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The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart
January 19, 2006 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Choose your own adventure! You are the manufacturer of a premium product. Wal*Mart wants it. They want it cheap. Do you buckle to their demands and out-source, reduce the build quality, and make money on volume? Turn to page 67. Or do you keep your American employees, increase quality, and make money by targeting the higher-end market? Turn to page 28. The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart.
posted by five fresh fish (55 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is awesome! I wish it were the beginning of a trend. Thanks for posting it!
posted by fenriq at 11:09 AM on January 19, 2006


Saw this on Reddit. Good Read!
posted by shoepal at 11:18 AM on January 19, 2006


Makes me want to go buy a Snapper mower and cut some grass.
posted by TedW at 11:23 AM on January 19, 2006


Related reading:

The Wal Mart you don't know
posted by ImJustRick at 11:24 AM on January 19, 2006


Let's here it for manufacturers 'just saying no to Wal Mart.
I don't even have a yard big enough for a mower, but I certainly know which one I'll be recommending to my friends who do.
posted by mk1gti at 11:28 AM on January 19, 2006


Long read, but a well-written one. It makes perfect sense that not all products belong at WalMart. I especially like the tone of the author and the Snapper CEO he interviewed; calm and reasoned, not anti-WalMart hysterical like so many other articles.
posted by Triplanetary at 11:29 AM on January 19, 2006


Theres a lot of fluff before you get to the meat. Be warned.
posted by lemonfridge at 11:30 AM on January 19, 2006


"Wier is too judicious to describe it this way, but he looked into a future of supplying lawn mowers and snow blowers to Wal-Mart and saw a whirlpool of lower prices, collapsing profitability, offshore manufacturing, and the gradual but irresistible corrosion of the very qualities for which Snapper was known. Jim Wier looked into the future and saw a death spiral."

Excellent quote. You really do get what you pay for.

And Snapper mowers rock.
posted by drstein at 11:31 AM on January 19, 2006


Maybe this is a stupid question to ask but, what's the seniority level of a Wal-Mart vice-president? Having worked for an investment bank, I saw that what other companies would call a manager was, in the bank, called a vice-president. Is it the same at Wal-Mart? Are VPs there ten-a-penny?
posted by mad judge pickles at 11:33 AM on January 19, 2006


"Long read"? It's under 3500 words.

A very interesting article. I'm not a customer of wal-mart, but I think the description of the lawn sales VP's office --being full of cast-off lawn furniture --is pretty cool. I like the idea of a frugal company, and I like it when companies eat their own dogfood.
posted by sohcahtoa at 11:38 AM on January 19, 2006


Excellent read, thanks for posting this. Every day there are fewer companies where you can draw these kinds of parallels, and more often than not the customer takes a back seat to volume deals and outsourcing. The sick part is somehow they've learned to love it.
posted by prostyle at 11:45 AM on January 19, 2006


The story is interesting. The story-telling was trying a little too hard, IMHO.
posted by raedyn at 11:46 AM on January 19, 2006


The "WalMart you don't know" article I'm finding more engaging.
posted by raedyn at 11:48 AM on January 19, 2006


Ahh, the "Walmart You Don't Know" article is about Vlasic and the gallon jar of pickles. That's a must read too.
posted by smackfu at 11:50 AM on January 19, 2006


And yes, when I do go to replace my crappy old mower I am definitely going to take a good hard look at Snapper as well.

Actually, I think I might add a link list to companies that don't do business with Wal-Mart so as to not water down their brand to my Wal-Mart blog.
posted by fenriq at 11:51 AM on January 19, 2006


"I like the idea of a frugal company, and I like it when companies eat their own dogfood."
posted by sohcahtoa at 11:38 AM PST on January 19 [!]
Somehow, although there's no explicit description of it, I don't think the VP himself was using any of those cast-offs. The article seems to indicate that only the visitor seating is made up of rickety lawn furniture samples. Of course, sitting on lawn furniture means that you're also significantly lower than someone sitting on a conventional chair meaning the VP would have a significant psychological advantage over any vendors who would be visiting. Somehow, I think the VP is well aware of this.
posted by ooga_booga at 12:01 PM on January 19, 2006


The guy recognized his brand and Wal-Mart were not compatible. Pulling the plug has to do with profits, not any social message against Wal-Mart.
posted by b_thinky at 12:07 PM on January 19, 2006


The description isn't clear, I pictured the VP in the folding chair and the vendor in the chaise lounge. If the VP has a Aeron or something that's no fun. On the other hand, the VP might have a $29.99 walmart office chair, in which case I feel sorry for his lower back.
posted by sohcahtoa at 12:17 PM on January 19, 2006


I was under the impression that Walmart was only significantly cheaper than competitors on "entry level items', ie. a big fucking jar of pickles, whereas specialty sliced product would be comparable to other retailers. They build the perception that they're really cheap by selling really cheap stuff, really cheaply. Most things however are no less money than anywhere else.

This is illustrated by the $99 lawnmower. It gets you into the isle, hopefully once there you chosse to drop another couple twenties on a higher priced (and higher margined) item.
posted by Keith Talent at 12:19 PM on January 19, 2006


You may also want to have a look at this. Frontline; Is Walmart Good for America?
posted by Keith Talent at 12:21 PM on January 19, 2006


Maryland's legislature just voted to force Wal-Mart to provide more healthcare for its employees in the state.

George Will responds today in a WaPo op-ed.

I've shopped at a Wal-Mart before but wouldn't go back, not only for the fact that they're anti-union. The stores are dirty, the service is awful, and the products are generally crap. But America gets what it wants. I hope other companies realize they don't have to play the LCD game to turn a profit.
posted by bardic at 12:23 PM on January 19, 2006


~lowest common denominator

Keith Talent is right about quality--if you buy a $120 TV from a manufacturer you've never heard of, caveat emptor.
posted by bardic at 12:26 PM on January 19, 2006


I kind of expected the article to end with him being shoved in a trunk and dumped off a cliff in the Ozarks.

I'm glad he said no to Walmart and lived to tell about it.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 12:52 PM on January 19, 2006


So, according to Wal Mart's philosophy, the help is poorly paid and treated, the vendors are poorly paid and treated, the customer is an ignorant rube buying cheap crap that quickly falls apart or is not fully consumed so is thrown away.

Everybody wins!

Uh . . . wait . . .

The holes in people's heads are getting bigger and bigger as their brains flow out of their heads onto the floor quicker and quicker.
posted by mk1gti at 12:55 PM on January 19, 2006


Always low prices.....ALWAYS DAMMIT! Now watch out, the Wal-Mart security goons are going to go sit on a shoplifter on the hot pavement until his heart gives out.....to help keep those prices low, always. Even if they have to kill you.
posted by fenriq at 1:16 PM on January 19, 2006


Anyone know the veracity of the figures for insurance that George Will cites in that op ed bardic just posted? I thought it was well established that Wal-Mart's employees were a burden on Medicaid.
posted by kableh at 1:27 PM on January 19, 2006


I swear, after that absolute fuck up they should be locking those assholes away and suing the shit out of Wal Mart until there's nothing left. I remember that incident and it infuriated me to no end.
posted by mk1gti at 1:27 PM on January 19, 2006


I'm beginning to wonder when assassination will become a viable method of social commentary in the USA.
posted by longbaugh at 1:31 PM on January 19, 2006


kableh, it seems to be very much a question of "who you ask." Living in MD, I'm torn by the decision--I agree in principle that companies shouldn't "dump" employees onto the public dole (and that free-marketeers tend to ignore the fact that they themselves are paying for a Taco Bell employee at the ER) but it's hard not to see a bit of Will's point re: states are just looking for new forms of gaining revenue (do state legislatures really give a damn about a smoker's health? of course not--but it's a convenient way to get money, with a shiny patina of "we care a lot").

I just searched around for anything by Harold Meyerson about Wal-Mart and the MD decision--only found this from a few years ago. I'd be really interested in hearing what he has to say, since his numbers tend to be very direct, not as vague and un-sourced as Will's.
posted by bardic at 1:37 PM on January 19, 2006


This is rubbish! There is no social message in that article at all. A businessman decides that his quality product doesn't fit with Walmart's image, and stops distribution - that is all, end of story.

"Today, robots do the welding, lasers cut parts, and computers control the steel-stamping presses. Productivity is three times what it was 10 years ago, and the number of people working here, 650, is half what it was."
posted by wilful at 2:35 PM on January 19, 2006


Also interesting, this analogy he used: " Not every car is a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry; there is more than enough business to support Audi and BMW and Lexus. "

What happened to using the great American cars for analogies?
posted by wilful at 2:39 PM on January 19, 2006


If this sort of thing interests you, The World Is Flat goes into supply chains, call centers, outsourcing, and the "flattening" of the retail and customer service worlds. Friedman's very captivating as a writer and manages to make complex business theory very understandable.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 2:48 PM on January 19, 2006


Lexus and BMW are the Cadillacs of luxury car analogies.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 2:51 PM on January 19, 2006


Relevant anecdote:

I was returning some stuff to Home Depot last night, and I asked the girl handling the transaction how long it took HD to call her back after she applied; I had applied for some weekend-only part time work to make some extra dough.

She laughed bitterly, told me that she was a part-timer working 46 hours a week and she was quitting because HD was generally abusing the employees. "So where are you going to go?" I asked her.

"Wal-Mart," she said brightly, "It's a lot better there."

I shudder.
posted by TeamBilly at 3:04 PM on January 19, 2006


I hate Wal-Mart for an infinite number of reasons. I also have an old mower that is due to crap out any day now, and I know what kind I'll be buying next. Thanks for posting this, five fresh fish.
posted by Meredith at 3:04 PM on January 19, 2006


A mostly enjoyable article, though the long love letter in the middle to Snapper's plant borders on corporate porn...
posted by phearlez at 3:11 PM on January 19, 2006


Man, I hate mowing my lawn, but now I want one of those lawn mowers specifically because I enjoy owning well-built and reliable products.

Nicely placed ad for Snapper! Kudos.
posted by davejay at 3:15 PM on January 19, 2006


There is no social message in that article at all. A businessman decides that his quality product doesn't fit with Walmart's image, and stops distribution - that is all, end of story.

Thank you. This is like the Trek rep telling Wal Mart that Trek would rather sell its bikes through independent bike retailers than a retail giant. He's not taking a stand, and he's already streamlined (read laid people off) his operation by implementing the same demand forecasting and supply chan management strategies that Wal Mart employs.
posted by fixedgear at 4:13 PM on January 19, 2006


I use a reel mower from Lee Valley. I hate gasoline lawn mowers.

But if I were going for a gasoline mower, Snapper would probably be at the top of my list now. I love well-built, lifetime-quality products. They're worth every penny in the end.

As for "social message," wtf? I don't recall there necessarily being a social message to the article: just a warning that if you're a manufacturer, you wanna be wary of getting involved in competition based solely on price. And as streamlined as Snapper is, at least it's hiring Americans instead of Chinese.

America will live and die by the number of blue-collar jobs it can provide its population.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:18 PM on January 19, 2006


I use a reel mower from Lee Valley. I hate gasoline lawn mowers.

But if I were going for a gasoline mower, Snapper would probably be at the top of my list now. I love well-built, lifetime-quality products. They're worth every penny in the end.

As for "social message," wtf? I don't recall there necessarily being a social message to the article: just a warning that if you're a manufacturer, you wanna be wary of getting involved in competition based solely on price. And as streamlined as Snapper is, at least it's hiring Americans instead of Chinese.

America will live and die by the number of blue-collar jobs it can provide its population.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:19 PM on January 19, 2006


fff: My comments weren't directed at you. You posted this as what it is - a straightforward business case study. Manufacturer makes business decision, decides his product is not a good fit with retailer. But some folks seem to be saying "Yay, Snapper sticks it to the man" when that is just not the case. Not sure that I agree with you with respect to blue collar jobs, but I'm no economist. The Lee Valley catalog makes for great bathroom reading, BTW.
posted by fixedgear at 4:40 PM on January 19, 2006


There is no social message in that article at all. A businessman decides that his quality product doesn't fit with Walmart's image, and stops distribution - that is all, end of story.

Why does everything have to have an explicit social message anyways? How does the lack of one take away from this company's accomplishment? That's like criticizing an article about a company that decides to use green energy for its manufacturing plants because it's cheaper in the long run (yes, not yet a reality, but we're getting there). It's supposed to be a victory if the mainstream accepts your ideas because they're pragmatically sound as well as morally sound.

I will agree, though, that saying no to Wal-Mart isn't that much of a stretch for this particular supplier to take. I thought it was still worth the article, though.
posted by chrominance at 5:10 PM on January 19, 2006


Indeed, the productivity of every factory worker is measured "every hour, every day, every month, every year... And everybody's performance is posted, publicly, every day for everyone to see."

God, I would hate to work there.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 5:38 PM on January 19, 2006


Snapper Red Blue!

Just joshing, fff, thanks for the article!
posted by deborah at 7:10 PM on January 19, 2006


The article would resonate more if this was a vender that actually wanted to appeal to moderate and low-income earners and gave Wal-Mart the finger. As wilful stated, this is a business decision pure and simple.

And the lawnchair thing in the office is obvious, so obvious that perhaps the article didn't even mention the reason for it. Perhaps it's not good enough to merely have shorter chairs for guests with a gigantic oak desk for the VP. No, no, no the guests have to be on fricking lawn chairs. There's gaining a psychological advantage and there's just being a dick. And for god sakes, don't trust the sales pitch from a man that has lawn chairs in his office.
posted by my sock puppet account at 7:57 PM on January 19, 2006



Why does everything have to have an explicit social message anyways?

I was responding to several comments which were "hell yeah, stick it to the man!", rather than to the original poster who made no such claims.
posted by wilful at 7:57 PM on January 19, 2006


Fair enough. On the other hand, the decision does, in some ways, "stick it to the man," even if that wasn't the intent.
posted by chrominance at 8:10 PM on January 19, 2006


What really scares me is the throwaway line about "disposable lawnmowers."

I don't believe for a moment that the extraction and processing of steel can be done that cheaply: someone, sometime, is going to pay one huge fucking bill for that initially cheap product.

My guess is that it's blood money: that cheap lawnmower comes at the price of Chinese slavery. The American consumer is going to have to pay that back some day. Payback is going to be a bitch.

What I really don't understand is how "Built in the USA" became so unpopular. Seems to me the fundamental idea is pretty sound: you should support your fellow citizens via your purchasing decisions, so that they can support you.

I doubt our current generation(s) of American citizens are going to come to great harm from this deferred payback system. It's gonna kill yer grandkids, though.

Might as well mention that I think the baby boomers are the biggest assholes on earth. They are the ones who took our society down this path. Gah.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:03 PM on January 19, 2006


Do Snapper make any non-petrol mowers?

If not, I think they're business model may need some adjustment as the cost of running their machines increases.
posted by davehat at 11:54 PM on January 19, 2006


The coolest iSnapper™ is the one that comes with an integrated Intel Core Duo, PCI Express, a Serial ATA hard drive and the ATI Mobility Radeon X1600. With the iSpend™ and iMow™ software you can mow both your wallet and your lawn. With the Lawn Chair™ media experience attachment you can podcast a multimedia lawn mowing experience. When you're done you can park your iSnapper™ in the CarPort™.
posted by srboisvert at 2:02 AM on January 20, 2006


The coolest iSnapper™ is the one that comes with an integrated Intel Core Duo, PCI Express, a Serial ATA hard drive and the ATI Mobility Radeon X1600. With the iSpend™ and iMow™ software you can mow both your wallet and your lawn. With the Lawn Chair™ media experience attachment you can podcast a multimedia lawn mowing experience. When you're done you can park your iSnapper™ in the CarPort™.

Sadly, they've gotten rid of the Dual Layer SuperCutter and it now only cuts at 4x speeds.
posted by howling fantods at 8:53 AM on January 20, 2006


What I really don't understand is how "Built in the USA" became so unpopular.

Well, for my part "built in the USA" is something I associate with a late 80s campaign when I was a teen that seemed the be nothing but an effort to convince me that I should buy more expensive but inferior products just because of where they were made. Not because of valid reasons like child labor or conflict diamonds, but purely because Detroit wasn't willing to compete on the basis of quality, price and innovation.

In particular I remember hearing a lot of messages about American Workers right around when Honda was opening manufacturing plants in the US and GM was heading to Mexico.

I think a lot of that has shaken out since then but there's still an association there for me sufficient that the statement makes me immediately skeptical.
posted by phearlez at 9:34 AM on January 20, 2006


In one of my few US excursions the Target (or was it an early Wal*Mart?) stores were thoroughly decked-out with "Made in America" signs and had big signs proclaiming how much the consumers had helped fellow Americans that week wrt cashflow back to the manufacturers.

It was way more than cars: it was clothing, kitchen stuff, outdoor stuff, everything.

Used to be that buying Levis would benefit fellow American (textile) workers. Now it only benefits Chinese slaves and the board of directors.

There is only one direction for all this to go: the countries that are currently supplying slave/near-slave labour are going to see their standards of living increase -- witness Japan, Tawain, Korea for previous examples -- while the wealthy countries that purchase all this consumerist shit are going to see their standards of living plummet.

Which is how it should be: there's no reason why other people should live in poverty so that we can live in outrageous luxury (and by global standards, our standard of living is outrageously high!)

It just surprises me, really surprises me, that we'd go down that path so willingly.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:19 AM on January 20, 2006


Many years ago I worked for a mid-sized landscaping company. We had a variety of machines from large ride-on (stand-on really) mowers down to gas powered non-self propelled mowers. Our real workhouses however were the snapper self-propelled mowers. They were a joy to use and the picture of durability/reliability. The ones I see today down at the local hardware store don’t look much different. I received a decent Toro mower as a gift when I purchased my home, and to tell the truth it does not appear to be of the same quality as those mowers I worked with all those years ago (though it is a decent machine). If I were buying a mower for myself, Snapper would be my first choice.
I wish more American CEOs thought like Snapper’s! This is the kind of leadership our auto industry could use.
posted by evilelf at 11:10 AM on January 20, 2006


"Wal-Mart's supposed sin is this: One way it holds down prices (when it enters a market, retail prices decline 5 to 8 percent; nationally, it saves consumers $16 billion a year) is by not being a welfare state."

With this statement, George Will pretty much sums up the big business wet dream...And yet, the very same people who work these kinds of jobs (the welfare recipients in his venacular) voted Bush quite cheerfully.
posted by UseyurBrain at 7:29 PM on January 20, 2006


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