Friday, November 17, 2006


It's something I've known for quite sometime now. It's something I've usually reserved for small, piddly outbursts when with my lovely wife. It's something that's a fairly common sentiment--I'm not alone. It's something that effects my job, my life and, at times, my very happiness. That something is the truth (truth) that Wal Mart is a cancerous, degradative, depressing vacuum of everything that is good and holy in the world. I despise it with every drop of blood in my body.

That being said, my feelings do not warrant writing a book as many have. I'm not out to make a daring and serious documentary about it as many have as well. Just six reasons, aight? For those who complain about my writing dragging on too long, pick up Highlights Magazine for toddlers and find the hidden hammer in the apple tree. This is a rant that is not guaranteed sound reason and substantiation. It is purely opinion and it doesn't come with near the sugar necessary to make the medicine go down. Like the great Mista Chuck D said, "I got so much trouble on my mind!"

My wife and I entered a Wal Mart tonight in search for a doggie gate (they call 'em baby gates, but I think that's a fairly cruel notion) against my will--almost kicking and screaming, however I didn't have quite the energy after a long day at work to go to that length of resistance. So I settled for moaning and groaning like I was in swollen pain...gas, perhaps. In the case that I have to enter a Wal Mart, I usually try to enter at the "Lawn Center" because it is a diluted Wal Mart experience. Usually, you're surrounded by greenery, the smell of moist soil and pesticides. When the doors slid open, I found that this was not the case this time of year. I'm blown away by the smell of plastics. Towering fake Christmas trees lit in the ugliest colored lights, large enflatable Santas that stand 4 feet wide and 6 feet tall, gargantuous lighted candy canes--it's Christmas time, apparently. Only so because Wal Mart told me it was.

Completely random corrugated displays of Christmas CDs, jugs of lemonade (missing the connection there), a display of Coca Cola that tickled the three-story ceiling (tempting me to take a 12-pack of the bottom and run like hell), Dallas Cowboy winter jackets--everything that didn't belong in the "Lawn Center" was now there and I had to dodge and hurdle my way through this obstacle course. Welcome to Wal Mart.

A company man 'til the bitter end.

I'm hoping that Wal Mart considers them "doggie gates" because then, after wandering aimlessly through the supposed "Lawn Center" that looks more like a yard sale, we would end up smack dab in the middle of the pet supplies and there we would find a gate, but as part of the design that brings me excruciating emotional anguish, it's completely on the other side of this megaplex--I don't mean the other side of the front...I MEAN THE OTHER SIDE AT THE BACK OF THE far away from my current location as you can be and still be inside this hellhole. So we begin walking and that's when the post that you're reading now came to me. As the great Paul Harvey says, "And now, the rest of the story."


Wal Mart does everything on a scale that can only be described as unendingly wasteful and desperately immense. On the endcaps, displays and power aisles, product is absolutely jammed in to every possible location. And, not only is there a pharmacy, a bank, an optometrist, hair dresser and photo development center, but there's also a McDonalds--the very definition of "obesity" by its very existance. Supersize your shopping experience by cramming as much chicken McSomethings down your gully as you can while gobbling on handfuls of soggy french fries doused in ketchup. Sounds like a party!

Even Wal Mart's hours are big with many locations staying open all 24 hours selling Fritos to stoners and gas to paperboys.

Simply put, I'm a bigger fella and the one thing I hate is feeling small and anonymous. The feeling I get walking into a Wal Mart is that of insignificance. I'm a dollar figure, a small decimel point on their bottom line. In a place so immense and far-reaching, that's all you are. Before I even pull back the parking brake after getting into my parking space, I become short of breath in an almost panicky state. Silly as it is, it's true. It dwarfs even the greatest spirits. You are reduced from someone loved, someone of importance, someone who has a family and a circle of caring friends to a sharpened number two pencil in a unimaginably large focus group consisting of trillions of mindless robots. And your ScanTron is a store that's the size of five to seven football fields. Every movement you make, SKU you purchase is studied, scrutinized and processed by a gigantic computer in Arkansas (of all places). If you picked your undies from your butt in front of the frozen waffles, they have logged that into a new spreadsheet. They have your fingerprints.

This places is so big, they give you freaking benches now to rest on in case you get tired in the automotive section. They're like park benches really. Except there's no grass, no chirping birds, no water fountains. Just the constant hum of electricity and a child screaming, "I crapped my pants, ma!" Have a seat and take a load off, Grandma. Enjoy the ambience of Wal Mart.


That grinny fella on the back of this happy employee's vest is their signature character. He says to the kids, "Smile, you're at Wal Mart." He says to the adults, "Smile, you're saving money." He says to me, "I'm going to rob you of everything you own, every assett you have one head of brown lettuce at a time." Don't fall for the smiles. It's a blatant and obvious ploy to pleasurize what is otherwise a depressive and sad shopping experience. Yeah, he's dropping prices, but he's it's because he just found another third world country who can do it cheaper, longer and with less of the backend labor legalities. Baby, he's passing it on to you! The Smile Guy is a slave driver. If he had hands, they would be holding a whip that he would bring down ferociously on every country in God's Great Earth that considers copper a precious metal and laughter a luxury.


I always get myself in trouble when I speak in generalizations, but I'm going to do it anyway. If you ever want to feel good about yourself, but equally sad for the world we live in...go walk the aisles of Wal Mart at any given hour (except for when the Daytona 500 is on) and you'll get to experience the very finest of the human species. First off, there's always going to be a guy in camo gear shopping for a tarp to go on his pick-up. There's going to be a swarm of pimply-headed teenagers tearing the electronic section apart. Go to the very back and you'll see two kids in hoods tearing open edited copies of the of the newest rap CD proving the absence of actual thought and reason.

Actually, I'll go ahead and let everyone know now in case you missed the earlier headline, Wal Mart doesn't prosecute for shoplifters taking less than $25 in merchandise. Which, thanks to their aggressive price cuts, $25 can get you a lot of merchandise.

Another thing you'll notice about Wal Mart customers is their inability to keep their mouths closed. It's like a suspended yawn or something. They'll walk from aisle to aisle with their mouths wide open like their experience is so incr3dibly awe-inspiring, they can't help it. Also, Wal Mart customers do not know a proper volume level for communication. That includes both their normal speaking voices (which will typically pop ear drums at close range) as well as the required volume level to get an accurate test of a stereo's performance. A few visits back, I saw a guy standing in front of a stereo that was stripping paint off wall twenty feet away with the bass coming out of the system and he stood there motionless with his jaw at the floor.

You'll always find a couple of people mumbling to themselves and, if you're lucky, this guy will sneak his way out onto the sales floor from the dressing rooms.

He's like the Lochness Monster of Wal Mart. This here is a rare photo of him after he was captured, but not prosecuted because his use of the signature blue bag was considered "endearing and creative" by store management. Plus, he's a paying customer. In fact, he's a stockholder. And while being a Wal Mart stockholder has proven profitable at times, you don't want to become one of these guys.


Bare with me for a moment. I had a thought one day on my long pondering walks to work about the "worst-case scenario" of Wal Mart's long-term effect on the marketplace at its current trend. Follow me on this.

Because of Wal Mart's current domination of the market place, they demand the lowest price on all goods from their vendors. Even if it means the vendor, manufacturer, distributor has to cut their own costs to achieve it. If they can't cut the cost of the product down, they will not purchase it. But since, Wal Mart has shut down or stifled most of the market place, Wal Mart represents the store you want to be in if you want to stay in business. So the vendor agrees to reduce the cost to Wal Mart from $7.50 a unit to a rock bottom $7.00 a unit. Now, $7.50 allowed for, let's say, a slim $.75 a unit margin (10 points), but now they're down to a very slim 3.5 points of margin.


Let's say Wal Mart only agreed to take on 500,000 units of whatever this thing is at $7.50 in which, in margin dollars, the vendor would have made $375,000 for that one SKU. At the new lower cost, Wal Mart agrees to take in an additional 100,000 units so now the vendor makes only $150,000 for that SKU even at 100,000 more units. In fact, the vendor would make tremendously less money for that SKU unless they shipped one million more units to Wal Mart which Wal Mart will not accept unless they come down to $5.00 which, now, is a loss for the company and they would have to write it off to the business expense of making it into the Promise Land which is the overgrown, overstocked shelves of Wal Mart. To be exact, it would be a loss of $2,625,000 on that one SKU if they agreed to 1,500,000 at $5.00 cost. That'd be great product presence, for sure. Triple the amount of product in the field, hopefully you could also triple your sales potential and, thus, the beginnings of a cooperative relationship have begun. That's what Wal Mart would like you to believe.

Thankfully, though, the company decides it's simply too chancy and they don't have $2.6 million to blow on "chance." They decide to instead manufacture 600,000 and make only $150,000. It's tight, but they're making money. They ship the product. Wal Mart spends $4.2 million on the transaction with a tight $150,000 going to the vendor's bottom line. Not a good haul for that kinda cash flow, but just wait until they come back for a reorder.


Because their margin was so slim on that transaction, the vendor has to reduce operations temporarily. Also, 75% of their output has been locked up by Wal Mart, but again, it's worth it. Wal Mart is the largest retailer in the world. If they can start selling at Wal Mart, the world is theirs.

Meanwhile, the product makes it to the store and is stocked. But Wal Mart decides to not sale price the item because their hefty 45 points of margin happen to be, believe it or not, slightly below plan. It doesn't get sale priced at all for the three months its in the store and Wal Mart only sales 15% of their stock or 90,000 units. They pull, pack up and ship back to their vendor the remaining 510,000 units (2% which are damaged from storewear) and Wal Mart is awarded units returned multiplied by cost and the vendor has to pay back $3.5 million to Wal Mart.


So, overall the vendor made $850,000 in their three months with Wal Mart while now they're sitting on $3.44 million in inventory with about $70,000 worth doesn't even work. Normally, they would like to keep $1.5 million on hand so they're over inventoried and their revenues are just above half of their current liability. Since they've had no capital and reduced operations over the last three months on their "chance" at Wal Mart, they've fragmented or completely severed relationships with current accounts. And now they need those smaller accounts somehow take on about $2,000,000 worth of inventory they're now fat on thanks to Wal Mart's returns. Eventually, the vendor ends up in a tailspin and is ruined from their test at Wal Mart.


Meanwhile, on gross revenues, Wal Mart made $1.26 million on the sale of that particular SKU and $630,000 is clean margin dollars that goes toward the bottom line. See who is laughing now.


The truth of the matter is vendors and suppliers are willing to take temporary loss at the potential for future gains and since they need Wal Mart more than Wal Mart needs them, the playing field is completely imbalanced. Wal Mart calls their price, the vendors meet their needs, other retailers are starved to their imminent death and by their vendors and Wal Mart because their cost of goods is so much lower so they're not only competitive on price, they're dangerously competitive. Vendors are weeded out, competition is levelled, new stores are opened, shoppers with nowhere else to go come in by the busloads. Wal Mart gets fatter and fatter. Margins leaner and leaner. Ultimately, Wal Mart sucks the power out of the market place like a government starving their own population. Oh wait, that's right, low prices. Yeah, they're giving back. Sorry.


Let's put it in terms of the music industry to help everyone get a clean notion of where I'm going with this. Wal Mart sucks all of the margins and incentives from the music distributors so the industry starves all other accounts to save their tails on the losses at Wal Mart. Because Wal Mart's competitors are not getting the same terms and discounts on product, they eventually wilt under the burn of Wal Mart's low low prices and have to close their doors. Mom n Pop's, independents, even online retailers are stung. Competition is eliminated. All of the sudden, Wal Mart begins shrinking their music inventory because it's not turning at the current average fixture count per location to fit their needs. Inventory shifts back to the vendors. Vendors have no other home for the product except maybe a few big box retailers (warehouses with cash registers) because Wal Mart has managed to close down the majority of their client base. Further down the road, Wal Mart finds that paper products yield twice the margin dollars that music generates so they lift their music section out completely and expand their paper product selection to take its place. Music industry nears elimination. It's driven online where it makes a measley $.99 a transaction. Artists and labels can't pay for studio time on a new record at $.99 a song and 100 downloads a day. They're working at Wal Mart two months later in the sporting goods section.


Obviously, Tom Cruise is a stockholder and business looks to be doing good.

Wal Mart opens branded convenience stores to compete with and eventually eliminate Toot-n-Totum and 7-11 stores one at a time. They open up a smaller, "neighborhood market" model to compete with and eventually eliminate Albertsons, United Supermarket, HEB, so on and so forth. Now, I'm no economist so perhaps my scenario is exaggerated in a sense, but I'll put it this way, they're moving into Asia in a big way and I know that operation doesn't come cheap. One step closer to world dominance. And they have their loyal, dimwit customers to thank for this. Wal Mart knows that in a struggle economy, Americans typically respond quite favorably to the lowest price without considering what drives that lowest price. And, furthermore, the expense of that lowest price.


The constant hunger of Wal Mart has led to the company going to great, even insiduous lengths for your dollar. The latest tactic is the public announcement that "Merry Christmas" will be recited by all associates as opposed to the more general "Happy Holidays." Not because I have a problem with this because, well, it is Christmas, but using their middle-America, small-town, blue-collar Protestant disposition as leverage against competitors is played. For a company like Wal Mart to use religion as a marketing tool in the interest of increasing sales during the peak shopping season is the lowest that any one company can stoop.

Or they refuse to sell explicit content on a CD because they believe the old school notion that foul language and questionable content threatens the very backbone of society. Not all too coincidently, they're loyal customer base also lives under this rock of perceived morality. Yet they have no problem carrying some of the most violent films in cinematic history. I guess they just really don't like rap music, but they carry the cleans to keep the black population from uprising. They like their Garth Brooks though, let me tell you that! How much sense does not selling explicit rap music yet selling firearms make?

As a rule, remember that Wal Mart is a very powerful gigantic company that spends unfathomable amounts of money on public relations, damage control, lawyers, lobbyists and management to protect their image. As good and pure as they might appear at face value, there's more trouble than one could ever imagine behind those smiles. There's very angry and powerful unions, ongoing litigation in courts across the country and for every unhappy ex-employee, there's fifty current employees bound and determined to protect the entity.

Here, a eerily boisterous and overly exuberant Wal Mart manager tosses candy to his army of employees in hopes that they'll protect him when Judgement Day comes. And he's going to need it because in order for this man to effectively run a store location at the level of efficiency and profitability that Wal Mart requires, people will have to work through lunch breaks, possibly work overtime without compensation and push people far beyond their physical, emotional and spiritual limits without complaint. I'm sure the three year-old Babe Ruth's worth it.

Wal Mart doesn't care what it takes, the truth can't come out. Honesty is a suggestion, but not a requirement. Honesty is so very black and white and Wal Mart can only exist in shades of grey.


I would really be careful suggesting that all Wal Mart employees are the uneducated and naive stereotype that's normally drawn. Only really because I've met many exceptions to that rule. However, I have found that Wal Mart employees fall into one of two categories. Either they're lovably lost or remarkably rude. The lovably lost are the middle-age to elderly employees who usually offer up a grin and some sort of timeless quip as a greeting or farewell. Usually they're polite and begging some sort of empathetic self-talk like, "Aw, poor old man working at Wal Mart," as you're walking away. They look like they hustle about three different part-time jobs to make ends meet. Commonly, the slouch in their back suggests a hard knock life, maybe some heartbreak. You will run into younger types in this category as well. Normally, they're just kids trying to get some money for a used car or, optimistically, cash to put toward furthering their education. But it doesn't take long to realize you're talking to someone with not many shiny marbles up top. Say you're buying charcoal for a cookout. When he/she sees it in your basket, he/she grabs it, scans it and says something completely related to the situation but random nonetheless like, "I really like barbecue." Or you could get the from-way-out-of-left-field, "I have a golden retriever named Barbara."


The other type I more commonly find myself colliding with are the remarkably rude. Customer service is definitely not their forte. In fact, conversation itself is painfully exhausting for them. If you want to meet these people, check out the paint department and the automotive department. They usually apply for these positions. Because there's usually a heightened amount of service (paint mixing and oil changes) required in these departments, the shortcomings on the customer service is up to three times more evident to the customer. Many times, you'll find them bitching and moaning to a co-worker about specific work issues or even attempting to articulately comment on worldly events. However, the end result is most often unpleasant. Because they're worked like sled dogs, they only slouch when they get a chance to. The more of a hurry you're in when you meet, the slower they will react to requests. This is the effect of someone who is jaded from run-ins with management or someone lacking general ambition and a positive perspective. You would too if you had your soul sucked from you every day of the week. Obviously, what a good company would do is replace them with someone who can assure a higher level of customer service, but their specialized knowledge and willingness to tolerate crap from management without resorting to homocide puts them an edge up on their competition.

One thing is visibly evident in every Wal Mart employees' facial expressions and that is an underlying sadness and heaviness. Those smiles you see around the store on all the signage more importantly is intended to encourage happiness from employees. If you need that to get you through the day, I say quit and go work construction.


In closing, I absolutely detest Wal Mart. I'm not campaigning for everyone else to share my hatred, but I do need to make it public so you understand why I tighten up in seizures anytime I'm within two miles of one of these hope vacuums (which it about everywhere in the continental United States). The very structure of Wal Mart's business relies on the assumptions that humans are cheap, stupid and, most importantly, apathetic. Well, I might be cheap and, at times, I might even be stupid, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna sit back and give this company my cashola on the notion that I can't and won't take a stand.

The Root Down would like to thank you for your time.

Wal Mart would like to thank you for your patronage.


Anonymous said...

I have a theory why no one has posted a comment on this topic. We are all still absorbing what is, without a doubt, your best rant to date! Any printed words commenting would pale by comparison to your eloquent verbage..... that or they're still in shock from the picture of the "Wal-Mart Guy"!

As far as your masterful Highlights reference, I was always a Goofus and Gallant fan myself....

Good luck on your turkey!

Anonymous said...

I work at walmart and yes they have sucked every last bit of hope and energy out of my body. Everyday they come up with more idiotic rules and limitations to make my wonderful job oh so satisfying.I believe Sam Walton has rolled millions of times in his grave by now I agree with you onehundred percent.

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