Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Post No. 145: What’s Going On Over There at Wal-Mart?


© 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.

6 comments:

  1. 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.

    Not a member, merely a wholly owned subsidiary (if I recall correctly). Like Hungary.

    Wal-Marts are fine. I actually like them. I have relatives and friends who work (or have worked) at them. They treat their employees decently (maybe not as well as GM employees were but then...), they provide jobs and they provide goods at decent prices for those who budgets are tight.

    While the Wal-Marts in your area are cutting back on hours, they are remaining the same in mine. In fact, Sam is building a Sam's Club just down the street from a Super Center (we have two in our area). I am looking forward to this since I currently have to drive 1.25 hours to reach the one in Bradenton.

    Yet, our local supermarkets are doing fairly well and have not been driven out of business. In fact, the local Publix is more crowded than the local Wal-Mart.


    The economy in my little corner of America has always been one of large ups and downs. If a store (or business of any type) does not do well in the winter months, the odds are against its being open at the end of summer. This is especially true of restaurants which I suspect are better economic indicators than Wal-Marts or classified ads.

    I will not say anything about the slap at Arizona except to commend you on being clever enough to slide it in. Arizona, in my opinion, has the right (and the duty) to do what its citizens think is necessary. And, so far, the polls reflect that this is what it is doing. Would that the federal government would do the same.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Douglas, for lots of responsive putty with which to work.

    We don't really have a problem with Wal-Mart per se. At one point in time, it was a minnow compared to the the big fish in the pond (like K-Mart and Sears), and through smart management, particularly in the field of inventory and logistics, it managed not only to survive but surpass the competition.

    In our view, artificially tinkering with the nature of jobs provided by a legitimate, profitable corporation, and regulating or otherwise coercing the amount of compensation, is problematic, and does not address the underlying issues which cause income disparity in our society. When a nation or society chooses an economic model or philosophy, there are going to be both comfortable and uncomfortable ramifications associated with its operation.

    For some to simply label or categorize a corporate entity as the big bad ogre, especially when it has not always been big, seems to us to be more of an emotional (as opposed to an analytical, objective) comment about a very complex, interconnected global economy.

    We're not going to bite on your Arizona comment, at least not just yet. We'll still waiting to hear how our readers feel that our Bulgarian friend, who has a green card, might be received in Arizona.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting thought:

    the underlying issues which cause income disparity in our society

    All societies have this disparity. I suppose it started when Og realized that Izok had a nicer part of the cave. It is the nature of existence.

    We're not going to bite on your Arizona comment, at least not just yet. We'll still waiting to hear how our readers feel that our Bulgarian friend, who has a green card, might be received in Arizona.

    I suspect that our Bulgarian friend would be happy to show his green card. He seemed happy to have it, didn't he?

    I grew up in a time when any cop could stop you at any time and ask for identification and question your presence at whatever place you happened to be. I don't recall feeling offended. I suppose I didn't know I was living in a police state.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It is our position that many things in life in this world have less to do with people or the humans who happen exist at any given point in time, but more to do with the structure or organization within which they function. Alexis de Tocqueville spent 9 months in the first half of the 19th Century traveling through the then-United States and made a number of observations and predictions about our young country.

    At this moment as we type this, C-Span2 Book TV is airing a program featuring an author who has written about Tocqueville. The program is entitled Tocqueville's Discovery of America, and it started at 4:00 pm Eastern. (It is also scheduled to be re-aired early tomorrow morning, Monday at 1:00 am Eastern.) For further information, click here. Check it out. You might be surprised at some of the predictions which Tocqueville made about us.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Since we originally posted this piece, we have repeatedly visited the Wal-Mart in question, spoken to our Bulgarian friend, and met numerous other new employees from former Eastern Bloc countries.

    As the Canadians often say, "Interesting, eh?"

    ReplyDelete
  6. Interesting thought:

    the underlying issues which cause income disparity in our society

    All societies have this disparity. I suppose it started when Og realized that Izok had a nicer part of the cave. It is the nature of existence.

    We're not going to bite on your Arizona comment, at least not just yet. We'll still waiting to hear how our readers feel that our Bulgarian friend, who has a green card, might be received in Arizona.

    I suspect that our Bulgarian friend would be happy to show his green card. He seemed happy to have it, didn't he?

    I grew up in a time when any cop could stop you at any time and ask for identification and question your presence at whatever place you happened to be. I don't recall feeling offended. I suppose I didn't know I was living in a police state.

    ReplyDelete

"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

"Experience Isn't Expensive; It's Priceless"™

"Common Sense should be a Way of Life"™

Opportunity to Serve as "Guest Author"

This forum was designed to be YOUR forum for the civil exchange of ideas by people with all points of views. We welcome the submission of articles by all of our readers, as long as they are in compliance with our Guidelines contained in Post No. 34. We look forward to receiving your submissions.