Mapping Target vs. Wal-Mart in metro Atlanta

By Pete Corson - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

UPDATED 12-1-14:  Article and map now include the new Wal-Mart on Cleveland Avenue.

Target and Wal-Mart can inspire the kind of whose-side-are-you-on rivalry that's usually reserved for Coke & Pepsi, Apple & Microsoft, or Ginger & Mary Ann. Partly at stake is where the chains choose to expand and how they're received by the neighborhood. Do the stores favor certain parts of town or is the rivalry overblown?

To find out, we mapped 124 stores over 10 counties in metro Atlanta, including a few just over those county borders, and store variations such as the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets and Target Pharmacies. In the process, we tested a few claims:

Claim: Target is more ITP and Wal-Mart is more OTP.
False. With its new Cleveland Avenue location, Wal-Mart can now boast six store locations within the Perimeter to Target's five (Wal-Mart has 2 additional Pharmacy stores). That means that outside I-285, you'll still find 41 Targets and 70 Wal-Marts.

Claim: Target favors north metro Atlanta and Wal-Mart the south.
Partly true. By a wide margin, both chains prefer to be north of I-20, and in the process create large swaths of "retail deserts" in the south. But Wal-Mart has built more stores in the south, with 22 on or south of I-20. One surprise: The area south of I-20 within the Perimeter didn't have a single location for either store until the recent opening of the Cleveland Ave. Wal-Mart. (There is also a Wal-Mart Pharmacy at the airport.)

Claim: There are "Target" parts of town and "Wal-Mart" parts of town.
In places, true. Target has built a strong footprint in northeast Atlanta and along the Ga. 400 corridor. And Wal-Mart populates a 40-mile arc from Duluth to Union City where there's no Target in sight. But there are many parts of metro Atlanta where you're not far from either store.

Claim: Target and Wal-Mart stay out of each other's turf.
False. There are many locations where the two stores are within a mile of each other, and six places where that distance is half a mile or closer.

I asked Randy Stuart, a professor of marketing and professional sales at Kennesaw State University, how she thought the companies viewed each other. "They're pretty direct competitors," she said. And while they may position themselves differently, with Wal-Mart accentuating low prices and Target taking a more upscale approach, both companies share a common playbook: "You've got to go where your target market is. They're taking advantage of every opportunity."

As for where they do that, a closer examination of our region's demographics may tell the tale. Stay tuned.