Tuesday, April 10, 2007

One man's failed boycott of Walmart or people sure love those big box stores

When I first moved back to town, I decided that I wouldn't shop at Walmart and I was going to support True Value instead of Lowe's (if you knew my hardware budget, you would know this is a big deal). In general, I was determined to support the locally owned stores, instead of the big boxes.

There is no problem shopping for groceries other places beside Walmart. It costs a little more and the produce is better. I have religiously shopped at the farmer's market on Saturday for years (my Father and I go together, early. If you want to check the floor show).

I ran into a problem with Murdale True Value almost immediately. First of all, they pay lousy and hire poorly. Sure Morris and 2 or 3 others are good, but everyone else in there knows nothing (or at least, less then me) about hardware. Then you need help finding something and the employee takes you to where it should be and the shelf was bare (seems like they had a fight with the supplier or something). Finally, there was something I really needed and True Value didn't have it, so I went to Lowe's. The first thing you notice about Lowe's is the size and amount of stock, then you notice that the employers know something. Go to plumbing and find a retired plumber to help you. Tools had a fellow who used to be a coal miner, who now does woodworking as a hobby. The prices were about 50% to 75%, compared to True Value on a few items I checked, that I had bought recently.

Over the course of 6 months, I started going to Lowe's more and more and True Value less and less. Lowes has better help. They give stock options to the employees and pay better. The people who work at Lowe's care more about helping you then at True Value. Lowe's earned my business and I like going there.

My boycott of Walmart continued for years, but then it started to show some cracks. The union electrician that I normally use suggested I go buy an electric gadget at Walmart. I asked him about shopping there and he told me, they have the best prices. I asked the anti-union questions and he didn't know anything about it. Shortly after I was talking to a Schnuck's employee about something and he told me he didn't shop at Walmart for groceries, but did shop there for everything else. Wow! Talked to union members at SIU, they shop at Walmart. I took a step back and had to ask myself, if all the union people are shopping at Walmart, who am I helping and hurting by not shopping there? Seems like the union people don't care, so I was just hurting myself.

The first thing you notice shopping at Walmart is the amount of inventory. The employees are nice, but not knowledgeable (so Lowe's is better), but they are no worse then most. Walgreen's people are much better, I shop there when I can. A little thing of yogurt is $.89 at Schnuck's and $.53 at Walmart. A case of soda for the guys at the office is $2 less. I don't shop there often, because I'm price insensitive, but I can sure see why people do. They have everything you need and it is cheap.

In the end, the people of Southern Illinois have decided to shop at the big boxes. I don't understand what the difference between Wendy's, Walmart, Best Buy, Walgreen's, Lowe's and most stores in the Mall. All of them ship the profits to owners out of town, it would be better to shop at locally owned stores, but few do all the time.

Does anyone shop at The Co-op and Arnold's exclusively? Is there a locally owned drug store to choose from? Who eats at locally owned restaurants and avoids the national chains? The answer is almost no one in Carbondale is really walking the walk, we have sold our soul to the national chains. The reason of course, is that the national chains are better then a badly managed, locally owned businesses.

I got this great Sheila pamphlet where she says that she, "Communicates with locally owned business," and Brad "Claims credit for recruiting big box chain stores." Sure is a stunning accomplishment when you "communicate" with someone. Next thing you know, she might start trying to help them.

You have to wonder, what should the city do about that empty Kmart building? Let it sit empty? I have a whole thing planned for the Dick's Sports issue, so stay tuned.

In the end, the big boxes are what Carbondale wants and what America wants. It is politically pandering to say anything else.

How about you? Do you shop at any national chains or do you just buy from locally owned businesses?

Your comments should be interesting.


Anonymous said...

You have to wonder, what should the city do about that empty Kmart building? Let it sit empty? I have a whole thing planned for the Dick's Sports issue, so stay tuned.

Nope. Shouldn't sit empty, but Cole should have taken the Target issue to the city council rather than turn it down without discussion. What would you rather have in town - Dick's or Target?

Milton said...

I think what you are witnessing is a huge advertising campaign by unions. Walmart use to be a darling of the US. 10-15 years ago no one talked about Walmart. Do they import more now than they did then, sure, but is that the reason people decided not to shop there, I doubt it.

What you usually hear about walmart is that they pay less, don't offer health care, etc. All those issues are union centric. What no asks is, what's the alternative? Find me a local shop that offers the upward mobility of a walmart. You can't become district manager of a store with only one location. Find me a local business that offers stock options - yes, believe it or not walmart offers options. Find me stock person jobs at local stores that offer health care. Walmart has something like 75 health care plans and some start at just $5/month. Finally, walmarts starting hourly wage is higher than the national average.

I don't claim they are saints, but painting them as the devil is not truthful.

Sam W. Clyde said...

If something is available at a locally owned store I buy there first. My next tier of spending goes to businesses that support the community by contributing in relation to how much they are selling. If something is not available at either of those two levels I will cave and go to the big stores. Except Walmart, the company is sleezy and responsible for blighted communities all over the country and soon the world. They will give a whopping $25.00 gift certificate to local charities after they jump through hoops. Walmart has grants that take months to apply for and then maybe one is awarded.Walmart removes more from communites than they give. People who shop there are tricked into spending more than they should.
Local busineses give dailey to their customers who ask for assistance with little or no red tape. Business owners, managers and employees are regularly seen volunteering at any number of events, and on many community boards and committees. I have never seen anyone from Walmart helping with anything off site at Walmart.
Congratualations for getting help at Lowes. I assume you have not ventured into the plant section to see the tortured plants and clueless employees. True Value is a better choice. True Value also supports the community by donating product, time and money. George Sheffer reinvests in the community everyday.
Arnold's Market, Quatros, Paglias, Newell House, Tres HOmbres, Global Gourmet, 710 Book Store, Holt's Tire, Mary Lou's , Harbaughs, Tina's Hallmark, get a whole bunch of my money. I do need to buy clothes locally and shop at Penny's and Kohls rather than traveling out of the area.
Before the chain drug stores put Atwoods out of business I shopped there for drugs and prescriptions.
I invest my money in businesses who continue to invest in the community.
If I am not happy with the service at a locally owned business I go to the owner or manager who I probably know and tell the problem.
They cannot fix it if they do not know about it. Locally, owned buisnesses do not have the luxury of a team of marketing professionals, bookkeepers, foundation managers, training staff at their disposal like the box stores. Therefore, customer input is important and appreciated.
If you wrote this insert to tick me off, congrats you accomplished your goal

Anonymous said...

you are just insane if you think the advice you get at Lowe's is better than Murdale. Wow. Just wow.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I don't know if you have checked out my other hobbies, but I know far more about working with tools then anyone short of a contractor and I know more about building furniture then anyone who doesn't do it professionally. It is the curse of being a Maven (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maven for anyone who is interested) and spending a few years pursuing it.

The retired plumbers in Lowe's are better then anyone at True Value. The retired painter is better then the person in paint at True Value. True Value did have a good construction management senior when I first moved here, he was good.

I have done it both ways, it really isn't close. Of course, I'm always nice and can get information out a stone. Maybe it is you? ;)

Your mileage may vary, but a simple quiz of a few people, shows Lowe's shoppers and not True Value shoppers.

Shawn, the Beer Philosopher said...

This blog got me to thinking - I actually tend toward using the "big box' stores predominently for several reasons - price is generally NOT in the the top two considerations for me as a rule. I hold convenience and staff knowledge to be much more important, generally. If your store can give me these, I'm willing to pay a little more to shop with you. I'm not a rich man, by any stretch, but neither am I motivated exclusively by price ... so what makes me shop where I shop? I shop at Lowe's much more often than I shop at Murdale True Value - They have newer, better stuff and they have a whole lot more of it. Additionally, Lowe's tends to be more competitively priced across the board. A win/win in my view. I, like you Peter, have been underwhelmed with the help at True Value more than once. I live on the West side of town, but I'll drive out to Lowe's because I'm confident I'll find what I need and I won't be overpaying for it. And, on the occasion I might not find something I need readily, I can be confident I'll find someone who can find it for me, unlike Murdale True Value - whose staff have a propensity to stare at you like you're speaking another language.

When we bought our house on the West side of town, one of the exciting things the wife and I looked forward to was our relative close proximity to the new Neighborhood Co-Op in Murdale. We could even walk there on a nice day. We quickly became "owners" and started shopping at the Co-Op with regularity. Then it hit us ... we were paying 30-40% MORE for items we could find at Wal-Mart (i.e., organic baby food), even with the "owner's discount." Now why would we want to shop the Co-Op for what we could get at Wal-Mart for (sometimes) nearly half the price? Why indeed? I'm all about helping the local business where I can, but I'm not about throwing money away. So, we still shop the Co-Op occasionally for items we can't find at Wally World (organic fruit, coffee, dark chocolate, etc ...) but buy the other stuff at the Evil Empire. So sue us.

Anyway, good post Peter. I didn't intent to be so wordy, but your query got the 'ol wheels turning a bit. I'll continue to shop where I shop, and I for one look forward to the opening of Dick's. If it'll save me money, and stock the frizbee I may in the market for, I'm good with it.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, yeah...you know more about everything than everyone. You've already told us that before.

Bottom line, I always get more (and better) help at Murdale than at Lowes. The only reason to even go to Lowes is the larger selection.

sthorne said...

On an individual basis, people vote with their pocketbooks. I've seen research that shows Wal-Mart saves the average family about $2600 a year. With the median family income around $40,000, shopping at Wal-Mart saves them about 5% of their yearly income. Most families won't think about the jobs going overseas where lower wages provide those cheaper products since they are able to afford a better lifestyle because of it.

Cynical prof said...

Why do so many people only care about American jobs? Poor foreigners benefit, and so do American consumers.
As John Tierney wrote:
Making toys or shoes for Wal-Mart in a Chinese or Latin American factory may sound like hell to American college students — and some factories should treat their workers much better, as Strong readily concedes. But there are good reasons that villagers will move hundreds of miles for a job.

Most “sweatshop” jobs — even ones paying just $2 per day — provide enough to lift a worker above the poverty level, and often far above it, according to a study of 10 Asian and Latin American countries by Benjamin Powell and David Skarbek. In Honduras, the economists note, the average apparel worker makes $13 a day, while nearly half the population makes less than $2 a day.

In America, the economic debate on Wal-Mart mostly concerns its effect on American workers. The best evidence is that, while Wal-Mart’s competition might (or might not) depress the wages of some workers, on balance Americans come out well ahead because they save so much money by shopping there.

Some critics, particularly ones allied with American labor unions, argue that the consumer savings don’t justify the social dislocations caused by Wal-Mart’s relentless cost-cutting. They’d rather see Wal-Mart and other retailers paying higher wages to their employees, and selling more products made by Americans instead of foreigners.

But this argument makes moral sense only if your overriding concern is saving the jobs and protecting the salaries of American workers who are already far better off than most of the planet’s population. If you’re committed to Bono’s vision of “making poverty history,” shouldn’t you take a less parochial view? Shouldn’t you be more worried about villagers overseas subsisting on a dollar a day?

Cynical prof said...

Here's Penn & Teller's take. (Warning: profanity).

Jonathan said...

I don't understand how or why grocery stores avoid the stigma of being "national chains," "boxes," etc. The electrician is paying a far greater premium for groceries than for some other items. On the other hand, there are no Mom and Pop groceries any more so it is an oligopoly of chain stores.

Just seemed odd since we had a NATIONAL anti-chain store movement in the 1930s directed against grocery chains. The same arguments against Wal-Mart were made against A&P (does any one remember that "Frankenstein monster," as it was called in the 1930s?).

See my book _Beyond the Broker State_ on chain store politics.

Jonathan Bean