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Walmart marks 20 years in Canadian market

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - When retail giant Walmart burst onto the Canadian marketplace 20 years ago, the company ushered in a shopping revolution that changed what consumers expected from their local stores.

Many trends have since come and gone — from big box centres to online shopping alternatives — but the U.S. powerhouse has cultivated a loyalty with consumers that most of its competitors would envy.

"They've been successful at getting into the shopping routine of Canadians," said Brynn Winegard, a marketing analyst at Winegard and Company.

"New entrants to this market aren't doing that as well."

Canadian shoppers are a fickle bunch and traditionally many of them don't warm to U.S. companies that open north of the border.

While Target Corp. is the most recent example of an American company that has struggled to connect with Canadians, others like Krispy Kreme, the Outback Steakhouse and even Walmart-owned Sam's Club have closed stores as their popularity faded.

Walmart has avoided most obstacles and launched a steady number of new stores over the years.

The discount chain got its start in this country with the acquisition of 122 Woolco stores on March 17, 1994. Since then, Walmart Canada has more than tripled in size and employs nearly six times as many people.

"The expectations in terms of everyday low pricing certainly was something that Walmart focused on from Day One," said Daniel Baer, a retail analyst at Ernst and Young.

"If you think back 20 years ago you would never have expected (those major) price reductions."

Walmart has 389 stores and more than 95,000 associates, up from 16,000 employees in 1994.

The company says it plans a number of initiatives this year to mark its 20 years in this country, including a Toronto event that it's calling a national "cost of living summit."

It says the event will bring together consumers, business leaders and others to help address financial challenges for Canadian families.

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