Say you’re on vacation and forgot sunscreen. The last thing you want to do is trek through a sprawling supercenter like Walmart, which takes up the equivalent of three football fields, only to get stuck standing in line behind half a dozen people with carts piled to the brim.
This summer, the nation’s largest retailer is beginning to test tiny stores in popular vacation destinations like Big Bear Lake, California, and the Catskill Mountains in New York. It’s part of a partnership with a startup called Getaway, which rents tiny houses in nature.
The new stores, which will be called General Store by Walmart, will offer shoppers items they may have forgotten to pack or realized they want while on vacation — lip balm, sunscreen, hiking gear, blankets, cast-iron skillets and old-fashioned cameras. They will also feature items from local small businesses.
“These might be our most remote stores,” said Casey Schlaybaugh, vice president of brand marketing at Walmart U.S. “They’re out in the woods and are so cute.”
Walmart plans five such stores by the end of the year, with the first location opening in Texas Hill Country, outside of Austin and San Antonio, in August. That store will feature Texas Hill Country Olive Oil and Slow North candles. Additional locations are planned for Big Bear, the Catskills, the Ozarks and Connecticut in September and October.
The idea is that guests don’t have to spend precious vacation time running into town for supplies. “We’re trying to make sure we’re giving folks time back, and allowing them to protect their time,” said Jon Staff, founder and CEO of Getaway, which has 28 locations within two hours of major cities. “Guests will have even more of what they need without having to leave the property.”
The new stores are part of Walmart’s greater interest in doing more in the hospitality space, according to Schlaybaugh. She’s leading a new team in charge of signing partnerships with other brands. While she declined to provide information on what shape this may take in the future, it’s not difficult to imagine Walmart opening micro-stores in hotels and resorts. It’s certainly been a lucrative route for Starbucks.
It’s a marketing play, too. For instance, Getaway will send its (mostly Millennial) guests an email before their trip with packing recommendations and a link to Walmart’s website. Upon arrival, they will get a S’mores kit from Walmart. A pitch to join Walmart+, the company’s membership program, will also be waiting, along with the sound of the crackling campfire and cicadas.