As any Bentonville visitor could see, Walmart has broken ground on its new corporate office space in the heart of town. Rather than the traditional skyscraper model, Arkansas’ homegrown, billion-dollar company is adapting to changes in how and where employees work and structuring the new space into a corporate campus model.
The full, new campus is not expected to be complete for four more years, but part of it is up and running. Completed in late 2020, Walmart’s Layout Center now is operational. Here, associates can configure in-store displays and get merchandise ready to roll out into Sam’s Clubs, Neighborhood Markets and Supercenters worldwide.
Walmart EVP/Chief Merchandising Officer Scott McCall said the Walmart merchandising team is loving the new space.
“The Walmart Layout Center is ground zero for our merchandising team. It’s where we test new concepts, prepare our store assortment, organize categories and items — all with the goal of serving customers and making Walmart their first choice for shopping,” she said.
The total square footage of the new Layout Center is 420,000 square feet, more than 100,000 square feet larger than the previous facility.
“I’m excited and grateful we have an industry-leading center that positions us now and in the future for us to do what they do best — getting customers amazing products at our ‘Every Day Low Prices,’” McCall said. “Here, we will develop innovations beyond store shelves into the shelves of e-commerce, social commerce and whatever comes next.”
Despite COVID, the project as a whole remains on schedule with the expectation of opening in phases through 2025. The campus will occupy 350 acres of land on J Street between Central Avenue and Highway 102. When complete, it will entail 12 office buildings organized in a “cohesive” neighborhood setting with plenty of amenities for in-office associates such as workout facilities, walking and biking trails, even an on-campus hotel.
Corporate associates and visitors will also have access to food truck plazas, coffee bars and other dining options in each “neighborhood.” The plan is to seamlessly incorporate the campus into the larger Bentonville urban development plan.
Emphasis is being placed on environmental sustainability and minimizing environmental impact. The company is partnering with Structurlam Mass Timber Corp.’s Conway plant, which is exclusively sourcing southern yellow pine from south Arkansas for construction.
Company officials remain mum on the cost of the project but from the beginning have vowed that it will remain true to Walmart’s “Every Day Low Prices” roots.
McCall said company officials have long considered the move and see it as a winning strategy. They believe the new facilities will not only increase efficiency but spark interest for the next generation of future employees and ensure the company’s continued ability to compete for talent.
As recently as a couple of years ago, many college graduates were struggling to find jobs after graduation. Then came the pandemic, which made it difficult for young professionals to meet new colleagues and network when the world went into quarantine mode in March of 2020.
But McCall said the company is not expecting any big changes post-COVID in how it manages its workplace design.
“As time goes on, we’ve learned we will always have the need for office space, and our associates need the ability to connect,” he said. “The overall approach to the campus design is very flexible, so it can accommodate our future workspace and technology needs. We’re at the phase in our design planning that gives us plenty of opportunities to learn and adjust as needed.”
Large functional campuses that meet a variety of needs and incorporate lifestyle amenities are part of a growing corporate trend. Companies are trading in cubicles for campus experiences. McCall said Walmart officials hope the new campus inspires its associates and prospective employees as well as visitors to Northwest Arkansas.
The influence of Walmart and the Walton family on the local economy, of course, is substantial.
The city of Bentonville registered a total of 2,341 businesses, employing 58,374 workers, in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to Invest Bentonville. And the city estimates that roughly 30,000 employees drive into town for their day jobs from other cities.
The world’s No. 1 retailer services roughly 220 million customers globally each week. Other Walmart corporate campuses such as the ecommerce operations in San Bruno, Calif., and Hoboken, N.J., will not be impacted by the changes in Bentonville.
Most home office associates in NWA will be moved to the new campus with the exception of employees at the Sam’s Club support office and Springdale call center, and no decisions have been made regarding Walmart’s existing corporate offices, built in 1971, McCall noted.
The corporate campus construction marches on, even as a pandemic led to quarantine and ultimate run on essential items like toilet paper. McCall said Walmart will keep providing those “Every Day Low Prices,” one restock at a time.