July 15, 2005 -- From lingerie to lawn mowers, Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer prides itself on offering its customers truly one-stop shopping. Now, customers at a Roanoke, Va., Wal-Mart can peruse the aisles for something extra: a date.
Singles can head to the Roanoke Wal-Mart tonight for the third of the store's weekly singles nights, held every Friday evening. Billed as a way singles can meet their match while filling their cart, participating customers select shopping carts adorned with red bows identifying them as singles looking to mingle. The rest is up to them.
Following the Germans' Lead
The program was hatched by Michelle McGenity, an inventory associate at the Roanoke store, who read an online story about a similar program at a Wal-Mart in Germany. She proposed the idea to her manager, and they devised a plan to publicize it on fliers around the store and even turn it into a charity event. Participants have the option of making a $1 donation to the Children's Miracle Network.
So far, the turnout has been light. But if the early returns are any indication, those who have showed up have enjoyed it.
"First I heard about it, but I'll start coming. I think it's cool," Craig Wood, a single Wal-Mart shopper, said after stumbling upon the event last Friday.
The singles night is the first of its kind at a U.S. Wal-Mart. Management is hopeful it could become as popular as the German program, where managers at two of the discount stores were discussing the woes of traditionally slow foot traffic on Friday nights. Sitting nearby in the Wal-Mart café, they overheard a woman complaining about her difficulty finding a suitable man, and they hatched the plan to start up the singles nights.
Wal-Mart spokesman Amy Wyatt said the German stores see as many as 500 extra customers every Friday during the two-hour singles promotions.
"And that runs the gamut from 20-somethings to single parents to senior citizens. It's extremely popular over there," she said.
Most of the 89 German Wal-Mart stores now run singles promotions, and one even kept track of a couple who got married after meeting at Wal-Mart. Similar programs have since been launched at Wal-Marts in South Korea, Puerto Rico and in the United Kingdom, where the singles nights are known as "trolley dating."
"Overall, it makes sense. You have to do your shopping, and this is a fun way for people to do that and meet other singles at the same time," Wyatt said.
Roanoke store manager Gary Powers said he's not expecting to see a big upsurge in participants right away. So far only a handful of singles have shown up in the first two weeks, some of them by accident.
But coverage from a local television station has helped publicize the event. And in a world where singles are increasingly open to options like online dating, the idea of shopping for groceries, auto parts and dates at the same time could catch on.
"A lot of people are busy and a lot of them don't have time to get out, and this gives them another option over bars and party-type places and the Internet," Powers said.
WSET-TV in Lynchburg, Va., contributed to this report.