Sam’s Club closure hurts UAA

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the parent company of Sam’s Club, announced Jan. 11 that it will be closing 63 different Sam’s Clubs nationwide, including ones in Alaska. In a press release, President and CEO of Sam’s Club John Furner said the decision was to build a stronger set of Sam’s Clubs.

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Lines at the Tikahtnu Commons location of Sam’s Club were spread throughout the store as customers filled carts with discounted items on Jan. 20. The Muldoon and Dimond locations will be closing on Jan. 26, 2018. Photo credit: Kathryn DuFresne

“Transforming our business means managing our real estate portfolio and Walmart needs a strong fleet of Sam’s Clubs that are fit for the future,” Furner said. “We know this is difficult news for our associates and we are working to place as many of them as possible at nearby locations. Our focus today has been on those associates and their communities, and communicating with them.”

The news was especially hard for members of the UAA community who use ProCards, commercial credit cards for UAA, because Sam’s Club has been the only warehouse retailer to accept MasterCard. All UAA ProCards are MasterCard and the other big warehouse retailer in Alaska, Costco, does not accept the credit card.

Justine Nelson is the ProCard administrator at UAA, and she says Procurement Services is still working with Statewide to come up with a solution, but in the interim, she advises departments to shop with retailers that accept MasterCard.

“From day one we said we’re going to try to come up with a solution and that’s — we’re still working on it,” Nelson said.

Student Union Operations Coordinator Tim Flynn said the Information Desk at the Student Union, which sells food items from candy bars to corn dogs, will potentially have to raise prices.

“Buying things in bulk definitely gives us the opportunity to pass the savings on to students and the community members that walk through,” Flynn said. “When we figure out what our new alternative will be, our prices potentially will go up because we will not be able to buy in bulk anymore in the rate that we were buying.”

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Flynn said he found a short term solution by going to Sam’s Club and purchasing two to four times his average order for the next few weeks.

Some items may no longer be sold at the Information Desk because they are uniquely tied to Sam’s Club. Some of these items include refrigerated corn dogs, certain ice creams and hamburgers.

“I feel that it is unfortunate that this company made this decision, because it’s not only showing the effects at UAA with the recession and lower budgets, but the state of Alaska is going to suffer from this too,” Flynn said.

While the Information Desk doesn’t receive student fees, some fee funded programs may be impacted by the Sam’s Club closure. Kojin Tranberg, Commuter Programs coordinator, said free programs like the Daily Den may cost his department more than anticipated.

“I wish I could quantify the impacts, but I guess what’s scary about this transition is that we don’t know how it’s going to affect us and we’re actively figuring it out,” Tranberg said.

For now, Commuter Programs is shopping at Fred Meyer for the Daily Den, which started Jan. 22.

Mary Beth Overturf, director of Procurement Services, said one of the best case scenarios would be to negotiate the use of the MasterCard at Costco.

“I think if there is a mechanism for us to make purchases at Costco, that would be one option,” Overturf said. “And if there are other, other vendors… in town who may kind of take advantage of this opportunity and get into the market — into this market.”

Having employees purchase the items they need with their own credit cards and submitting receipts for reimbursement is not being considered as a solution.

“The employee, depending on how many employee reimbursements there are, might, could potentially be out that money for a while, depending on how much they’re spending and if they have all the paperwork and documentation they need,” Nelson said. “It’s just a big burden on everyone involved, I think.”

Nelson estimates that there are around 500 ProCard holders at UAA.