I know a lot of people who despise Wal-Mart. I have a love-hate relationship with the store. But over the course of my shopping lifetime, there has been more to love than hate. So I appreciated this recent story in the New York Post:
"Undercover at Wal-Mart: the Heartland Store That May Save the Economy"
The author, Charles Platt, applied and got a job at Wal-Mart so as to get an inside employee view of how the chain operates. His experience puts the lie to a lot of the common Wal-Mart wisdom.
Here's a quote:
"With more than 7,000 facilities worldwide, coordinating more than 2 million employees in its fanatical mission to maintain an inventory from more than 60,000 American suppliers, it has become a system containing more components than the Space Shuttle - yet it runs as reliably as a Timex watch."
My thought after reading this article is that Wal-Mart puts our government to shame. The feds would do well to run as efficiently as Wal-Mart. I am reminded that in the aftermath of Katrina, the response of Wal-Mart was more timely and effective than FEMA's. It could be that a day will come when the USA will be such a disorganized, catastrophic mess that we will thank our lucky stars (and our Lord) for the infrastructure and inter-connectedness that Wal-Mart provides, benefitting more from our status as "Walmartians" than as "Americans."
A few more quotes from the article in case you don't have time for the whole thing:
"Merchandise from Wal-Mart has become as ubiquitous as the water supply. Yet still the company is rebuked and reviled by anyone claiming a social conscience, and is lambasted by legislators as if its bad behavior places it somewhere between investment bankers and the Taliban. . . . Considering this is a company that is helping families ride out the economic downturn, which is providing jobs and stimulus while Congress bickers, which had sales growth of 2% this last quarter while other companies struggled, you have to wonder why."
"To my mind, the real scandal is not that a large corporation doesn't pay people more. The scandal is that so many people have so little economic value. Despite (or because of) a free public school system, millions of teenagers enter the work force without marketable skills. So why would anyone expect them to be well paid?
In fact, the deal at Wal-Mart is better than at many other employers. The company states that its regular full-time hourly associates in the US average $10.86 per hour, while the mean hourly wage for retail sales associates in department stores generally is $8.67. The federal minimum wage is $6.55 per hour. Also every Wal-Mart employee gets a 10% store discount, while an additional 4% of wages go into profit-sharing and 401(k) plans."
"You have to wonder, then, why the store has such a terrible reputation, and I have to tell you that so far as I can determine, trade unions have done most of the mudslinging."
"Anti-growth activists are the other primary source of anti-Wal-Mart sentiment. In the town where I worked, I was told that activists even opposed a new Barnes & Noble because it was 'too big.' If they're offended by a large bookstore, you can imagine how they feel about a discount retailer.
The argument, of course, is that smaller enterprises cannot compete. My outlook on this is hardcore: I think that many of the 'mom-and-pop' stores so beloved by activists don't deserve to remain in business.
When I first ventured from New York City to the American heartland, I did my best to patronize quaint little places on Main Street and quickly discovered the penalties for doing so. At a small appliance store, I wasn't allowed to buy a microwave oven on display. I had to place an order and wait a couple of weeks for delivery. At a stationery store where I tried to buy a file cabinet, I found the same problem. Think back, if you are old enough to do so, and you may recall that this is how small-town retailing used to function in the 1960s.
As a customer, I don't see why I should protect a business from the harsh realities of commerce if it can't maintain a good inventory at a competitive price. And as an employee, I see no advantage in working at a small place where I am subject to the quixotic moods of a sole proprietor, and can never appeal to his superior, because there isn't one.
By the same logic, I see no reason for legislators to protect Safeway supermarkets with ploys such as zoning restrictions, which just happen to allow a supermarket-sized building while outlawing a Wal-Mart SuperCenter that's a few thousand square feet bigger."