I was set upon by a couple of Wal-Mart haters on Twitter a week or so ago. These guys get really wound up in their vitriolic denunciations of poor old Sam Walton's little retail endeavor. Thinking back, I think the first time I ever heard of Wal-Mart was in a story in the Reader's Digest. (My mom used to subscribe).
There were some stories about how the evil corporate bosses of Wal-Mart would target Small Town USA, shop the competition to find what prices were being charged and then come into town and undercut everyone's prices, until all the small businesses went out of business, and then, when no one had any income left to purchase their products, Wal-Mart would pull up stakes and move to another town, leaving a devastated economy and a ghost town on Main Street.
How rude! Of course, many of the smaller businesses provided services that the big box store couldn't. Unfortunately, they would too often find themselves answering questions about their merchandise, that big box clerks had no idea about, and then, the prospective customers would drive down the street to Wal-Mart and buy the merchandise at a lower price. It's hard enough for a small business to keep their doors open without spending time dispensing free advice to their competitor's customers.
I got to thinking about this the other day, when I recalled a lumber yard here in Stockton, "Hank and Tony's". They were a fixture around here back when my family moved to town. I'd see their advertising year in and year out, and I'd drive by their lumber yard off Harding Way quite frequently. I Googled them to see if they were still in business (I hadn't heard of them in years) and there was a phone listed at a residential address, and the lumber yard on Harding is probably a liquor store or strip mall today.
But, there are at least two Lowe's and two Home Depots in Stockton. I've been doing a little project or two and have hit up all four of them in the last couple of months, to find necessary supplies. Who mourns for Hank and Tony's? There are big box lumber stores all over town, but who mourns the little Mom and Pop hardware stores? Book stores? Most of the little ones went out of business long ago and even some of the bigger chains like Borders couldn't cut it. Where is the protest against that 'predatory' Amazon putting book stores out of business?
Jewelry stores? Surely there were Mom and Pop jewelry stores before Zanes and Kay's and Rogers, corner lot car dealers put out of business by mega multi-dealerships, shade tree mechanics put out of business by Midas, and Sears, and Pep Boys... so, why the maniacal outrage over Wal-Mart?
If I had to guess, I would say that it is the non-union status of Wal-Mart that gets liberal panties in a wad. They pay good wages and benefits. Whenever a new Wal-Mart opens up, people line up around the block to apply for the openings. But, they pay less than union wages for similar jobs, which allows Wal-Mart to keep their prices lower than union shops. If Wal-Mart unionized tomorrow, I'd guess liberals would be singing their praises*.
Business who can cut their costs due to economy of scale or innovation will prosper. If the services you provide in addition to your merchandise are sufficiently valuable that your customers are willing to pay more, you will survive.
There are no guarantees. If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.
*and not just Hillary Clinton, who, to her embarrassment, sat on their governing board a while back.
Update: Economic illiteracy may be another reason for the unreasonable fear of Wal-Mart. During the aforementioned Twitter discussion, one of the Haters sent me a graphic which proclaimed : "Even if you don't shop there, Wal-Mart still gets your money." And the first thing on the list was "tax breaks" for CEO bonuses. If you are a socialist and believes everything belongs to the government, then allowing Wal-Mart CEOs to keep more of what they earned, is taking money away from you.
Fun fact: The party whose followers bleat loudest about "loopholes" is the party that controlled one or both houses of Congress for about the last sixty years and personally wrote most of those "loopholes".
Update II: Just saw another one! Unbelievable! Those Wal-Mart Derangement Syndrome folk just keep coming! The latest chart shows, among other things, the average starting salary of a Wal-Mart employee against how much Sam Walton's heirs are getting per year. Gee! Ya think owning the company might be a little more profitable than working for it?? Let's get some ketchup haters in here too! How much is the average starting salary of a Heinz employee compared to what Teresa Heinz Kerry pulls in every year?
Update III: Another example for all you Wal-Mart haters: Paris Hilton. Paris is an heir to the Hilton hotel fortune. Anyone care to guess how her annual income compares to the starting salary of a Hilton hotel employee? Should we be outraged that Paris is paid more than the maid than cleans her hotel suite?? A little Paris hating, anyone???
Cross posted at LCR, Political Clown Parade
BTW, Fishersville Mike points out a great critique and fact check by Wal-Mart of a NYT editorial.