Wal-Mart: See & Decide

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“For those who haven’t been into a Wal-Mart, I encourage them to go and see for themselves what Wal-Mart is and see for themselves what products we have and the prices we have and form your own opinion about the company,� Masten, who is the company’s Director, Corporate Affairs/East Region, adds. “We have 1.3 million associates working with us. We have to provide competitive wages and benefits to be where we are today. And we want to be a part of New York.� If all goes well, the company could build a New York City store sometime in 2007, the executive says.

Mia Masten wants New Yorkers to visit a Wal-Mart before deciding whether the giant retailer deserves their support and patronage. Frankly, some of the information out there about the company in the media is “misinformation,� she says.

“For those who haven’t been into a Wal-Mart, I encourage them to go and see for themselves what Wal-Mart is and see for themselves what products we have and the prices we have and form your own opinion about the company,� Masten, who is the company’s Director, Corporate Affairs/East Region, adds. “We have 1.3 million associates working with us. We have to provide competitive wages and benefits to be where we are today. And we want to be a part of New York.�

If all goes well, the company could build a New York City store sometime in 2007, the executive says. Currently, the company is eyeing potential locations in all five boroughs, including Manhattan, although due to land scarcity, a Gotham store could be challenging. Yet, the company is open-minded and would even consider “possibly building a store that is vertical� if an ideal Manhattan spot exists. “We are flexible and capable of working with what’s available,� Masten notes. “In China we have some stores that are underground—five or even seven stories underground.�

Once the spot is identified, the City’s land-use procedure could take another seven months or so to work out with New York officials. It would then take about a year to build a store. Masten says the benefits to New Yorkers can’t be underestimated. There would be an estimated 250 construction jobs, with 300 additional jobs immediately available once the stores open, not to mention business for local vendors. “With our stores there’re a lot of opportunities for suppliers to work with the local stores and that is a way for an entry into the company,� Masten says. “In New York you have very different ethnic neighborhoods. One neighborhood may want a particular type of hot sauce or barbecue sauce. That store manager has the flexibility and responsibility to get what their customers want. So there is an opportunity for local vendors to get into our stores.�

Masten says when Wal-Mart locates in a community, it joins the local chambers of commerce and reaches out to local merchants. “If we don’t sell that product we can tell people to go to those stores,� she says, of local retailers. “We want to become a part of the community—when the whole neighborhood thrives, we also thrive.�

New York is attractive to the mega store because huge retailers located in the City such as Best Buy, Target and Home Deport are all doing very well. Moreover, New Yorkers commute to Wal-Mart in the region, spending almost $100 million in New Jersey alone, according to Masten. “Why should New Yorkers have to pay more,� she says.

Masten’s background, in public relations as well as working with senior government officials and legislators, have equipped her with her notable negotiating skills. “My role now is that I answer questions. I want to be more in the community,� she explains. “Where we have stores people have a better understanding of the company. When you walk into a store and buy your toothpaste and beauty supplies we want the customer to know that the store contributes to the Boys and Girls club, the Fire Department, Parks and Recreation.�

The Little Rock, Arkansas, native has worked in Washington, D.C. for the past 15 years, including with a Senator from her state and in the Clinton White House. She also had stints with PR firm Fleishman-Hillard and with the U.S. Postal Service. In college, she wanted to major in business and marketing but headaches with calculus steered her into communications, with a focus on rhetoric. “My parents were like ‘what are you going to do with that!?’ I would like to be able to say ‘Well here’s what I’m doing with it now,’� she laughs.

Yet, she readily concedes that she owes her success to having remembered one message her mother and father drummed into her. “My parents said, ‘You were given two ears and one mouth.’ It’s so important to listen and hear what people are saying so that you can come to an agreement. If you explain yourself, you many find a common ground.�

The coming months will put Masten’s skills to test as Wal-Mart works on hammering a deal with New York City officials.

For more information visit http://www.walmart.com

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