November 14, 2005

Suddenly, The End

Sadly, this will be my last substantive post on Always Low Prices.

Soon, this website will go dark.

I appreciate your readership and participation in this venture; it's been very exciting to have a ring-side seat at such an interesting commercial, political, and ideologically prize-fight. I'm sorry to have to exit during an early round, and it is unlikely that I will return to blogging about Wal-Mart any time soon.

I have not been bullied by Wal-Mart into this decision, but have decided -- not without considerable disappointment -- that my direct involvement in an often over-heated public-policy discussion is no longer in the best interests of me or my employer.

Why am I leaving the blogosphere? Well, I'm not -- I just won't be writing anything about Wal-Mart. My other blog , Truck & Barter will host the ALP archives (which will be closed to new comments), and I will continue writing about economics generally. I take this severe measure to prevent even the appearance of a conflict of interest. My recent public exposure brought this risk to the forefront...

But something more fundamental has happened: I'm getting ready to perform serious research -- on my own -- about Wal-Mart. At the recent economic conference, I asked a Wal-Mart representative if it would be possible to perform reasearch about Wal-Mart's logistics and disaster response activities. While Wal-Mart expressed no firm commitment, and no dialogue has been started between me and Wal-Mart, the mere existence of any such potential personal contact with Wal-Mart that would benefit my career is inconsistent with the independent stance of ALP. In short, I don't want a credibility problem in the future, so I'm taking harsh measures now.

Posted by Kevin at 4:08 PM

October 26, 2005

The Internal Memo

Stephen Greenhouse and Michael Barbaro of The New York Times obtained a copy of an internal Wal-Mart memo discussing how to balance benefits costs with Associate satisfaction and public reputation.

I'll read it all later, but I have to note how carefully written even internal Wal-Mart memos are... For instance, contra Greenhouse and Barbaro, the memo doesn't state that Wal-Mart should "discourage" unhealthy workers, but that "Wal-Mart should seek to attract a healthier workforce."

H/T:Credo Advisors

UPDATE: Ah, Ms. Chambers does use the word "dissuade" (She'll think twice about that again), and I agree that the NYTimes did a good job at getting beyond the verbiage. It's true, Wal-Mart proposed that it make jobs more physical so as to make the jobs less attractive to unhealthier people. But there's so much more in this report than that.

What I don't understand is why the unhealthier people like Wal-Mart's health insurance more than the healthy!

Most troubling, the least healthy, least productive Associates are more satisfied with their benefits than other segments and are interested in longer careers with Wal-Mart.

Read the comments below, as the first reflects heart-felt opinion, and the second good thinking.

Posted by Kevin at 9:53 AM

October 4, 2005

Podcast with Russell Roberts about WM

You can LISTEN to a flash recording of the podcast here; interestingly, you can view the comments as they occured in the discussion.

Russell Roberts and I will have a half hour live discussion about economic issues surrounding Wal-Mart this Thursday, October 6th at 10am EST. You may listen live to the podcast. And if you want to participate, you may send me questions and comments using Breeze. I will see them instantly, and will try to respond to listener views during the broadcast.

Also, you may download the podcast in MP3 format, for later listening.

Thanks to James Reese, founder of Radioeconomics, for this opportunity.

Posted by Kevin at 4:53 PM

Why Wal-Mart Works

In this post, Jim Gilliam came really, really close to figuring out what's going on:

What do I think Wal-Mart corporate's got cooking? Their own movie, of course!
As far as I know, Wal-Mart won't be making a pro-Wal-Mart movie.

But Ron Galloway is making such a film, entitled Why Wal-Mart Works. He is planning a serious documentary about the economic impact of Wal-Mart -- though from a free-market perspective. Mr. Galloway is an independent filmmaker with a mixed background making TV programs and independent documentaries. What's most important, though, is that he has absolutely no ties to Wal-Mart. (He's financing the film himself).

Why is he making this film? Basically, as he tells it, he spotted a market opportunity.

Mr. Galloway has already begun filming Why Wal-Mart Works. He'll have promotional materials at the Liberty Film Festival, held from October 21st through October 23rd, and he hopes to pick up a distributor -- or at least a whole lot of attention -- there, for a planned November 12 release. (It will be available on Amazon, on 11/12).

On a personal note, Mr. Galloway asked me if I wanted to be interviewed for the film, and I agreed. However, these rules require me to discuss only what I can document in solid research, so outside of bringing up questions I cannot answer, and presenting how the debate is currently framed, I'll probably end up on the cutting-room floor.

Other interviewees are to be announced later.

Note that underground talk about the film has already started booming, and Mr. Galloway's current website has seen a 10-fold increase in hits over the past week, so this is not really news to many of you....

(Please note that eventually, the movie's new website will be the currently vacant whywalmartworks.com).

Posted by Kevin at 4:43 PM

September 22, 2005

Rita

* - Wal-Mart has closed 23 stores in Rita's path. 64 facility closures planned. The preparations:

The retailer said it had already shipped 154 trailers carrying more than 620,000 gallons of water in preparation for Hurricane Rita, and 24 generators were staged at Sealy, Texas. Some 42 facilities were prepared to accept dry ice.
Other preparations at walmartfacts.com.

Posted by Kevin at 2:17 PM

September 9, 2005

Katrina (Updated)

* For the latest disaster relief news from Wal-Mart, click here *

Wal-Mart has set up a national online system that allows people affected by the disaster to be able contact one another. Using the Community Crisis System, you may post comments stating your whereabouts, or your concern for someone specific, and search the database by first and last name.

*9/7 -- In the WSJ, Alan Murray writes about the epiphany of big business in the wake of Katrina, but also about the limits to charity because of its corporate structure:

As for the obligation to shareholders, Mr. Odland says that if his charity efforts help New Orleans recover, it will help his company as well. Mr. Scott calls it a balancing act. "We can't send three trailer loads of merchandise to every group that asks for it," he says. He tells of being in Houston on Monday, and talking to someone who wanted Wal-Mart to donate 2,000 blankets to help refugees. Mr. Scott turned down the request. "We have to, at the end of this, have a viable business," he explains.

*9/9 -- 15 stores still closed.

*9/6 -- Wal-Mart associates provide stories from the front.

*9/6 -- Wal-Mart's Mini-Stores are operational in the Cajun Dome, Monroe Civic Center.

*9/6 -- In addition to Wal-Mart's corporate donations, The Walton Family Foundation has donated $15M:

Separately, the Walton Family Foundation is providing $8 million to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. The Walton Family Foundation has already donated an additional $7 million to organizations such as The Salvation Army, America’s Second Harvest and Foundation for the Mid-South.

*9/6 -- On page D1 of the WaPo, Wal-Mart is at the forefront of hurricaine relief:

At 8 a.m. on Wednesday, as New Orleans filled with water, Wal-Mart chief executive H. Lee Scott Jr. called an emergency meeting of his top lieutenants and warned them he did not want a "measured response" to the hurricane.

"I want us to respond in a way appropriate to our size and the impact we can have," he said, according to an executive who attended the meeting. At the time, Wal-Mart had pledged $2 million to the relief efforts. "Should it be $10 million?" Scott asked.

Over the next few days, Wal-Mart's response to Katrina -- an unrivaled $20 million in cash donations, 1,500 truckloads of free merchandise, food for 100,000 meals and the promise of a job for every one of its displaced workers -- has turned the chain into an unexpected lifeline for much of the Southeast and earned it near-universal praise at a time when the company is struggling to burnish its image.

This does indeed set a new standard for corporate response to disaster; whether done out of sincere motives or not, with $20M in cash and in-kind, Wal-Mart has finally received extremely positive news coverage.

*9/6 -- Meanwhile, there are many examples of Wal-Mart asssociates being given temporary work outside the disaster area.

*9/6 -- To boost morale, WM store managers are showing a video to associates of all that WM is doing in response to Katrina.

1. 123 Wal-Mart stores closed, mostly due to loss of power (with 70 reopened as of 9/1/05, and only 18 closed as of 9/6/05. More details about damage here.)

2. Ball joints to haul trailers most popular item before the storm.

3. Families sought refuge in Wal-Mart parking lots??? A commenter on Wal-Mart Watch claims a Target store collapsed.

4. Wal-Mart donates $1M to the Salvation Army and another $1M to the Red Cross. Target donates $1.5 million to the Red Cross. Later, H. Lee Scott announced a donation of $15M to flood victims and the opening of mini-Wal-Mart stores to give away supplies:

As part of Wal-Mart's commitment it will establish mini-Wal-Mart stores in areas impacted by the hurricane. The stores will give away essential items, including clothing, diapers, baby wipes, food, formula toothbrushes, bedding, and water.

5. The looting of Wal-Mart is now a local pastime:

Why stop at everyday low prices?

Giant discount retailer Wal-Mart Stores became a major target for looters rummaging in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina on Wednesday, with thieves hitting the store's gun racks while also ransacking for food and clothing.

The Wal-Mart store in the Lower Garden District in New Orleans was missing its entire stock of guns, according to the local Times-Picayune newspaper, which also said looting for guns and other goods was prevalent in other stores....

Wal-Mart has reopened about 70 of the 123 stores that were shut down in the immediate aftermath of Katrina's strike on Monday...

The strangely peaceful looting of the wrecked store (people selecting goods off the shelves, and placing them gently in shopping carts) was caught on camera:
Residents are seen looting a Wal-Mart and a Walgreens in full view of camera crews and security guards.

In one scene, several people dressed in security guard uniforms join the looters in stripping the Wal-Mart store.

Then other people dressed as security guards arrived and detain some looters.

Reportedly, troops armed with M-16 rifles arrived at the Wal-Mart to disburse the crowd.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco told NBC's Matt Lauer that while officials were deeply concerned about the looting, the government was focused on repairing huge holes in the city's levee system and saving people trapped by floods.

Even the security guards POLICE! are looting:

sg_loot.jpg

Also, Crooks and Liars has MSNBC video of Countdown reporter Martin Savidge confronting the police and other looters.

6. I should also note Wal-Mart will pay associates whose stores have closed three days of pay, even if they were not even scheduled for work:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. initially closed 156 stores in the affected areas. As of yesterday afternoon, 46 were closed. Before the hurricane hit, workers were given a toll-free number to call for assistance or to find out if their store had reopened.

Wal-Mart employees whose stores were shut received pay for the first three days the store was closed, whether they were scheduled to work or not. Employees who need money for food or clothes can ask store managers for $250 in cash assistance. Employees whose stores do not reopen in three days will be provided temporary work at other Wal-Mart or Sam's Club stores if they can get there, according to a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.

The company's "associate disaster relief fund" provides financial help to employees for lodging and food. "We've not had to do this to this degree" before, said Sarah Clark, a spokeswoman. She could not estimate how much money Wal-Mart might spend helping employees.


katrinabadge.gif
See more details at the WM Associates Blog, on which one associate has an interesting photo of a Wal-Mart badge, while another poster describes the damage to several WM stores:
Store 5079, Pass Christian, MI
There is 1/2 of 1 wall left. The only items that were found were an item from the cash office, and 1 camera from the roof.

Store 1088, Biloxi, MI
The roof had 30+ holes in it. The whole backwall is gone, which means that receiving is gone and all of the offices.

Store 1195, Waveland, MI
Had 19 feet of water. Of course most, if not all the merchandise is destroyed and everything has been moved around, i.e. the meat freezers, etc.


Posted by Kevin at 9:29 AM

August 31, 2005

Re: Handguns

Wal-Mart sells handguns in Alaska, but nowhere else:

No handguns are sold at our stores, except in Alaska, where customers who live in remote areas carry handguns to protect themselves from wildlife.
So big-city local officals who get assurances that Wal-Mart will not be selling "guns" are really getting assurances that hunting rifles and shotguns will not be sold.

Posted by Kevin at 11:34 AM

August 9, 2005

Radioeconomics PodCast

James Reese gets me to make off-the-cuff remarks about my dissertation, T&B, ALP, and RAND in his most recent podcast at Radioeconomics. Much of the latter half of the discussion is about Wal-Mart, although it will be nothing new to regular ALP readers.

Posted by Kevin at 2:33 PM

July 24, 2005

Adware? Spyware?

I've had one report of an ALP reader receiving spyware from viewing ALP. Please comment or send an email if you have had a similar experience, or can tell me how Movable Type could set off alarms with a spyware detector. (I personally, have not had any problems, but I'd like to make sure NOBODY is adversely affected by reading ALP).

Posted by Kevin at 10:59 PM

July 18, 2005

Remaking ALP and a Call for New Bloggers

You might have noticed the slowdown in posting on my part. I'm overburdened right now, and will need some time to recharge. So for the next few weeks, I'll be posting few entries, but these will be more along the lines of mini-articles or think pieces rather than just link-dumps.

If you would like to blog about Wal-Mart, i.e. if you would like a place to put your carefully considered thoughts and evidence about the Wal-Mart controversy, and you are neither a card-carrying member of the Hate-Wal-Mart Club, nor a believer in "My Wal-Mart, Right or Wrong", please email me at kevin -at- alwayslowprices.net.

Posted by Kevin at 9:05 AM

June 27, 2005

John Walton Killed in Plane Crash

Jon Gales of mobiletracker.net informs us that John Walton died today:

It is with great sorrow that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., announces the death of John Walton. A Vietnam War hero, member of the Wal-Mart Board of Directors and philanthropist, Walton was killed when the ultra-light aircraft he was piloting crashed shortly after take-off from the Jackson Hole Airport in Grand Teton National Park. The crash occurred at approximately 1:20 p.m. CDT and the cause has not yet been determined. Walton, 58, was the aircraft's sole occupant.

Walton was the second son of Wal-Mart founder, Sam Walton.

May he rest in peace.

Not much else is available yet. Reuters has a snippet (so does the AP), and ABC has slightly more, while CBS has two respectable photographs. Marketwatch has the financial side of John's life.

In 2005, John was the 11th richest person in the world, according to Forbes. Here's a 2002 interview John had with Businessweek about the Walton Family's charitable giving, and another in 2000 about school choice.

Some Farkers are having fun at the dead man's expense, but others are thanking him for his military service.

The Morning News takes a look at the impact John's death will have on
WM stock ownership by the Walton family.

Posted by Kevin at 8:59 PM

April 10, 2005

Alwayslowprices.com is Gone

Alwayslowprices.com, which unlike ALP was registered with the specific intent to profit off Wal-Mart, has been terminated.

And something bizarre is happening behind the scenes at alwayslowprices.com.

Going to that site used to direct you to corporatedomainnames.com. Now it comes up with nothing, and the whois information indicates that it is registered to www.feedtheneedy.com, which is a bizarre "ministry".

Is this a strange defense against Wal-Mart's new trademark war?

Posted by Kevin at 11:51 AM

March 1, 2005

Undergoing Maintenance

ALP is currently undergoing maintenance.1 You might have difficulty loading pages for the next day or so. Sorry for the inconvenience.

UPDATE:Trackback fixed thanks to the wonderful Silflay Hraka.


1 In particular, Trackback is not functioning, and apparently hasn't been for some time. Working on a "fix" now.

Posted by Kevin at 3:27 PM

January 27, 2005

Please Keep it Civil

Folks, I encourage both positive and negative feedback in the comments, but please refrain from name-calling and the like. Poor behavior by a commenter does two things: 1) makes the blog unpleasant for others to read, and 2) makes the commenter sound really, really dumb.

Posted by Kevin at 10:29 AM

January 20, 2005

A New Wal-Mart Blog Rips the Walton Family

Why I Love Wal-Mart...NOT! is written by Rob Bateman a "former part-time Wal-Mart employee" in the automotive department. Apparently, he didn't like working at Wal-Mart, and thought little of his customers, but he insists that he disliked Wal-Mart even before he started working there!

Interestingly, he tries his best to make the Walton's look bad, as a way to get you not to shop at WM. First, he notes that Bill Gates has given $27billion to charity (an impressive 54% of his wealth). Second, he notes that the Walton family has given only $1billion (out of a $98 billion pot).

But wouldn't it be a little wiser to look at what Sam Walton wanted, and what the Waltons still have planned (when Helen Walton dies), which is to give away up to $20billion in stock to reform education in the U.S., making them the second biggest donor behind Gates.

For more information on the future charitable givings of the Waltons, check out this article and Flash graphic posted by USA Today on March 11, 2004.

Posted by Kevin at 10:53 AM

January 8, 2005

Today's Interesting Links

I'm busy today, so we'll lump the rest of the links into one post:

1) Motley Fool: Wal-Mart Paints Bull's-Eye on Itself

Yesterday, Wal-Mart admitted that it allowed people to take possession of firearms without knowing whether the buyers were criminals.

The dots are plotted. All that's needed now is to find an instance in which a gun sold by Wal-Mart between 2000 and 2003 was, or eventually is, used in a crime. At that point, I'd expect the trial lawyers to start connecting the dots.


2. Bowling Green Daily News: Ex-Wal-Mart location to get new tenants

A major redevelopment project under way at the former Wal-Mart building on Scottsville Road will provide as many as 10 new retail spaces...

The old dilapidated Wal-Mart building has been unsightly to passing motorists for nearly a decade, according to the building�s new co-owner and developer Mark Williams of Williams Properties.

�I think if you took a survey, most people would agree it was an eyesore,� he said. He explained how the new development will rejuvenate the commercial center adjacent to Greenwood Mall.

�We�re putting in a new roof, a new parking lot. It will be a first-class establishment when we�re done and you won�t even be able to tell that it used to be Wal-Mart.�

The ambitious project is not a new concept.

�My partner Jim Martens and I have done similar projects with three old Wal-Marts, this will be our fourth,� he said.

3. Appeal-Democrat: Judge won't halt Wal-Mart project

Saying he found no immediate "irreparable harm," a Yuba County judge on Friday declined to issue a temporary restraining order to stop construction of Wal-Mart's Supercenter in Linda....

The Linda store has been open for more than year, yet "not once did Yuba County Citizens for a Quality Environment or any of its members utter a single concern about any alleged environmental impacts from either the construction or the operation of the store," she wrote. "Despite their apparent lack of concern, (they) now vigorously oppose the expansion of the store into a Supercenter."

Kopper has developed a "cottage industry" of filing lawsuits challenging Wal-Mart Supercenters, she wrote. His other cases are against Wal-Marts in Yuba City, Anderson, Redding, Gilroy and Stockton, Briggs said.

Posted by Kevin at 12:28 PM

December 28, 2004

Wal-Mart Wiki

There's a long-term war being fought by anti-WM activists against objective standard bearers in the Wal-Mart entry in Wikipedia. Basically, people are rightly contesting the neutrality of the entry on Wal-Mart. Here's the talk page of the WM entry, where people discuss the errors and revisions.

In fact, the article Criticism of Wal-Mart, meant to give a place to opposition, is also disputed.

(I personally spotted one factually inaccurate assertion in a quick read-through, but I refuse to maintain a wiki).

Posted by Kevin at 11:38 AM

November 3, 2004

WM on South Park

Allison Harnack sends word that tonight's South Park episode will feature WM:

You or your readers may be interested in the SP episode that is due to be aired tonight. The synopsis is as follows:

(Courtesy Mrtwig.net)

The streets of South Park are like a ghost-town when a giant Wall-Mart lures all the townspeople to the new store with its incredible bargains. Cartman becomes a boy possessed by the power of Wall-Mart and its low, low prices. In order to save their town, Stan and Kyle have to find a way to destroy the ever-expanding superstore while keeping Cartman from stabbing them in the back.

Posted by Kevin at 7:53 PM

October 4, 2004

Posting to Resume Shortly

Sorry for the blank slate, but I've been swamped. ALP will have new info in short order.

Posted by Kevin at 2:42 PM

May 5, 2004

Welcome to the New ALP!

Welcome to the new Wal-Mart blog--Always Low Prices.

Besides the posts above, you can find the most recent posts before these here.

Posted by Kevin at 3:18 PM