November 1, 2005

Waking the Sleeping Giant

Wal-Mart lets Michael Barbaro inside the war room:

Wal-Mart is taking a page from the modern political playbook. Under fire from well-organized opponents who have hammered the retailer with criticisms of its wages, health insurance and treatment of workers, Wal-Mart has quietly recruited former presidential advisers, including Michael K. Deaver, who was Ronald Reagan's image-meister, and Leslie Dach, one of Bill Clinton's media consultants, to set up a rapid-response public relations team in Arkansas.

When small-business owners or union officials - also employing political operatives from past campaigns - criticize the company, the war room swings into action with press releases, phone calls to reporters and instant Web postings.

I'm thinking two and five years down the road... what will we all make of this?

Posted by Kevin at 5:49 AM

October 24, 2005

The Two Wal-Mart Movies

Anita French outlines both Wal-Mart movies:

Greenwald is the New York filmmaker who has made his own Wal-Mart documentary critical of the Bentonville-based retailer. Titled "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices," the film presents a negative view of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s impact on communities and has been endorsed by several of the company's critics.

Brothers Ron and Rob Galloway are behind the "Why Wal-Mart Works And Why That Makes Some People Crazy" documentary that takes a more favorable look at the company...

Where can you get these films?
The Galloways' documentary is set to be released for sale Nov. 12 at amazon.com.

Greenwald's film is set for a limited run in New York and Los Angeles theaters Nov. 4, and then will be shown at more than 3,000 churches, colleges and community centers nationwide on Nov. 14, according to his press office.

Each has a blog:

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices

Why Wal-Mart Works And Why That Makes Some People Crazy

Posted by Kevin at 10:25 AM

September 19, 2005

Gary Sutton on WM

In Voice of San Diego Gary Sutton has an intemperate screed against Wal-Mart opponents, but he closes with creative destruction:

So, why worry, right? Wal-Mart isn't as experienced at buying political influence as the unions are. My bet is, because Wal-Mart has no choice, they'll learn to. And in 2030 A.D., should Wal-Mart management decide to raise prices, having squished all competition, somebody new will start opening stores just a block away from each of theirs, undercut Wal-Mart, the public will love this new outfit for it, and just like Montgomery Ward and JC Penney and Woolworths and A&P and Sears and K-Mart faded fast into history, so will Wal-Mart. That's how this free enterprise thing works.

Posted by Kevin at 9:04 AM

August 25, 2005

Wal-Mart for Teachers

WM's new site, Wal-Mart for Teachers, slipped in under my radar.

I think the NEA attempt to have teachers boycott Wal-Mart is a flop and a miserable public relations failure: not because the boycott has failed -- they expected it to fail -- but because a frenzy just never developed.

Failure or not, the call for a boycott was countered by Wal-Mart with a web site that permits teachers to speak for themselves, by providing details about Wal-Mart's philanthropy, and making it easy to send an original letter to the editor of local newspapers.

Nice. (Though telling readers which papers it is submitted to might be helpful).

Posted by Kevin at 8:25 AM

April 6, 2005

Bigger Boxes for Bennington

Though an elephant is still sitting in the corner, let's get back to work analyzing the Wal-Mart debate.

Art Woolf sends in a link to the Bennington Banner, which reports that citizens voted down the towns anti-big-box zoning ordinance:

Voters soundly rejected a bylaw that limits the size of large-scale retail by 465 votes, turning out for the special referendum on Tuesday in numbers greater than during Town Meeting.

"And this was the only thing on the ballot," said Town Clerk Timothy R. Corcoran.

The bylaw, adopted by the select board in January, was voted down 2,189 to 1,724. Although North Bennington voted 232 to 146 in favor of the cap, it wasn't enough to budge the overall tally.

The reporter, Laura Raskin, does a nice job of interviewing both sides. But two pieces of information are notably absent. How many poeple live in Bennington? How many people are registered to vote? How do I know that turnout was high?

Wikipedia says Bennington had around ~15,700 people as of 2000. This means that 1700 wanted to tell another 14,000 how their town should be ordered economically.

[UPDATE: Art Woolf emails that turnout was ~40%, which implies that ~9500 people are registered to vote in Bennington. To me it's unfortuante that even if a 50% quorom cannot be met, that a vote will have legal authority. Most condominium associations have more rigid voting requirements than small towns! In case, like me, you didn't remember who Art Woolf was, I refer you to his op-ed in The New York Times ($) about the National Trust for Historic Preservation and WM:

We are, however, reasonable people. If Wal-Mart saves consumers 10 percent on their average purchase, we would be willing to make a deal with the National Trust. We'll agree not to accept any more Wal-Marts in Vermont. And we'll even toss the existing Wal-Marts out. In exchange, each year the National Trust has to reimburse us for the $36 million extra we'll be spending by not benefiting from Wal-Mart's low prices.
The man is clearly an economist.]

I personally don't think the economic order should be a matter of majority vote; votes on where other people should be allowed to shop are not, in my mind, compelling political matters.

In case the Banner link breaks, here's CNN/Money's version

Posted by Kevin at 8:56 AM

April 4, 2005

Wal-Mart: A Business We All Can Look Up To

McGroarty sends in a short article by John Semmens of Capitalism Magazine. The skinny: the basic principles of economics vindicate Wal-Mart:

Wal-Mart�s "lowest price" policy is stimulating its suppliers and competitors to be more efficient, which requires higher productivity.

Higher productivity, in turn, is the key to prosperity. By encouraging international trade between the U.S. and less_developed countries, Wal-Mart is helping put these countries on the path to higher standards of living as well.

Wal-Mart is doing all these good things with a profit margin of less than 4 percent. To call Wal-Mart a "corporate criminal," as an article in the January 3 issue of The Nation does, is libel. Wal-Mart is a model of success that should be emulated, not reviled.

Posted by Kevin at 10:19 AM

January 28, 2005

An Exclusively Pro-WM Article

Reader Paul Kelleher sends in a news story that is curiously and exclusively pro-WM.

Mark Coyle of the Glendale Star doesn't look for opposing viewpoints at all, and focuses exclusively on the information provided by Wal-Mart and a discussion with the manager of a local WM Supercenter:

One of those success stories can be found at the Wal-Mart Supercenter at 5605 W. Northern Ave. in Glendale.

Manager David Hakhamian said he began working for the company in 1988 as a cart pusher. He eventually moved to different areas, including receiving, sales floor, cashier, department manager, assistant manager and co-manager. He has been a store manager since 1994 and has a goal of becoming a district manager someday.

Hakhamian said the negative criticism about the company is not true. He said the wages are very competitive and in most cases, are above what similar retail stores are offering.

"I am a living example of how Wal-Mart allows for growth," he said. "I have seen both sides of the story and I can tell you that Wal-Mart is the place if you are looking for a career where you can stay with a company that will take care of you; Wal-Mart is the place."

Hakhamian said his store has about 580 employees and nearly 85 to 90 percent are full time and qualify for full-time benefits. He said a number of part-time employees are also offered benefits throughout the company.

Scott's letter said that benefits "include healthcare insurance with lifetime maximum. Associate premiums begin at less than $40 per month for an individual and less than $155 per month for a family, no matter how large.

"Other benefits include a profit/sharing/401(k) plan, merchandise discounts, company-paid life insurance, vacation pay and pay differential for those in active military service. More than half of our associates own company stock through our associate purchase plan."

Hakhamian said he is proud to be working for the company that he one day plans to finish his career with.

"During my 17 years with Wal-Mart, I have developed through this company and it has given me the opportunity to move up the level that I am in," he said. "I have had a number of different companies that tried to recruit me, but I knew from the bottom of my heart that this is the place that I want to retire from."

Mr. Kelleher objects that "full-time" is not actually 40 hours a week, and that the benefits quoted are rather vague. Anecdotal evidence suggests to me that in some areas of the country, Wal-Mart does have a short full-time week, but I cannot perceive a general pattern. Even discussants at Democratic Underground have noted that full-time was 40 hours when many worked at WM.

Posted by Kevin at 12:12 PM

October 29, 2004

Shopper Petitions for Ferry Farm WM

In Fredricksburg, a man became upset that a WM where his son works won't become a supercenter, after petitions from anti-WM activists. So he began his own petition:

Charles Cooper, who lives near the store, was one of the few who spoke in favor of the plan. He believed supervisors weren't hearing the whole story. He decided to do something about it.

"People who come to Wal-Mart really aren't political, let's be honest," Cooper said. "They are raising families, trying to make ends meet, trying to make their budget stretch. They don't go out of their way to go to Board of Supervisors meetings."

Cooper feels strongly about supporting Wal-Mart because his son, Chuck, works there. Chuck has Down syndrome. Since the store opened, he has been in charge of corralling the shopping carts in the parking lot and pushing them back to the store.

"My son makes a reasonable salary. Chuck gets a $1,000 bonus every year; he gets vacation," his father said. "Wal-Mart treats its customers with dignity."

Cooper approached White about starting a petition shoppers could sign if they wanted to see the expansion go through. White said he had heard the same thing from other customers, so he set up a table at the front of the store.

After two months or so, the petition had collected 4,800 signatures from Wal-Mart shoppers. Cooper presented the petition to the supervisors last week.

Pete Fields, the supervisor who represents the Ferry Farm area, said that even before he received the petition, he knew some residents supported the store's plan.

"My sense is that half the people I represent love Wal-Mart and half the people I represent loathe Wal-Mart," he said. "The district is divided and I'm going to do the best I can."

Nobody speaks for all the people...
Posted by Kevin at 9:50 AM