The other day I remarked on Facebook that I was marking another holiday season where Wal-Mart and I would not encounter each other. I think that this is my 11th year not shopping at Wal-Mart. Some people asked why I avoided Wal-Mart, and how could I resist the bargains? It’s not a short answer, so I decided to offer it here.
I grew up in Atikokan, Ontario well before Wal-Mart made its way into Canada. More importantly, a lot of what I think about business was informed by the experience of my family in running a local business. We had a building supply and we did some contracting.
We also had a Laundromat where I was tasked with maintaining the machinery. It was mostly Maytag equipment. My folks sent me off to Winnipeg one summer to be trained in the repair of said machinery. I guess in some fashion that makes me officially a lonely guy, but that’s another story entirely.
Growing up in a family running a local business I appreciate local merchants in a way that seems to have become less common.
I’ve travelled a lot in my working life. From the time that I moved to Texas I’ve travelled to all kinds of small towns, all over the US. In every one there’s a Wal-Mart. And in every one what was once the downtown core is a wasteland. What few local merchants remain struggle to get by offering things that Wal-Mart doesn’t.
Fortunately, that’s quite a bit of stuff. Have you ever noticed that Wal-Mart doesn’t really have any selection? None at all in reality.
Oh, they have some stuff. It’s usually really cheap stuff. Seldom is it good quality stuff. Therein lay my first complaint. My grandmother taught me that I should decide what I want to buy, save my money and buy good quality merchandise. Buy good quality and keep it nice a long time. Take care of your things and enjoy them for years.
However, when I look around Wal-Mart I find cheap stuff. Not the kind of things that I’d want to invest in. Certainly not the kind of goods that would compel me to scrimp and save.
Their philosophy, and it’s plainly played out in their advertising, is buy cheap stuff and buy more of it. What if I want to buy good stuff? Really good stuff? They simply don’t have it so I am compelled to shop elsewhere.
Then there’s the issue of their corporate behavior. Wal-Mart has a long and well documented history of treating their staff very poorly. They don’t believe in a living wage. Further, their human resources strategy goes to great lengths to avoid paying any benefits to employees.
Then there’s the matter of their purchasing. Did you know that Wal-Mart actually moved their global purchasing office to China?
We always hear how it’s too expensive to make things in North America. The labor costs are just too high. Take the garment industry as an example. Wal-mart won’t buy t-shirts made in the USA.
You can buy a t-shirt at Wal-Mart for just a few dollars. Dirt cheap in reality. The actual labor cost involved in that shirt is a pittance. Less than 25 cents.
If that very same t-shirt were made in the US it might cost 25 or 30 cents more. However, in return for that small added cost someone here in North America would have a job. Maybe more than one person. How great would that be?
Would you not gladly pay $3.50 instead of $3.25 if you knew that your neighbor had a job as a result? I surely would.
But returning to my original point, a $3 t-shirt doesn’t usually survive a handful of washes. So you replace it sooner. It actually costs you more than a $5 t-shirt made from better materials. Buying better quality goods makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t follow their motto of “Always lower prices.”
Today has been declared “Small Business Saturday.” The idea is that we all should visit local shops and start our holiday shopping by supporting the small businesses that form the foundation of our community. This is a brilliant idea! I encourage anyone who might read this to seek out unique and quality goods from local merchants.