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MEXICO CITY -- A Wal-Mart store bustles as customers roam the aisles in search of bargains and snap up free samples of tequila before bundling their purchases into waiting taxis.
The activity is proof that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has learned how to achieve the same kind of success in its international ventures as it has in thousands of stores across the United States.
Wal-Mart, which grew up in small-town America, is increasingly dependent on foreign expansion as it faces slowing growth at home.
"The U.S. market is pretty saturated," said Ken Perkins, retail analyst for Thomson First Call. "Clearly, they need to expand into foreign markets to generate the ongoing growth they've had."
Wal-Mart, which opened its first store in Rogers, Ark., in 1962, grew into the world's largest retailer (and the world's largest corporation) by concentrating first on small, rural towns where it had little competition. Its trademark yellow smiley face, low prices and focus on customer service were later introduced to larger U.S. cities and then abroad, to Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Brazil, Britain, Germany, South Korea, Japan and China.
The formula of low prices and good service works in other countries as it does in the United States.
"The majority of what I look for is here. They have specials, and the prices in general are more accessible. This is where I save money," said Enrique Flores, a government worker shopping at the Mexico City store.
Wal-Mart's first foreign store was a Sam's Club opened in 1991 outside Mexico City. Wal-Mart is now the biggest retailer in Mexico and is tackling the rest of the Americas, Asia and Europe.
Although Wal-Mart built its business from scratch in the United States, in overseas markets it starts out by purchasing already successful local chains. It also differentiates its foreign stores from its U.S. outlets, buying at least 80 percent of its merchandise from nearby vendors to keep costs down and cater to...
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