While many on Wall Street have become obsessed with what Walmart (WMT) has been doing digitally to wrestle share from Amazon (AMZN) , the fact is that 4,600 Walmart stores in the U.S. are running as well as they have in quite some time. In effect, it's one of the biggest stories surrounding Walmart in 2017 that people aren't discussing.
And that store level turnaround has in large part been fueled by Walmart U.S. chief Greg Foran, a mild-mannered 56-year-old New Zealander that eats, sleeps, and breathes merchandising. Or, so it has seemed in several interactions I have had with Foran since he assumed the top U.S. job in 2014.
"Greatest retailer on the planet," Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said of Foran in an interview with TheStreet.
Foran has sweated the details since arriving to the U.S. business from running Walmart China for three years. When he took over, Walmart was battling a public image that its stores were uninviting to shop, had frequent out of stock issues and the fresh food wasn't all too great. Foran moved quickly to put in procedures to ensure produce is fresh, stores aren't out of top sellers like milk and that inventory isn't sitting idle in the stockroom.
A trip down the Walmart food department today even has the surprise factor long inherent to rivals like Costco (COST) . Affordable sirloin steak, Greek yogurt in glass bottles and hosts of organic offerings. A jar of almond butter, a millennial favorite that normally sells for $15, can be had at Walmart for $6.78. It's no small surprise that much of this store reinvention has materialized in the three years Foran has led the U.S. business.
Foran's efforts have yielded results, too. Walmart U.S. same-store sales have risen in more than eight straight quarters, propelled by traffic gains.
Third quarter sales of $123.2 billion were up 4.2% from the prior year. The retailer's U.S. division saw same-store sales gain 2.7%, with same-store traffic increasing 1.5%. U.S. e-commerce sales, another area of focus for the company, exploded 50%.
Who knew seeing almond butter at Walmart on Black Friday weekend could be so telling.
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