Thursday, January 27, 2005

Wally World

Proverbs 23:23 (King James Version)

“23Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.”

I read an interesting piece titled “Ill Wind for Wal-Mart” in the business section of today’s Kansas City Star. The subtitle of the piece read “As managers meet in KC, retail giant faces angry squall.”

The gist of the story is this. Wal-Mart’s management has been meeting in Kansas City strategizing for the year ahead. Outside Bartle Hall, where the meeting was being held, “dozens” of protesters carried signs that read “Wal-Mart Hurts America.”

After reading the piece I’m now feeling a tinge of guilt as I get ready to go to our local Wal-Mart and do some shopping. After all who would want to shop in a store that Mary Lindsay, organizer of the protest for “Reclaim,” described to the press as follows, "But there’s a downside to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart hurts people, communities, and democracy. It’s more than just low prices.”

I wonder now whether or not I’m just some small town rube who, by shopping at Wally World, is missing something that Ms. Lindsay and her cohorts have discovered through superior reasoning. The last thing I would want to do in the face of an evil corporate entity would be to support their efforts to dismantle democracy and people. I’m far too American and far too patriotic for that.

I’m torn. I need some toothpaste and some deodorant. I need some cat litter and some cat food. I need some mission figs and some cheese. I’ve checked other stores here in town and not only is Wal-Mart cheaper than the rest, it’s substantially cheaper. Take the mission figs for example. At most local stores a package costs a little bit under three bucks. At Wal-Mart the same item, the same brand, costs about a buck seventy. I’m not great with math, but I feel safe in saying that Wal-Mart’s price is clearly better.

Now this isn’t the first I’ve heard of the controversy surrounding Wal-Mart. There are folks who say that “the evil giant” is destroying small-town America. There are others who say that they underpay and mistreat their employees.

And yet, in the face of all this evil, I am considering a trip up to Wal-Mart as I write. How can I even call myself a patriotic American?

Well, fellow Americans, I hate to say it but I find it very easy.

I can’t speak for the rest of small-town America, but I can tell you that Wal-Mart has done anything but destroy Emporia, Kansas. We’re doing quite well here, thank you.

The economic climate seems to be quite good for most businesses here. There are exceptions, I’ll admit. There’s a wine and art gallery that opened a few months ago near the downtown district. The person who opened the business had good intentions, but I don’t think that he or she studied the demographics of the Flint Hills well enough. Cowboys and ranchers aren’t likely candidates to be seen sitting around sipping zinfandel discussing impressionism or realism. The folks who cut cows at Tyson Foods aren’t going to be found at the gallery sitting around drinking port and smoking Cuban cigars. Where are the cowboys and cow cutters all shopping? Wal-Mart, of course.

But there are many other businesses that are thriving here. Bluestem Farm and Ranch Supply is selling saddles, jeans, and sundries at a decent pace. The Commercial Street Diner is always crowded at breakfast time and their lunch specials are “to die for.” And Wal-Mart’s direct competitors also seem to be doing at least okay.

The long and the short of it is that the businesses that are doing well here have found their niche and have priced their goods so that we rubes can afford them.

Now I hope the gallery makes it, but I have my doubts. If or when it does close I don’t believe it will be Wal-Mart’s fault either. But I have a hunch that the business owner will find some way to blame the demise on the evil corporate giant.

There was something else about the Star’s piece that intrigued me. Wal-Mart’s latest annual revenues were reported at 256 billion big ones. Their net profits for the same period were nine billion. The Star calculated the evil giant’s profit margin at 3.52 percent. That margin hardly suggests an evil giant to me. In fact, that margin seems quite small in comparison to the bottom lines of a lot of corporations I’ve seen. Three point five-two seems very modest indeed.

Ms.Lindsay says that this is all about more than “just low prices.” I think there’s some merit in what she’s said. But methinks her assertion that Wal-Mart is dangerous for people, communities, and democracy proceeds from a “heat oppressed brow.” Contrary to what I read this morning, the barbarians aren’t storming the gates of the city here in this corner of small-town America. I was in Wal-Mart just two days ago and did notice that the greeters (retirees like me) weren’t sporting assault rifles or strong-arming their customer base. About all I heard from then was “Can I get you a shopping cart?” when I entered the store and a cordial “Thank you!” when I left. Yes, even with Wal-Mart, the evil giant planted on the west side of town, Emporia is safe, the sun is shining, and democracy is running rampant.

In the five years I’ve lived here in Emporia I’ve learned that Wal-Mart is an acquired taste. I’m sure that there are “shoppers” out there who have found that Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue are acquired tastes in their little corner of the world. I doubt that thee marketing groups from Saks or Neiman Marcus are considering coming to Emporia to compete with Wal-Mart. And if they did and then branched out into food I doubt that the price of their mission figs would come close to beating the evil giant’s.

Consider this, dear reader. I am absolutely certain that Wal-Mart has its share of flaws and problems. I worked for one of the best corporations in the world for close to seventeen years and found that it, too, had its flaws. My guess is that the men and women of Wal-Mart are trying to fix theirs as quickly as FedEx, my former employer, did theirs.

Having written this post, I now feel better. I’ve got my list and I’m on my way. My guilt is purged and my good sense has been retrieved. I’m going to Wally World. Let me check the list one more time – toothpaste…..shaving cream… litter… food…..figs…..cheese. Yup…..That’s everything I need today. No zinfandel, no Bill Blass shirts, no Bally’s for my feet. I’m going to Wally World and there it’s just the basics.


Aldon Hynes said...

Thank you for looking at this issue. It is very important. We need to think carefully about whether we are being good stewards of God's creation and loving our neighbors as ourselves even when we do things as simple as shop for toothpaste.

Is Walmart damaging America? Personally, I believe it is. It might not be damaging America in your neighborhood, or even in mine. For that matter rampant drug use and gang warfare isn't damaging America as far as I can see in my neighborhood, and I suspect that there aren't rampant gangs in your neighborhood either, but that doesn't mean it isn't a problem.

So, let's look carefully at Walmart. One of the complaints is that they pay poorly. Well, every employer should be able to pay what the market will bear. That's capitalism afterall, and if you can pay low salaries, you can keep your costs down.

So, according to Business Week, in 2001 Walmart Clerks made an average of $8.23 an hour. That is above the minimum wage and where employment is good and high school kids can fill these roles as they save for college, it isn't that bad. However, for families try ing to get by, this works out to be $13,861 a year, or nearly $800 below the federal poverty level.

Is this a problem? Well, according to the Atlanta Journal-constitution Wal-Mart employees are six times more likely to rely on state-provided health care for their children than are employees of any other large company and according to the a study by University of California, reliance on public assistance programs in California by Wal-Mart workers costs the state's taxpayers an estimated $86 million annually.

So, you might be paying a little less for that toothpaste, but you may be making up for it in the taxes that you have to pay to support these public assistance programs not to mention the suffering that you contribute to by helping keep people below the poverty level.

Then, there is the issue of whether local ownership of stores is a good thing. Part of Walmart's efficiency is by having large centrally located stores. It means that everyone has to drive a little further to a store that isn't owned locally. According to a study by Iowa State University, in the first decade after Wal-Mart arrived in Iowa, the state lost 555 grocery stores, 298 hardware stores, 293 building supply stores, 161 variety stores, 158 women's apparel stores, 153 shoe stores, 116 drugstores, and 111 men's and boys' apparel stores.

Maybe that isn't happening where you are. Maybe it is, and you don't consider it a bad thing. Personally, I like to be able to go speak with the owner of the stores I shop at. They are a little more accountable that way and it helps keep a sense of community, which I believe is needed more now than ever in this country.

Speaking about our country, many people dislike Walmart because of their relationship to China. According to the Washington Post, every year Wal-Mart purchases $15 billion worth of products from China. The L.A. Times goes on to note that Walmart uses 3000 factories in China to produce its goods, which is nearly as many as the 3600 stores that Walmart has in this country.

Of course, then there is the aspect of knowing them by their fruit. While the Walmart family fortune is greater than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett combined, their charitable giving is a small fraction of what other charities give.

So, I do believe that it is an overstatement to say that Walmart is an evil empire destroying America. They are just another company trying to make a quick buck. However, when you look at the results in terms of the poverty produced and the lack of charity, they do seem to epitomize greed and not compassion and because of this, I prefer to shop elsewhere.

Anonymous said...


Competition produces confessed weakness in 'the competition.'

Now we know why they stoned the prophets.

I'll be back in awhile...

a Choicemaker
Psalm 25:12

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm, the Walmart issue. I wonder why the protesters simply don't go and shop somewhere else?
They could have the Media follow them, and make stark comments why they choose to pay outrageous prices, to simply make sure the ones who charge that profit ratio, is getting it, or am I missing something here? Then print up large headlines why we should shop and pay much more than needed to support the neighborhood Quick store, and make them the 1000% profit margin, the cut-rate stores have foregone for superior business.

In general;
The media loves a controversy, and if doesn't have one, they create one, it's simple business tactics now for mainline Media. A protest is to attract the Media, not the average person.

If no-one mentioned the protesters, would they exist? , there is a saying, I.E.; if a tree fell in the middle of the forest, and no one was around, would it make a sound? good analogy, scientifically, yes and no, hahahahah according to their criteria. But to anything of use to the average person, who cares? But if it was causing illness or killing small animals, most would forgo the difference in prices , hands down.

"We" need to live, managing money is our business of survival, as it's the leading trade mechanism of exchange at least in my life in any case.
What most protesters now advocate is living outside their means, they can go do that, I don't mind much, other than the taxes for the government to handle Bankruptcies.
We as citizens, need to be circumspect on all choices , as Christians as well.

Well,,,, Rednecks of "all" colors
( I call xenophobic mania activists Red Necks, """"no offense to the trendy ones who call themselves red necks due to accent, or geological location, not aimed at you"""")
..... are making life miserable for others they feel are inferior or something, but they have a right under one or more laws to do this, making folks unhappy,,,, I say, hey, make laws about this issue, and let me and those like me, live in peace.
I say to the Protesters and folks like them go on and propose the Law be made, If you find that the lawmakers deem it frivolous, then go home, and take care of your children or wash your car, do something constructive, rather than protest because some media gnat told a tale, using slanted numbers, and whispered in your silly ear.
(Understand I'm not attacking anyone, only to use good solid common sense before climbing on anothers bandwagon)

I call to mind a saying of the leader of the Nazi Propaganda machine in Germany at the time of WW2, I.E. "Tell a lie long enough, and often enough, and it becomes a truth" , which to apply that in our time, the media gets a bone and gnaws on it for a while (Hypes it) offering snide opinions, masked in "they said, he said", type of rhetoric, in effect, saying it often enough, to make it a truth, so public opinion "is", it's the truth, and will simply not hear a rebuttal, masked in small type or spoken in an offhand remark. Seems we have a larger problem that suspected huh?.
Protesters, yeah, they have an effect, no matter whether lies, or truth, or exaggerations, they have an effect, and it's generally insidious once thought about, if not a Righteous protest.

Kyle Gosnell

Sanctimonious Hypocrite said...

I want to dislike Walmart, maybe partly out of snobbery. But objectively, I can't say they're bad for a community. If not the greatest employer, they're certainly not the worst. They give more to the community (in-kind donations like soda for picnics, scholarships) than some locally owned buisnesses. But the most generous buisnesses around here is part of a large regional restautant chain.

I shop at Walmart, but I can't say I enjoy it. It's crowded, stuff is hard to find, and I can rarely find an employee to help me. But I do shop there, because of the prices. I buy Calymyrna figs, which I like much better than Mission figs. I also shop at the locally-owned grocery store where they have day-old Brownberry bread, at the charity thrift shop where they have all kinds of stuff, and at the local book stores for both books and coffee. All seem to be doing okay.

Maybe I'm wrong and they're the evil empire, or the Borg. I'll find out; They're building a store out on the edge of town.

Tom Harrison

Anonymous said...

I live in Emporia Kansas and I worked at the Emporia Walmart Super Center for 3 long years and I can speak from my own experience that Walmart only looks out for number 1 and thats the truth.The most I filed on as far as income taxes go during those 3 years was a little under 14,000.Thats poverty!I asked endless times in Grass Roots meetings that are held once a year for employees to voice thier concerns why we worked for the number one retailer and made wages that were considered poverty and had to look elsewhere to make ends meet. I was told well with Walmart there are opportunities for advancement to obtain a managment position where you can make better money!Sorry but not all of us can be managers.So they have climbed the corporate ladder while steping on a lot of little people on the way up.You see with them you are just another number not a real person.Its what you can do for them not what they can do for you.If you dont play the game by thier rules then they will find another player who will its just that simple.After 3 years I walked away with nothing to show for it.Also its a hard place to work because you have to deal with the public and because it is Walmart customers think that what ever they dish out you have to take they are rude inconsiderate and thankless.Its a horrible place to work I have never worked in a worse environment.I only go in there shopping now if I absolutley have to.I would rather pay a little more and at least know I am doing my part in not letting Walmart totally take over the retail world!!

Tom Reindl said...

What's really interesting is living in an area that boasts an Aldi's and a Walmart. My best friend manages Aldi's, and when Walmart expanded to groceries, he lost business for about two weeks. But since then, for about two years now, he's been kicking Walmart's butt in sales of groceries, regardless of whether it's more convenient to shop at one stop. People go where they get what they need at a good price. Both Walmart and Aldi's understands this.

Anonymous said...

To the person who worked at Wal-Mart for 3 years and has nothing to show for it but $14,000. Are you worth more that $14,000? What do you bring to the table that warrents a higher amount of pay? "Not all people can be management," Right, and its a good thing Wal-Mart has jobs for those who are cut out for nothing better..."They only look out for #1"...and thats a problem because? I did not know that Wal-mart was a non-profit charitable outfit, Hello, Mc Fly!!! they are there to make money for the investors, who bear the risk and investment, if you think thats evil, compare this system to Russia's Profit is not a four letter word. Steve.

Anonymous said...

A measure of wheat for a penny... Do you think a senior in high school has any future working for a living in America anymore? Do you think Wal-Mart is a free market standard that can continue to be aided by taxing American workers income while lowering their living wage? If you claim to be a Christian, can you drink from the world system cup that supports the New World Order delusion? The WTO is not democratic and interest rates will only help the Euro, the strength of the Dollar by oil trade no longer threatens those who own stock in Wal-Mart, for they are divesting profits into into foreign markets and outsourcing jobs. The fact is, you have robbed God and do not know it. You will see there is no future by your shopping choice, when that senior has no option but to go join the service to try and pay for school or work at Wal- Mart and see over half a pacheck go for housing cost in the form of rent because no bank will loan money for a home. The chances of that senior going to fight to maintain the down trend of the dollar and the rise of the Euro will be determined by the war in Iraq. Even if that senior survives with his life and limbs, one more Pearl Harbor event will cause Japan to trade oil with Russia with Euros. The fact is, if we do not instatute a Federal Commerce Tax system that insures that all who use our system pay the cost and a universal living wage standard is set, only the fools like you will think Destroying American Manufacturing with Wal-Mart prices and adding to the 7 trillion dollar debt, is good for seniors in high school. Repent fool or go to hell. Vengence is Gods'. Just ask the polystyrene kings if they like loosing Rubber Maid as a customer. I am sure they will say that the new Chinese customer has increased their Wal-Mart volume and their Euro account.