Retail giant Walmart Canada is continuing to expand its nationwide distribution footprint with a new $118 million, 430,000-square-foot fulfillment centre to open in September in Rocky View County, just outside of Calgary.
The high-tech sortation centre will be capable of shipping 20 million units annually as it becomes a new delivery hub for Western Canadian customers and expands two-day shipping to 61 per cent of Canadians.
Horacio Barbeito, president and CEO of Walmart Canada, said the new facility will use innovative robotic technology to better support staff.
“This is very important, this is technology and robotics that helps our associates do their jobs better and faster. It’s not to replace employees,” he said during a Monday ceremony at the site. “The customer will see more selection, better product availability and a quicker service whether they choose to shop in store or online.
“The past two years have been challenging times and we keep facing kind of a rocky present. People nowadays are worried about the rising cost of living as we continue to hopefully phase out the pandemic. But, there’s also concern about inflation and global disruptions.
“I want our customers to know that we’re listening to them and responding to their needs.”
Walmart expands distribution, supply-chain networks
Walmart said the investment is part of the retailer’s plan to expand and transform its “best-in-class” supply chain network while increasing its e-commerce capabilities.
It is part of Walmart Canada’s previously announced $3.5-billion investment to make the online and in-store shopping experience simpler, faster and more convenient.
Including the new Rocky View County facility, and others under construction in Surrey, Moncton and Vaughan (Greater Toronto Area), there will eventually be 17 distribution and fulfillment centres across the country. They’ll comprise about nine million square feet of space.
Barbeito said this is the first of many more fulfillment centres in Canada.
“When you see the flow of goods into Canada, especially the ones that are imported, obviously the Port of Vancouver is the most important one and Calgary has historically been a very important logistics hub for Walmart Canada,” he said.
“It’s the collision of strong talent in the area, good partnerships, synergies in transportation and warehousing.”
The new facility should be enough to handle the demand for the short term but because of the way the market continues to shift, the retailer needs sufficiently flexible plans to eventually incorporate additional investment.
“Our five-year plan five years ago did not have the level of investments that we’re doing in Canada (now),” Barbeito said.
High Plains Industrial Park
The new facility is in the High Plains Industrial Park and is the third Walmart distribution facility in Rocky View County. The other two centres are 428,000 and 400,000 square feet and were constructed about 12 years and seven years ago, respectively.
Adrian Munro, president of Highfield Development Group, which is developing the industrial park, said about seven million square feet of space has been built since the site was opened up in 2011.
Another one million square feet is under development, for a total of 15 buildings.
Munro said the park was originally 1,200 acres but Highfield is adding another 350 acres of land. There is potential to build another five million square feet at High Plains.
“High Plains has become centre ice or the go-to location for Western Canada distribution,” said Munro, adding other major corporate entities such as Lowe’s, Sobeys and Home Depot have also set up in the park.
Munro said the location has great highway access and is near the Calgary International Airport. It also offers some of the biggest lot sizes in the Calgary area with the capability of building facilities in the million-square-foot range.
Rocky View County attributes
Northeast Calgary and the Airdrie area contain a sizeable labour pool and the property offers tax savings since companies are operating in the county, as opposed to the City of Calgary.
“You combine economics with transportation with labour, that’s why this park has become centre ice for Western Canada distribution,” said Munro.
“The taxing jurisdiction of Rocky View County is incredible. It’s cheaper to have a facility here in Rocky View than it is in the City of Calgary . . . It makes sense for (companies) to come out here.”
Rocky View County Mayor Don Kochan said the servicing in the area helps attract companies.
“We’ve got a good transportation network in the area. So moving the goods in and out is quite convenient. And also there’s servicing as far as utilities,” he said.
“With that combination, it just makes it a good location for warehousing to be set up and the land is conducive to this type of environment, too.”
Walmart said the facility will be powered by cutting-edge logistics technology to achieve productivity with less physical effort. For the first time at Walmart Canada, this centre will utilize robotics technology from GreyOrange.
The platform will speed up order fulfillment by using an advanced operating system to help staff store, pick and sort items from an extensive inventory.
Walmart said the centre will be capable of storing 500,000 items to fulfill direct-to-home and in-store pickup orders. It is also designed to optimize packaging, minimize waste and reduce transportation costs.
The centre will create more than 325 new jobs at Walmart in addition to construction and engineering jobs.
Walmart and Alberta
Walmart Canada has had a presence in Alberta since 1994 with 61 stores today and four distribution centres employing over 16,000.
In 2021, the retailer invested over $50 million in store upgrades in Alberta. Walmart recently purchased approximately $200 million worth of products from Alberta-based suppliers over a 12-month period.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the investment shows confidence in the province as a place that is “open for business.”
Doug Schweitzer, the province’s minister of jobs, economy and innovation, said Alberta is a growing logistics hub.
“Take a look around you at all the shovels in the ground, all the opportunities that are right here in our province.
“People don’t know the fact with the Port of Vancouver the busiest port in Canada, Calgary does the vast majority of that logistics work for Western Canada right here for Walmart,” he said.
Logistics is part of the province’s strategy to diversify its economy, he said, noting the province can facilitate distribution from the port of Vancouver and the port of Prince Rupert.
Walmart Canada operates over 400 stores nationwide, employs over 100,000 Canadians and serves 1.5 million customers each day. Walmart.ca is visited by more than 1.5 million customers daily.