Simon puts comps, other initiatives in perspective

Walmart U.S. president and CEO Bill Simon was feeling pretty good earlier this week as he reeled off accomplishments and emerging opportunities during a presentation at a Goldman Sachs retail conference.

Simon appeared at the same conference two years earlier when Walmart was in a very different place in terms of its financial performance and its share price. His presentation this year was markedly different given all that has occurred under his leadership.

"We did everything we told you we would do two years ago and it’s working and I am very pleased to talk to you about those results," Simon said.

Investments in price mean no retailer has lower prices on a bask of goods and new advertising campaigns are effectively conveying Walmart’s superiority in this regard, according to Simon. The company had a "very good" back-to-school season, apparel comps are positive and e-commerce initiatives are producing results and enabling Walmart to capitalize on its unique advantage of a large installed store base. The company’s small formats stores are expanding at a record pace this year, performing well and it is the dollar stores and drug stores who should be worried. These were among the areas that Simon addressed while putting in perspective Walmart’s low single digit same store sales figures which he contends are more impressive than they seem due to Walmart’s size. Walmart has produced four consecutive quarter of positive same store sale growth and through the first half of this year comps at U.S. stores are up 2.4%.

"A 2.4% comp on our base is $3 billion in comp sales," Simon said. "Take that number to the next largest retailer in the U.S. and if they had had $3 billion in comp sales, that would have been about a 10% comp. This is a good, good growth number and we’re very, very proud of it."

Put another way, Simon said Walmart U.S. sold about $115 million more each week and about 133,000 more customers shopped its stores each week during the first half of the year.

"Our team did a great job servicing them and they are really, really well prepared to continue to do that into the second half," Simon said, offering a forward-looking bone to investors concerned primarily with where Walmart is headed.

He sounded even more confident when asked about the company’s back half of the year prospects during a question and answer session when he weight in on the holidays.

"We have been preparing and have the best fourth quarter program we’ve had in the time I have been with the company in the last six years," Simon said. He added that merchants have done a terrific job, operators are ready, product and prices are sharp and Walmart will have effective marketing and a large share of voice. "We're optimistic about the fourth quarter. We do expect it to be challenging. The retail environment is getting very aggressive. We have people that are struggling. We have people that are growing. So the ones that are doing well, they are fighting us and doing well, but ones that are struggling are trying to find a way to improve."

Not surprisingly, Simon expects a very aggressive fourth quarter, but that is a climate in which Walmart does well.

"If we’re able to continue to do what we do best and that is manage our expenses so that we can invest in price so that we can drive sales, we’ll have a great second half on into the first half of next year," Simon said.