WAL=MART CAN'T ALWAYS BE WRONG
by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Lake Worth. Fla.
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The Orange City, Fla., woman "trampled" when the doors opened at Wal-Mart causes me to reveal some "truth in advertising" about my feelings about the 800-pound, no, eight thousand pound gorilla of retailing.
On my two brief national radio spots each morning, the host, Doug Stephan, has often accused me of being a cheerleader and apologist for Wal-Mart. Part of this was my (continued) trashing of K-Mart, and luke warm admiration of Target.
My position has weakened in recent months.
More radio listeners email me with horror stories of local retailers who have gone down the Wal-Mart tubes; downtown shopping districts which have become ghost towns, and cut throat pricing--sometimes under wholesale--which kills American enterprise.
Add to this some justifiable reports of using sub-contractors who Wal-Mart knew, or should have known, used undocumented workers. Even with a strong smell of labor organizer involvement in the news stories, the stench in Wal-Mart top management lingered. From Secretary of State Colin Powell on down, Americans have worked their way up from sweeping floors. Yet, at Wal-Mart the role of janitor was either too highly paid or too demeaning for fulltime pay and benefits of their own employees.
Now comes Thanksgiving weekend, and I find myself visiting in Gretna, La. and busted my primary eyeglasses. Driving around three parishes the day after Turkey Day, I bypassed a Super Wal-Mart because my favorite first (and only) wife, said, "I am not encouraging their business, find a local eyeglass store." I found nothing open early on the day after Thanksgiving.
I drove back to Wal-Mart and in 20 minutes friendly (and yes, "multi-ethnic") employees, opticians, and clerks, had me out of the store with new glasses for $77.
A week early I drove through Trinidad, CO for the first time in three or four years. A few years back locals told me how the Super Wal-Mart on Interstate 25 had killed downtown. This time it appeared that downtown had been spruced up, and the center of commerce, motels, restaurants, and new businesses along the interstate on both the Colorado and New Mexico side of the Raton Pass, site of the Santa Fe Trail, can be in large part credited to the boominb business at the Super Wal-Mart.
Back home in South Florida I needed a pay check deposited on a weekday evening. I called my banker and she said her drive through closed at 6 p.m. and the branch closest to my office closed at 5 p.m. However, her latest service, in fact the latest service in the largest geographical county east of the Mississippi, was at a Super Wal-Mart about five miles from my house. The bank had a full service branch staffed and open in the lobby of the store until 7 p.m. on weekday evenings.
I went there, reluctant to throw more business their way.
With 20 minutes to go before a meeting, and demonstrating my culinary selectivity, I decided to pick up a hot dog in the Wal-Mart snack bar. The store, the snack bar, the bank, were all doing great business.
A few black kids with loose change were buying cookies, popcorn, Cokes, and pretzels while their folks shopped. The Creole-speaking teen-aged clerk, fumbled with her English but not with making change. Behind her, on the wall, hand-written on oak tag with Majik Marker were the words: ON REQUEST WE WILL MAKE FOR YOU, PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH FOR 68 CENTS.
It was either the greatest PR campaign by a consultant at the world's biggest retailer, or another lesson that Wal-Mart and most other successful ventures are the sum product of their people.
Yesterday our Kiwanis Club gave away 157 free bicycles to local kids for Christmas. Most of the bikes were from police agencies who had recovered them but ended up with unclaimed merchandise. The rest were donated by a local Wal-Mart. A day before the give-away the Wal-Mart manager called the club and said the Wal-Mart Foundation had approved a check for $1,000 for the project, and we would deliver 20 brand knew bikes for the $1,000 if we liked, and whenver the check was issued we could just bring it in. Basically the 20 bikes were "on account." Was his gesture self-serving? Sure. Is a thousand bucks a pittance for Wal-Mart? Sure.
Let's say a litigious wacko up in Volusia County figured she could make a quick score by "falling down" in Wal-Mart. The truth or fiction is now irrelevant because those who hate Wal-Mart have already had 20 or 30 news cycles of grist for their mill. Few people will hear the allegations that she is a fraud.
Just suppose. Maybe, Wal-Mart and its management is part of the solution to our economic difficulties, and not the cause of our problems.