Not a model market

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Is Wal-Mart's sizable 5% market-share lead in groceries in the Dallas/Fort Worth market a harbinger of things to come?

Some experts argue against the assessment that as goes Dallas, so goes the rest of the country's top metro markets. The variables, in reality, aren't apples to apples.

Start with locale. Just consider how easy that car trip is from Bentonville, Ark.-five hours. Nestled to Wal-Mart's southwest, the market served as a kind of second headquarters.

And despite the big city status of Dallas/Fort Worth, it's less urban density and more quintessential sprawl-town America with a load of Texas excess thrown in. After all, this is one of America's most overstored retail markets.

"Wal-Mart is a fact of life here and people don't seem to have an issue with big-box stores because everything is so spread out," said Ed Fox, a professor of marketing at Southern Methodist University, who is finishing a five-year tracking study of the grocery shopping habits of 1,000 consumers in the market. "This is the least urban of the large metro markets. Wal-Mart doesn't do urban very well ... yet."

Next, consider the topography. There is close to a 60-mile stretch between the Dallas and Fort Worth city centers, putting Wal-Mart right at home. The behemoth works best where big highways and vast swaths of land make distribution easy.

Throw in lax zoning laws and Wal-Mart grows like a weed here. In other big-city markets, such as New York, Boston or Chicago, zoning thwarts Wal-Mart's ambitions.

It's here Wal-Mart truly tested the Neighborhood Market. Here Wal-Mart learned the saturation threshold is not as low as once believed-it's not limited to a store every five miles. In fact, Wal-Mart Supercenter No. 2667 is just 3.6 miles away from Neighborhood Market Store No. 5021 in Dallas.

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