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    Sam's Club Planning Hispanic Format

    With "Mas Club," the warehouse club chain wants to expand its business by targeting the segment.

    Sam's Club executives told investors yesterday that the company plans to introduce a new Hispanic-oriented warehouse club format called Mas Club, the first of which will open in Houston in the first half of 2009 and sell products imported from Mexico.

    "Mas" means more in Spanish. Mas Club will sell produce, meats, and Hispanic specialty food, drink, spices, and candy to families and businesses, said Sam's execs. The Houston store will occupy 143,000 square feet of sales and warehouse space. It will feature a full-service meat and seafood counter, an events area, a club-exclusive gas station, and a cafe that sells fresh-made tortillas.

    "Mas Club will cater to the wants and needs of Hispanic families and entrepreneurs," said Doug McMillon, president and ceo of Sam's Club. "Our objective is to create an additional shopping choice that provides currently unavailable value for families, restaurant owners, convenience stores, and more."

    Customers will have to buy separate membership to Mas Club.

    In other Sam's Club news, McMillon told investors at Wal-Mart's annual meeting that membership income is not growing as fast as sales, and in response the club operator is attempting to focus on improving offerings while at the same time communicating a value message.

    Sam's Club officials noted that food sales have been strong, but general merchandise sales remain a challenge.

    Sam's Club began testing a new concept called Sam's Club Business Center this past summer in Houston. The new format caters only to small business owners, and does not have such categories as jewelry and pharmacy. Business in the new format is beating the sales plan, McMillon said.

    Sam's Club is also testing a smaller format for both small business and the average consumer in Garden City, Kan. The new 10,000 square foot format would allow Sam's to move into smaller markets.

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