We seem to have a few differing opinions on ‘Merica’s pride and joy so why not stir the puddin’ a little further. Hey, it’s quiet around here and things have been way to slow on this blog. So what say we start with all that is good about Walmart……
Ok, easy enough now how about the bad. (Oooh, I ‘m going to need some more bandwidth for this one). Ok ok, let’s try again as I rustle up some fake sincerity here. What does Walmart do that is good?
They provide a variety of cheap goods for the masses in many categories all under one convenient roof.
They provide jobs.
Give them real genuine credit for this one…they are endeavoring to green up their stores by adding in solar power where feasible and taking an active interest in the environment. Kudos for that.
As for the bad? Well, let’s start with some easy stuff like this…
Or how about this one…Man bitten by rattlesnake at Walmart. I don’t know about anyone else but if I’m shopping the garden section I’d prefer to not have any encounters with deadly poisonous vipers…I can go visit my ex girlfriend for that.
Trust me we are just scratching the surface here. Let’s dig a little bit deeper.
Cheap goods are the mainstay of Walmart. It is what enabled this chain to become the creature of retail that it has become. People do vote with their wallets and they flock like sheep to where ever the cheapest grass is. There is no disputing that. No little Mom n Pop store will compete for any length of time against the buying power of big corporations like Walmart. But take a closer look at what’s in the aisles besides the blood, vomit, and dirty used needles. Cheap, poorly made, low quality crap. Junk that a couple decades ago wouldn’t meet the standards of a homeless person. But shiny it up, put a cheap price on it, and suddenly it’s a bargain. Market it, package it, display it just right, and people will stampede your door to get it. Remember this? People no longer care about quality. It’s all about price. Don’t matter if you need it or not. It’s cheap. Buy it. Give Walmart credit for recognizing this fact and taking full advantage of it.
The foreign manufacturing market has helped Walmart get to where it is today. Most everything you buy there is made in China. Used to be, back in the day, the running gag was anything “Made in Japan” was considered to be junk. Japan was trying to rebuild after the unpleasantness of the 1940’s so they set up manufacturing companies to take advantage of the cheap labor and ship that junk back to the U.S. Now it’s China doing the same thing. It’s rare that you find anything made in the U.S. and if you do, the price reflects that fact thanks to our high standards of living and wages. And speaking of wages…
What about all those jobs that Walmart provides? Those wondrous and illustrious careers in things like cashier management, stock clerk, and my personal favorite…the Walmart Greeter. People like to brag about how much pride there is in having a job, contributing to society by working, starting at the bottom and working your way up the corporate ladder. Go take a long look at the people who work at Walmart or any of those type of retail chain stores. Look closely at their faces and watch them. That ain’t pride you see in their bloodshot eyes. There ain’t no bragging about these jobs. What you are seeing is any combination of the following: regret, resignation, a sense of failure, the realization that things won’t be any better tomorrow or the day after. Chances of promotion or increases in pay are few and far between. Punishments for even the slightest infraction are swift and severe. Goals are always set to be juuuuust out of reach and the push to do more for the company always supersedes any personal aspirations for success. You can see it in the worker bee’s faces, their attitudes, their appearance. These jobs are throw aways. The kind you take “to keep the peanut on the table” as one of my favorite
stalkers commenters likes to say. There are no career aspirations here. It’s just a dirty paycheck to get you through life while you wait for something better to come along. Sure, the corporation may dangle a carrot out now and then. Some promised benefits like health insurance, paid holidays, or maybe even a management position. All of which come with some sort of strings attached. Are they real jobs? Sure, in that they pay out money for services rendered. Are they careers? No. You never see anyone sitting in a bar bragging to everyone that they work at Walmart. (You will however see a lot of people getting drunk in bars BECAUSE they work at Walmart.)
Walmart though is just the tip of the iceberg. This country has gone through some serious fundamental changes over the past century when it comes to shopping. We started out with little local one off stores. The corner drugstore, the local grocery, the department store, the 5 and dime. They soon gave way to the malls where all the stores were in one place. Then the big box stores moved in….Walmart, Home Depot, Best Buy. All homogenized, cloned, and placed in strategic spots near the suburbs. The trend has crossed many facets. Need hardware, go to Home Depot or Lowes, need electronics, Best Buy. It’s even hit lesser markets. Want outdoor sportmans stuff, head for Bass Pro. Need boat stuff, West Marine. Each chain follows the same pattern. Lots of stores across the country. All look almost exactly alike inside and out. All carry the same merchandise with the only variations depending on locations…(You won’t find much in the way of snow removal equipment in the Home Depot here in Key West). Fast food joints do the same thing. In fact, I would say McDonalds was one of the first to adopt this business model. It is guaranteed that you can go to virtually any village, town or city and find a Walmart, a McDonalds, or a Home Depot. It’s also guaranteed that you can walk into any of these stores and see the exact same merchandise that you would see anywhere else. Used to be you could travel someplace and go into a store and find new and exciting things that you couldn’t find back home. That adventure is pretty much gone now.
This very point was brought up to me one day when I was working with some European customers. They said that in the U.S. every city looked exactly the same and they were right to certain degree. What ever made a particular city unique was limited to a very small area of that city. Once you get beyond that central area you see a certain sameness come into play. The strip malls, the shopping centers, and the very same chain stores that you see every where else. There is no individuality anymore. It’s all big corporations running the show.
Walmart may well be one of the top retailers in the world. Their business model has succeeded beyond Sam’s wildest dreams. But at what cost? Used to be when you walked into a Mom n Pop store chances were the proprietor and staff knew you by name, where you lived, and what you did for a living. Your kids and theirs probably played together and went to the same school. You didn’t have to produce two forms of ID or prove you weren’t a criminal just to pay with something other than cash. There was nobody standing at the door to search you and inspect your receipts because if by chance you did steal something, within a few hours the whole community would know about it. Same if you bounced a check. You made good on it because if you didn’t you wouldn’t be shopping there or anyplace else nearby again. There was something called customer service at these places. If you had a question there was usually somebody who worked there who could answer without giving any attitude about it. They were knowledgeable about the products they sold. If you had an issue chances were you would be talking to the owner to get it resolved rather than some underling who was more interested in getting into the pants of the hot new deli clerk than taking care of your pissy little gripe. These stores were owned by locals. The owners were involved in the community where the store was located. They were members of the chambers of commerce. They understood all the little ins and outs of the area where they lived. They sponsored the little league teams, they were active in the local politics, and contributed back into the community. They knew that without community support their business was toast. The jobs these small businesses provided may not have paid much, but you learned genuine skills like customer service and product knowledge over learning an employees handbook that reads like a list of courtroom punishments for failing to toe the company line. How they ran their business reflected all that as opposed to the big chains where the bottom line is everything, profits go back to corporate, and the only people who need appeasing are the stockholders. Keep the prices low enough and nobody will give two shits how you treat the community.
But it’s not like that no more. The Wally Marts, the Home Depots, the McDonalds have a strangle hold on the retail industry now. They have the money, the buying power, the marketing, and the backing of government. Are they successful? Damn sure are! Should we be proud of what they have accomplished? George H.W. Bush made it to President. His family made a fortune in the oil industry. His father attempted to overthrow the government when FDR was president, failed but was never prosecuted. His son, a drunken lout, was elected president twice, left us embroiled in two wars, and essentially created a working police state. The Bush family is wealthy and successful. Anybody proud of them?
The days of the small stores, of individualism, of entrepreneurship, are pretty much over, at least at the retail level. Sure, you may be able to start up a small store someplace and make a go of it for some time. But you know damn well that down the road, over at the shopping center, your customers will still be rioting over $2 waffle makers no matter how much you try to please them. It’s the way things are like it or not.
One of things I love about Key West is despite the influx of many of these national chains, there are still enough local mom n pop stores around to keep Key West what Key West is. But as the Fast Buck Freddies disappear and are replaced with more mainstream brands, we lose a little more of what Key West was. WalMart, if it ever comes here, and I suspect it will eventually, will just add to the loss. We just don’t need it.
If y’all would pay attention and take up the minimalist lifestyle we wouldn’t be dealing with all this now would we?