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Wal-Mart Lays Out Upcoming Strategy at Annual Meeting

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - At its annual meeting on Friday, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. highlighted plans for the coming year, including a strategy to reach customers with deeper pockets and expand its offerings for young and trendy shoppers, The Associated Press reports.

"More and more customers at all income levels are interested in value," said Tom Coughlin, president of domestic Wal-Mart stores, who added that the company remains devoted to lower-income customers.

Executives showed off new fashions, colorful clothing for summer, sleek appliances and even a clear blue plastic toilet seat. The message was clear that Wal-Mart wants to appeal to people who like bargains but also value style.

CEO Lee Scott said the company will continue to grow through improving sales in existing stores, trimming costs through inventory management and other techniques, and through aggressive expansion. Wal-Mart is spending $10 billion this year on growth, the AP reports.

The company plans this year to add 15 to 20 Neighborhood Markets -- its stand-alone grocery stores -- and add 180 to 185 Supercenters, which combine discount and grocery stores. In all, expansions will add 46 million square feet, a 9 percent increase, said chief financial officer Thomas Schoewe.

In addition, officials said the retailer is putting more groceries into its Wal-Mart discount stores, beefing up the selection of frozen convenience foods, and expanding the selection of fresh flowers.

John Menzer, international division chief executive, said overseas expansion will continue through acquisition and building its own stores. "We are very early in the growth and development plan in Wal-Mart International," Menzer said.

Meanwhile, Sam's Club chief executive Tom Grimm said the warehouse division is looking for a strong second half. "We know we have to improve," Grimm said.

Several celebrities who have endorsed Wal-Mart products made appearances at the meeting, among them television teen stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who have popular clothing and apparel lines with the company, and model Cindy Crawford, who endorsed sunglasses for Foster Grant. Country performers Lee Greenwood and David Vasser sang. And several National Football League stars, including Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, appeared.

Also at the meeting Wal-Mart Chairman Rob Walton spoke out against corporate scandal and encouraged employees to come forward with information about any wrongdoing at the discount chain.

"Please blow the whistle if there is an issue," Rob Walton, son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, told shareholders at the company's annual meeting here. After Enron, Walton said Wal-Mart completed a review of its "risks and exposures," and tightened some procedures as a result.

At a question-and-answer session for shareholders held after the meeting, a company official said Wal-Mart was testing diesel fuel pumps at 12 to 15 of its stores and said they were contemplating a roll-out to more stores. The retail giant is also trying new ways to generate sales in the space at the front of its stores. Typically that space is leased to businesses like nail and hair salons, but Wal-Mart has opened mail and copy centers, candy stores and boutiques to sell clothes and fashion accessories from the Olsen sisters, the company told analysts.
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