By MARCUS KABEL
The Associated Press
Friday, October 20, 2006; 7:20 PM
-- Wal-Mart employees' familiar blue vests emblazoned with "How may I help you?" and the smiley face logo may become a thing of the past as the world's largest retailer makes another visible change as part of its efforts to upgrade stores and attract more shoppers.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Friday it will adopt a new dress code of blue polo shirts and khakis in about 1,400 stores in the Northeast and South. Nationally, it has over 3,600 discount stores and Supercenters, which combine a discount store with a full grocery section.
It may expand the new dress code to the rest of the country based on reactions from customers and employees, Wal-Mart said in a statement.
It is the latest visible change at Wal-Mart, which is currently remodeling about 1,800 of its more than 2,100 Supercenters to make them more appealing to shoppers by adding wider aisles, faux-wood floors and clearer signage as well as trendier products in areas including electronics, apparel and home furnishings.
The blue vests have been around for about 15 years, Wal-Mart said.
The new dress code was quietly tested in about 160 stores throughout the country.
"Our (employees) in the test stores have told us they really prefer the new look because it reflects more pride and makes them feel like part of a team, and customers find it more contemporary and more professional," Pat Curran, executive vice president for Wal-Mart stores in the U.S, said in a statement.
The new dress code will take effect in the coming weeks in Wal-Mart's Northeast and Southeast divisions, extending from Maine along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts to Louisiana.
The company said it will provide each employee with two dark blue polo shirts and reimburse them for one pair of pants or a skirt. It will also offer a Web site where employees can buy additional ones at cost, with shirts as low as $3 to $5 and pants for as low as $10 to $15. The blue vests were issued to employees at no cost.
Staff at Neighborhood Markets, Wal-Mart's 109-strong chain of smaller stores, will switch nationally from a green vest to dark green shirts and khaki slacks or skirts, the company said.