Wednesday, May 12, 2010
© 2010, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
The Logistician’s 89 yr old Father has an operational pearl of wisdom – if one wants to determine what is going on in the economy, one need simply check the newspapers' classified ads.
Being a New Age guy, the Logistician has modified this somewhat, and advises all to check out their local Wal-Mart…classified ads being one of the many sacrifices made to fuel the new economy.
Some years ago, all of the major California grocery store chains were up in arms following Wal-Mart’s announcement that it would start selling groceries (using non-union workers). (Based on the corporate response, one would have thought that an invasion of illegal aliens was to accompany that move.)
And then there was the effort by Wal-Mart a few years later to open a store in Inglewood (near LAX), which was opposed by those with money and jobs, and supported by those without. Despite being put before the citizens in an actual vote, the poor folks lost.
Neither the Logistician nor the Laughingman saw (or visited for that matter) a Wal-Mart in their 40 plus combined years in Southern California (since the cost of the real estate dictates much in life).
On the other hand, Wal-Marts abound in the southeastern region of our country. In fact, there are 4 of them in the immediate vicinity of the Institute, despite the city being home to only 230,000 citizens (while the metropolitan area has roughly 750,000).
Hints of changes in the economy first appeared last year when the 8 self-service automated checkout lines per store were shut down, and customers were forced to proceed to the 4 human checkout lines open (out of the 16 available).
Shortly after Thanksgiving, there was a marked decrease in parking lot traffic. And just days before Christmas, 2 of the local Wal-Marts announced that they would close at midnight.
When advised of these developments, many suggested that the store hours changes did not apply to “Super Centers.” But during an early morning visit to a Super Center in February of this year, patrons found not only that the Murray’s USA Gas was closed, but that the parking lot of the adjacent Wal-Mart was empty. The store was closed.
In April, the Logistician, being the cheapskate that he is and only having 50 cents to his name, proceeded to his trusty Sam’s Choice soda machine in the foyer of the largest Super Center in the area, to get Sam’s 40 cent version of Mountain Dew. Much to his surprise, he could not locate his machine. In fact, there were only Coca-Cola products, all costing $1.25 per can.
Not believing that Sam would abuse his customers in this manner, he turned to a clean-cut, neatly dressed, gregarious Wal-Mart greeter who was standing in the foyer, and blurted out, “I can’t believe that Wal-Mart no longer sells it own sodas and has replaced it with Coke products.”
This generated no response whatsoever on the part of the upbeat, smiling greeter (nor the CEO upon later contact). The Logistician again expressed his disbelief, and when it dawned on him that the greeter had no appreciation of the issue, he asked, “Do you understand what I’m talking about?”
The greeter very politely responded in broken English, “Excuse me, but I’m new here.” Suspecting that the greeter was of European descent, the Logistician tried to chat him up in French, Spanish, and then Portuguese, all to no avail.
The greeter then said that he was from Bulgaria and spoke a Slavic tongue.
After a lengthy discussion about the history of Bulgaria and whether it was a member of the former U.S.S.R, the conversation shifted.
“I ‘ve been in US for 6 weeks.” The Logistician then asked how long he had worked for Wal-Mart, to which the greeter replied, “I’ve been working for Wal-Mart for 6 weeks.”
Thinking that he was perhaps here on a tourist visa, the Logistician kept probing. Our Bulgarian friend had been “lucky,” as he termed it, to acquire a green card, because he had relatives in the area. This was the first and only city in which he had lived since his arrival.
The simple fact of the matter is that while Wal-Mart may be the low priced employer in any given market, it is far from the low priced goods supplier. Wal-Mart’s computer system is second only to that of the United States Census Bureau, and all of that computing power is not dedicated to finding the lowest prices possible, but the highest prices the chain can charge before customers begin to shop elsewhere…and the same goes for quality of service.
Three weeks later, we chatted our greeter up again, now with two whole months of US residence and employment under his belt, during another visit. (You’re going to love what he had to say about Americans and the quality of life here, to be flushed out in our next post.)
All in all, it looks like Dad was pretty spot on….
We also imagine that it’s a good thing that this Wal-Mart is not located in Arizona.
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