ATLANTA (Cox News Service) — The shake-up among appliance retailers continues, with Wal-Mart now joining the fray.
The world's largest retailer said Thursday it plans to test sales of General Electric appliances in about a dozen stores this fall.
The rollout will begin in four stores in Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma. By year-end, Wal-Mart hopes to have the test running in about 12 stores. It's unclear if any test stores will be in metro Atlanta.
"This initial test phase will last 90 days," said Rob Phillips, a Wal-Mart spokesman in Bentonville, Ark. "In 2001, plans are to increase the number of (test) stores."
GE will handle delivery and installation.
Wal-Mart will compete with large chains: Sears, Lowe's, Best Buy and Home Depot.
At the same time, two other appliance retailers have washed out. Richmond-based Circuit City decided last month to abandon its No. 2 position to concentrate on sales of electronics, for which the company is known. Roberds, a regional player, fell into bankruptcy and is in the process of liquidating all its locations.
"There will be new product introductions next year with stimulating designs that will create demand," said Wayne Hood, an analyst with Prudential Securities in Atlanta. "GE wants to increase their share in branding appliances."
Wal-Mart's entry could be chilling news to Sears. The Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based company has captured 35 percent to 37 percent of appliance sales — the most of any retailer.
Sears spokeswoman Jan Drummond insists that the venerable chain's selection "can't be matched." Sears sells six brands, including its own Kenmore line, while Wal-Mart will carry just GE appliances.
"We're working aggressively and intend to remain the No. 1 appliance retailer," Drummond said.
One challenge for Wal-Mart will be to fit 40 GE appliance models, the number the company intends to carry, into its already fully stocked stores.
Phillips said the company will make room in some of its Supercenters by using space in the front of the stores, where other retailers have operated.
"In the future, that's to be determined," said Phillips.