Wal-Mart has invited Stetson-wearing professional bull riders and their mounts to appear at 40 of its U.S. stores this year and another 200 next year, an effort to provide what the retailer’s executives call “retail-tainment.”
Bulls and their riders affiliated with the Professional Bull Riders tour showed up at events at Wal-Mart stores in Sioux Falls, Little Rock and Las Vegas earlier this year. The riders signed autographs while caged bulls looked on, and the appearances were a hit with customers.
Televised PBR events have increased in popularity of late, with ratings up 20% this year, according to Advertising Age.
As demonstrated throughout its long history and massive international store expansion (and also by its dismal e-commerce efforts), Wal-Mart's forte is brick-and-mortar, and this bull riding partnership represents a flamboyant display of brick-and-mortar’s advantage over the web.
Wal-Mart is in the midst of a revamp, closing smaller stores that were aimed at competing with dollar stores and spending some $11 billion to redesign its website and improve stores. Yet Wal-Mart has experienced just 8% growth in e-commerce sales, well below that of rivals like Target and Amazon.
Wal-Mart— the largest retailer in the U.S. and the world—is looking to appeal to wealthier, urban customers in an effort to find the path to growth that its investors are clamoring for, according to remarks made by CEO Doug McMillon last year. But many of its strategies to that end also risk alienating the retailer’s core customer base, experts have told Retail Dive.
That makes the bull riders events especially compelling for Wal-Mart, because its many of its most loyal customers are also among the most ardent fans of the Professional Bull Riders tour.
Wal-Mart CMO Tony Rogers is a proponent of the retail-tainment approach. "There's an interesting little paradox we're seeing in our research," Rogers said, according to Ad Age. "Just as the world is becoming more digital, a lot of our customers are craving for a more physical, real experience, and a live retail experience."
In talks with suppliers earlier this month Rogers explained that Wal-Mart itself won’t pony up any cash for in-store events. Instead, the events are operated and funded entirely by third parties backed by brand sponsors. That emphasis on keeping costs low (or non-existent) for its "retail-tainment" ambitions is crucial for Wal-Mart, which has been especially vocal of late in emphasizing its dedication to its longstanding "always low prices" mantra.