Talking Shop with Gary Elders, Walmart Supercenter general manager

Monday, June 27, 2011
Cape Girardeau Wal-Mart manager Gary Elders Thursday, June 23, 2011. (Laura Simon)

Gary Elders, general manager at Walmart Supercenter in Cape Girardeau, grew up in Southeast Missouri, so he knows what shoppers here like. After climbing the company's corporate ladder for more than 20 years, he returned home last year to head the Cape Girardeau store and spend more time with his extended family.

Question: Cape Girardeau's Walmart Supercenter is such a huge operation. Can you break it down by the numbers?

Answer: At the Cape Walmart, we currently have about 468 associates and we average about 7,300 customer transactions per day. There are 24 register lanes at the front checkout area, but when you add in all of the outlying registers in sporting goods, electronics, etc., we have 40 registers. We have about 1,200 shopping carts, depending on how many are being repaired. A lot of people probably think milk is our No. 1 selling item. It is actually bananas by the pound. We sell about 1,500 pounds of bananas a day and 1,000 gallons of milk per day.

Q: How do you incorporate locally grown or local-themed products in your store?

A: We have the ability to order some items locally. Produce is one department we can order in. If we find a local supplier that we can get approved through the home office, we can get locally grown produce that the customer wants. Local high school shirts and Southeast merchandise are items we order through local suppliers. For back-to-school, we will have some local high school team shirts and a lot of assorted Southeast merchandise this year. In the store right now, we have a whole counter dedicated to Cape Splash. We have all the items that you would need to go to Cape Splash pulled together, including Cape Splash T-shirts, which we ordered just for our customers here in the Cape County area.

Bernita Bell-Parker

Q: What was your first job in retail and how did you know you wanted to make a career in this field?

A: My first job in retail was in 1986 at J.C. Penney in the West Park Mall. Mayor Harry Rediger was the store manager then. I started in layaway and customer service. In 1987, I was promoted to product service manager, where I worked closely with customers, other employees and representatives from other companies. That is when I realized I liked working with people and wanted to pursue a career in management. Retail wasn't my first choice, but it is what I knew. When I graduated from Southeast in 1987, I interviewed on campus with a variety of companies, including Walmart. Well, Walmart was my best opportunity, so I took it. I thought I would get a few years experience and move on to something else. That was almost 24 years ago, and I still find it challenging every day.

Q: You've held many positions in different locations through the years with Walmart. How did your career evolve to bring you back home to Southeast Missouri?

A: When I was hired, I was a management trainee at the Dexter, Mo., store. I worked there until September 1988 when I was transferred to open a new store in Kendallville, Ind. I worked in a few stores in northern Indiana until I was promoted to store manager in Plymouth, Ind., in June 1994. I worked there until October 1996, when I took over a bigger store in Michigan City, Ind. I left there in February 1999 to a high-sales-volume store in Warsaw, Ind. In Warsaw, I went through transitioning a small store to a supercenter in 2001. That is when I learned a lot about managing inventory and learning the food side of the business. I was the store manager in Warsaw until June 2010, when I learned that the store in Cape Girardeau was going to need a manager. I made calls and showed interest in coming back to Southeast Missouri. After my family and I talked about it, I interviewed for the store manager's job and was selected. So we packed everything and moved back home. My wife and I are really glad to be back with our parents, friends, both old and new, and other family members. After being gone over 21 years, we really didn't know how much we were missing, until you come home.

Q: What is your typical day at work usually like?

A: The typical day for me involves a lot of decision making and planning. Most of my decisions involve people, buying and selling merchandise. I try to always involve other members of my management team and store associates in those decisions. I don't run the store in Cape Girardeau -- the associates run it. They are there in the grind every day ordering merchandise, stocking shelves, unloading trucks, making fresh food, ringing the customers out at the registers, etc. Without them, I can't do my job. As far as planning goes, we have to plan for every season in advance. As soon as school got out, we were planning back to school for the fall of 2011.

Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?

A: The most challenging thing is hiring and firing of associates. We are always hiring, but sometimes we do not have enough applications for the jobs we have. That becomes a real challenge when we try to hire help just for Christmas or other seasonal needs we have. The other thing is that it is really hard to let someone go when you know they need the job but fail to follow the policies and procedures the company has in place. As a store manager, those are the tough calls I have to make. I guess you can say it comes with the job.

Q: What do you find most rewarding?

A: The most rewarding thing is to see an entry-level associate start with Walmart and move up into a salaried management position or someone that started with your store and move into a different store and make it successful. This is probably one of the greatest things about Walmart as a company, because you can make Walmart a career instead of just a job. We have real estate careers, lawyers, computer engineers, etc. If you have the drive, you can be a success.

Q: What do you like to do when you're not working?

A: I like spending time with family and friends, doing my 'honey do's" and watching sports. I really enjoy all of the family gatherings that I have missed out on in the past years. There is nothing like having family and friends over for a barbecue or birthday party. I like the outdoors, so I enjoy fixing the fences, mowing the yard and all the other things my wife asks me to do. I am somewhat of a competitive person so I love going to my children ballgames. I am also a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan, and spending so much time in Indiana made me a big Indianapolis Colts fan.

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