that Wal-Mart's growth must slow. Amazingly, the opposite appears to be happening. In America this year, Wal-Mart intends to open some 50 new discount stores and more than 220 new supercentres, some of which will be existing stores moving to new locations. Overseas, it plans another 140 or so new stores, including relocations. This adds up to some 50m square feet of new space—even more than many of its rivals operate in total.According to A.T. Kearney, Wal-Mart's three-biggest sources of cost advantage are low corporate overheads, the efficiencies of its supply-chain and, above all, its low labour costs. A newly hired “associate”, as Wal-Mart calls its employees, could earn as little as $8 an hour, some 20-30% less than unionised workers at rival supermarkets.with an employee turnover rate of 44%, the firm has to hire an astonishing 600,000 people every year simply to stay at its current size. As the company grows and employs yet more people, that task will become even more difficult, suggesting that Wal-Mart will want to push turnover lower still. That might put pressure on costs, as workers gain tenure, pay rises and better benefits. Touch challenges, but walmart ha always managed to stay on top of such things.
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