business news in context, analysis with attitude

Lots of reaction to yesterday’s piece about “We Are A Wal-Mart Nation.”

One MNB user wrote:

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

“Government intervention may be necessary. Laws in the past to prevent monopolies lead to diversification of companies. Wal-Mart is now taking the diversification idea to a new level. It is rather like watching flowing lava heading toward a small living tree--you know eventually that it will surround the tree and burn it. Wal-Mart will swallow up the competition, slowly but surely. The scary thing is that it is advancing in uncharted territory, in ways no business has gone before. We dare not all stand around and watch, clucking our tongues indicating that we knew it might happen. Once it’s happened, it will be too late.”

Another MNB user wrote:

“During the past year my wife, who previously would not go near a Wal-Mart, finds herself making bi-weekly treks to the store. The only problem Wal-Mart has for our family is location. The nearest store is a good 15 - 20 minutes away. Penetrating our area with smaller neighborhood stores would seem to be a good thing for Wal-Mart. I can drive from my house and stop at 3 Chipotle's in less time than I can get to 1 Wal-Mart!”

Another MNB user wrote:

“Remember what happened when Standard Oil was considered too big a threat. There's always someone ready to step in and try to be the giant killer, whether it's competitors or regulators. If you can't beat them with a big stick, strangle them with red tape. Of course, it takes a few decades sometimes.”

We suggested yesterday that while Wal-Mart may think of itself as America’s store, the Dallas Cowboys used to think of themselves as America’s team, and look what happened to them.

Which prompted the following response from an MNB user:

“I hear your comparison of Wal-Mart and the Dallas Cowboys. However, I am one of the many executives in the industry who are frequently courted by recruiters looking to pull talent into the Wal-Mart organization. I don't think that I am particularly visible so I can only assume that Wal-Mart's recruiting efforts are quite extensive and thorough. While I am currently very happy where I am employed, I must admit that I've kept their recruiters' numbers in my rolodex! Wal-Mart isn't likely to let themselves fall into the talent vacuum trap the Cowboys did.”

Gee, they’ve never called the Content Guy…

Yesterday, we ran an email from a member of the MNB community who said that “Kmart should have known years ago that they could not compete with Wal-Mart.” Today, another MNB user responds:

“They did know. I had a meeting, in 1990 or 1991, with a high echelon store operations person, at their office towers in Troy, Michigan. He was very clear then that they could not compete because, mainly, they could not keep up with their store sets as they bought different fixtures in different markets whereas Wal-Mart only used 2 suppliers for store fixtures, thus Wal-Mart could maintain their schematics and Kmart could not.

“Also, as far as pointing fingers, Mr. (James) Adamson was on the board that signed off on all of those bonuses to Conaway Why is he collecting $3,500,000 and not being investigated???”

Good question.

We got several emails yesterday in response to our commentary about marketing to kids, and our suggestion that in addition to special shopping carts and computer games, stores could develop programs and sections that would relate to food and kids’ food interests. There is a difference, we wrote, between distracting kids and attracting them -- and we think the latter approach is infinitely preferable.

MNB user Susan Reed wrote:

“I can tell you that when my children were small I would have done anything for something, anything inside that store to entertain them or make it more fun for them. Yes, I would have spent more money, I would have been able to take my time and look for what I wanted or needed instead of grabbing what I could and get out because I only had so much time before the kids got restless. They hated the shopping carts and were always trying to climb out. They were not comfortable for them to sit in. As a single mother I didn't have the choice to leave them at home. Now my boys are now teenagers and I often stand and watch them making faces or funny sounds for small children in the supermarket that are getting cranky to try and help calm them for the parents. It's not so much that I spent less money, I had to make more trips because I only had so much time before the kids were cranky.

“Who cares why you do it, just do it for Mom's that don't have a choice but take the kids.”

And dads.

Another MNB user wrote:

“Now there's an idea to run with. As a mother of two little gremlins, both of whom LOVE to grocery shop with mom...I would certainly go out of my way to find a grocer that would at least try to provide a better shopping experience for my family. As a working mom, I also use this shopping time as part of my quality time with the kiddos, discussing foods, tastes, cooking, menus, etc. Anything done to enhance or encourage this at my store would definitely keep me coming back.”

However, not everyone agreed with our analysis, as one MNB user was happy to point out:

“Your comments were out of line regarding Supermarkets focusing on "distractions" versus attractions or education. Reality deems that more children are coming to the store with parents. Occupying a child's attention is crucial to accomplishing the task at hand and getting kids involved in the shopping experience teaches life skills.

“Aren't retailers in general in the business to make money and getting people to put more things in their baskets suits that goal? Don't chastise the Retail industry by doing what they do best, getting people to spend money in their establishment. All that aside, isn't education supposed to be in the hands of parents and educators?”

May we respond?

1. We certainly don’t object to the idea of stores making money. In fact, we’re dedicated to it. Our goal was to help them create an environment that would facilitate that, not hurt it.
2. We think that, especially in 2003 and beyond, the store that does not attempt to educate consumers about food and food products is a store that is making a serious mistake. Leaving it to parents and educators is just allowing other institutions to control the “spin” on issues that the retailer should know best.
3. As for being “out of line,” in this case we must respectfully disagree. Though getting out of line is something we do best, and always have…just ask Sister John Aquinn, who used to beat us regularly in second grade for getting out of line.

MNB user Charles L. Schuster wrote in to comment about another user’s observations about Fleming’s…er, shortcomings in certain markets:

“Fleming supplies our independent owned and operated stores from their North East Division. As a matter of fact, Fleming lost their single largest customer in the summer of 2002 as a result and the situation still has not improved. Richard's statement of "bye-bye Fleming" may be correct regardless of whether Wal-Mart ventures into the wholesaling business or not. They just cannot do the basics that define a wholesaler: stock the proper assortment for the market, procure, warehouse and deliver groceries on time at an accepted industry minimum service level on a consistent basis.”

In response to our continuing stories about obesity lawsuits, one MNB user wrote:

“The reason plaintiffs and attorneys pursue these ‘abnegation of personal responsibility’ lawsuits is because, under current law, THEY CAN ! It’s the best argument I’ve seen for tort reform and limiting awards in these types of lawsuits that I can think of. But then, most legislators are lawyers……..”

Responding to our story yesterday that said there is a new study out that acrylamides in fried foods aren’t carcinogenic after all, MNB user Richard A. Cognetti Jr. wrote:
“Biggy-size those fries………only 0.99 cents at Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s etc! Second only a penny!!”

Pardon us if we resist…

A final comment (for today, anyway) about the Miller Lite beer commercial from a member of the MNB community:

“I stopped at the Supermarket last evening. Miller Lite $6.99; A-B's Natural Light $4.79. Guess which one went into my shopping cart.”

Guess they didn’t have Abita Turbodog on sale…
KC's View: