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July 29, 2006 5:57 PM   Subscribe

"Workers were also told not to flirt with one another." After eight years of "fiasco", Wal-Mart bails on Germany.
posted by telstar (55 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
The mistakes the articles says Wal-Mart made seem easily rectifiable. I don't understand why they would jettison 85 stores instead of just changing their ways to fit the country. Must be something more to it.
posted by king walnut at 6:15 PM on July 29, 2006


German Wal-Mart workers haven't always been all smiles
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:21 PM on July 29, 2006


85 stores is nothing to Walmart. They have 3000 in the US, plus, from here:
Internationally, the Company operated units in Argentina (12), Brazil (293), Canada (278), China (60), Costa Rica (130), Germany (85), Guatemala (119), Honduras (37), Japan (394), Mexico (807), Nicaragua (35), Puerto Rico (54), El Salvador (59), South Korea (16) and the United Kingdom (322).
posted by smackfu at 6:25 PM on July 29, 2006


From what I heard on Marketplace on NPR, the last five years or so have seen the lowest consumer confidence in quite a while. So even if you have the ability to demand lower prices from competitors, and the most efficient supply system known to man, it doesn't help you when no one wants to buy anything.

To put a turn on the phrase, I think we are seeing the answer to the question: What if they made a Wal-mart and nobody came?
posted by zabuni at 6:26 PM on July 29, 2006


Wal-Mart also made the mistake of trying to get their German employees to take part in the Wal-Mart Cheer. German employees, apparently being more concerned about maintaining their personal dignity and less inclined to engage in public humiliation and self-abasement at the behest of their bosses, were reported to have hidden in the bathrooms to escape the ritual.
posted by deanc at 6:36 PM on July 29, 2006


DEUTSCHLAND UBER ALLES Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
posted by keswick at 6:37 PM on July 29, 2006


Sounds like Canadian and US citizens could learn a lesson or two from the Germans. Wal-Mart cheers my hairy ass: if I'm ever so unfortunate as to work in a place that wants me to cheer, they're gonna have to give me a blowjob first.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:39 PM on July 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


I believe the first Wal-Marts closed due to attempts by their employees to unionize were in Quebec. Canadians occasionally try to fight back, at least. I don't know how much business Wal-Mart does there anymore.

Of course, here in Alberta, people love it...
posted by blacklite at 6:43 PM on July 29, 2006


I wonder-- what are German pillows like? was there different stuff in the dollar bins, or was it the same plastic crap Americans get?
posted by carsonb at 6:54 PM on July 29, 2006



Dear Mr. Walton:

Germany is not America. It is a different country. They eat different foods. They buy different products. German people are, in a lot of ways, different from American people. Their attitudes -- about a lot of things -- tend to differ from those of American people. You will encounter quite a few of these cultural differences in your German operation. Maybe, before you dive in and spend a shitload of money on this deal, you should step back, take a deep breath, and see how you can re-tool this bugger so that you don't run aground on the shoals of cultural differences.

Sincerely Yours,

jason's_planet

(And here I am, sitting in a studio apartment, chasing temp work. I should be a management consultant. I could'a saved those fuckers a billion dollars!)
posted by jason's_planet at 6:54 PM on July 29, 2006


Does any one else find it ironic that Wal-Mart is too rigid and uptight for the Germans?
posted by TedW at 7:06 PM on July 29, 2006


I was in Germany last week touring retail stores. My host did not think going to a German Wal-mart was worth the bother. I liked the Real hypermarkets and the deep discounters Aldi and Lidl. Metro group's stores are pretty intrenched in Germany, just as Carrefour is in France and Tesco in the UK (Wal-mart owns supermarket chain ADSA but it is run on the UK model). These local players have an advantage over Bentonville.

Wal-mart exited Korea earlier in the year as well. I saw a show on CNBC about Wal-mart and they faltered initially in China until changing the way they did things in the stores. Wal-mart does better in countries where it doesn't have large competition and a superstore concept is something new.
posted by birdherder at 7:07 PM on July 29, 2006


They also pulled out of Korea recently. The New York Times is entirely wrong on the details, though.

"put off South Korean consumers by sticking to Western marketing strategies that concentrated on dry goods, from electronics to clothing, while their local rivals focused on food and beverages"

Nope, not true.

"The Wal-Mart and Carrefour outlets in South Korea are simpler in appearance than those of E-Mart and other competitors."

Also not true, although Carrefours do tend to be shabbier and dimmer.

"Wal-Mart and Carrefour sold products by the box, while E-Mart and Lotte built eye-catching displays and hired clerks who hawked their goods with megaphones and hand-clapping."

In Australia, where it's also common (but disappearing) at the low-end streetside retailers (though not at grocery places), it's called 'spruiking'. But no, again. All of the major box stores (including the two major players not mentioned, Samsung-Tesco and Costco (not to mention Kim's Club and others)) and most smaller supermarkets have annoying bastards hired to do this, almost always in the fruitandveg and meat departments.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:08 PM on July 29, 2006


I dunno, it sounds like Germany really didn't give Wal-Mart a chance. Of course, we should expect this kind of anti-Americanism from friends of the French (who probably also reject Wal-Mart). Those froggie bastards.
posted by graventy at 7:14 PM on July 29, 2006


I guess someone must have mentioned the war.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:46 PM on July 29, 2006


I don't understand why they would jettison 85 stores instead of just changing their ways to fit the country. Must be something more to it.

Out of all the people you know, how many are able to change their ways? That is, if they even recognize the need to change? Now imagine this inertia multiplied across an organization consisting of thousands of people.

If you think managing cultural adaptation is easy, then you must be a rich man because countless multinational organizations struggle with it every day.
posted by randomstriker at 8:10 PM on July 29, 2006


smackfu : "Japan (394)"

That's a little misleading. There are no Walmarts in Japan. However (I only found out by Googling, and was unaware until just now) that a few years ago they bought up 37% of the stock in Seiyu, an existing department store. They haven't changed the design or style of the place, and, from what I've read on the net, haven't changed the management style or anything else, either. Basically, they just hold the Seiyu stock.
posted by Bugbread at 8:13 PM on July 29, 2006


Let's refocus on the simplest correct concept, shall we? Wal-Mart cannot, in its present state, exist where there is a union of workers it needs. That's it.
posted by suckerpunch at 11:25 PM on July 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


"Workers were also told not to flirt with one another."

Boys, girls, and kids of all ages, pipe down! You understand nothing about German society, if you don't understand how draconian the above statement must have seemed to German workers who heard or read it.

In Germany, it's all about the nookie. Or, more accurately, the possibility of the nookie.
posted by paulsc at 11:41 PM on July 29, 2006


Let's refocus on the simplest correct concept, shall we? Wal-Mart cannot, in its present state, exist where there is a union of workers it needs. That's it.

Bingo! Wal*Mart is completely incapable of surviving, it its current form, with any kind of peasant worker organization.

End of story.
posted by teece at 11:48 PM on July 29, 2006


Financial details were not disclosed.

Wal-Mart gave it away.

Dear Mr. Walton:

Sam Walton is dead, and Rob Walton does not set the company's strategic direction, or its expansion strategy. You should have addressed your letter to Lee Scott.

Basically, they just hold the Seiyu stock.

It's probably true that Seiyu is operated more or less independently, but I'd be very, very surprised if Wal-Mart wasn't leveraging its global buying power against Seiyu's multinational suppliers. There's virtually nothing for Wal-Mart to lose by doing so.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:21 AM on July 30, 2006


As someone who is, presently, completely trapped in retail. In the US. I say, "Huzzah!" to this. And, boy, am I not looking forward to the end of my vacation. One week a year ... and back to work on Monday.

It seems to me that the drilled-in, programmed American work ethic seems to neglect the importance of rest, relaxation, and enjoyment of life in general. God, I wish I was a college dropout in another country, sometimes.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 12:23 AM on July 30, 2006


Sometimes I really love being self employed.

Sure, I don't get paid for vacations, or have a 401K, or get sick days, but I haven't worked "by the hour" for 9 years.

I took most of the month off after my daughter was born just so I could lay around and count her toes over and over. Then I busted ass for a couple weeks and made $6,000 and took another week off.

I have no health insurance, so I just don't get sick. I don't have "job security" but at the same time, I can refuse jobs I think are sketchy, pay too little, or too much of a pain in the ass.

Wal-Mart is only as big as you consumers make it. I haven't set foot in one since I heard the Wal-Mart Cheer one morning 7 years ago. That alone freaked me out so bad I couldn't give them any more of my money.
posted by Balisong at 12:48 AM on July 30, 2006


Maybe first-hand experience of Hitler had something to do with it...
posted by ronin21 at 2:50 AM on July 30, 2006


I have no health insurance, so I just don't get sick.

I'm really impressed - have you learned how to communicate with viruses and bacteria? Maybe you could share this wisdom to help us end AIDs and tuberculosis -- also, share with us your telekinetic ability to keep all accidents away.

I'm sorry for being snarky, but that really isn't something you are doing. If you have been lucky enough not to be sick, I am very happy for you. But it really isn't an actual strategy, or at least, it's one more like Russian roulette than anything else.
posted by jb at 3:53 AM on July 30, 2006


Kwantsar : "It's probably true that Seiyu is operated more or less independently, but I'd be very, very surprised if Wal-Mart wasn't leveraging its global buying power against Seiyu's multinational suppliers. There's virtually nothing for Wal-Mart to lose by doing so."

Yeah, I'm sorry, my comment was somewhat poorly phrased. I just meant that, from the workers' and customers' perspective (which are the two points being blamed for the failure of Walmart in Germany), Seiyu cannot be described as Walmart. From the supplier's standpoint, I'm certain it would be.
posted by Bugbread at 4:37 AM on July 30, 2006


I'm sorry for being snarky, but that really isn't something you are doing. If you have been lucky enough not to be sick, I am very happy for you.

Eh. Bullshit. Sure, there's lots of stuff outside one's control, where it is indeed luck of the draw, but there's tons of stuff you can do to keep from getting sick or injured.

Simply eating well goes a long ways towards avoiding the common cold and the flu. So does washing your hands. Avoiding exposure to people who are ill is another.

Avoiding injury is manageable, too. It's as simple as managing your risk. In dangerous sports, work, or leisure activities, use safety equipment, train well, know your limits, and don't push yourself harder than you're willing to pay for.

I haven't had health insurance in years and years, and have had to go see a doctor maybe three times, with zero emergency room visits.

And I say this as a drinking, smoking, mountain-biking and skateboarding risk-taker. I've had plenty of opportunity to break every bone in my body and suffer grevious injuries.

Even when I was working with the general public in an educational/institutional environment I rarely got sick. Even though it was often once a day I interacted with someone with a severe cold or flu, if not at least once a week. But that probably had a lot to do with the industrial sized wall dispenser of Purell hand sanitizer and the (well balanced) megadoses of vitamins I take in the form of Emergen-C in a regular basis. (Word to the wise: Emergen-C is awesome, awesome stuff. Check it out. Ask your doctor or nutritionist - if you have one. ;) )

Rerail: Fuck Wal-Mart. I hope you're burning in hell, Sam.
posted by loquacious at 5:44 AM on July 30, 2006


Maybe they should have called in Wal-Macht.
posted by jonmc at 6:01 AM on July 30, 2006 [1 favorite]


called it....dammit.
posted by jonmc at 6:01 AM on July 30, 2006


Avoiding injury is manageable, too. It's as simple as managing your risk. In dangerous sports, work, or leisure activities, use safety equipment, train well, know your limits, and don't push yourself harder than you're willing to pay for.

Sorry for the derail, but this intrigues me. Last month my foot slipped out from under me on a perfectly flat, dry basement floor. I broke my ankle in three places. Without health insurance I would be in a very bad financial state right now. I get the idea of managing risk, but was I taking too much of a chance by walking around in my house?
posted by JanetLand at 7:12 AM on July 30, 2006


eh. I must be evil, I like Wal-Mart.
posted by Atreides at 7:44 AM on July 30, 2006


It sounds like it was less a cultural problem and more a question of underestimating how many discounters were already there:

"But the real killer? Even with its low-price strategy, Wal-Mart failed to differentiate itself in a country already stuffed with cheap-as-chips retailers. After all, Germany invented the "schnaeppchenjaeger" -- the shopper who will drive miles to find a bargain. With more consumers motivated by price than any by other factor, according to McKinsey, hard discounters call the shots, with chains like Aldi and Lidl controlling 40% of the market."
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:19 AM on July 30, 2006


JanetLand : "Last month my foot slipped out from under me on a perfectly flat, dry basement floor."

Had you done what is suggested: "use safety equipment, train well, know your limits, and don't push yourself harder than you're willing to pay for". I bet you haven't, so there. Had you spent some time learning how to walk safely on perfectly flat and dry basement floors, used the recommended equipment for beginners (ranging from very small bodies to a vast assortment of shoes and including wheel chairs and carts) and taken one step and a time (literally), we wouldn't be having this conversation, would we?

As a small software-house owner for many years now, I can relate very well with the self-employed crowd, because I am almost that. I really don't get sick and I rarely had any accident in my life. I have health insurance for me and my family (this is another country, the cost is far lower than in the US) but I know a lot of people in similar situations that manage to go without it.

As for Wall-Mart, way to go Germany! I love to see an advanced capitalist society throwing out this kind of worker hating companies.
posted by nkyad at 9:26 AM on July 30, 2006


there's tons of stuff you can do to keep from getting sick or injured.

Simply eating well goes a long ways towards avoiding the common cold and the flu. So does washing your hands. Avoiding exposure to people who are ill is another.


Eh, bullshit. You don't need to go to a doctor to get over a cold or the flu. The whole point of insurance of any kind is to insure for the unpredictable, expensive to repair, unavoidable events -- cancer, car accident caused by someone else, etc.
posted by footnote at 9:50 AM on July 30, 2006


lucky bastards...
(glucklichen sweinhunden?)
posted by es_de_bah at 10:14 AM on July 30, 2006


Continuing on the side track:
Stress can shown to be a contributing factor in so many of the health issues we face. It promotes problems and slows recovery. Janetland- (this is not a snark) how did you break your foot on a dry, flat floor? If you had been more centered/balanced/grounded could this have still happened? Not having insurance can mean taking responsibility for your own health even when walking around or talking to the phone company about a bill. It is an approach, an attitude.
posted by pointilist at 10:31 AM on July 30, 2006


Employees were forbidden ... from dating colleagues in positions of influence.

...told not to flirt with one another.

video surveillance of their work

working longer hours than their contracts foresaw



Germany wins another war against American Fascism!

.. and other headlines from the Bizzaro Universe....
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:52 AM on July 30, 2006


Janetland- (this is not a snark) how did you break your foot on a dry, flat floor?

I was walking towards the cat litterboxes when my sneaker-clad foot slipped out from under me, and I fell on it (it was actually my ankle that broke, not my foot). I had somebody double-check the floor to make sure there wasn't anything there to slip on, although I had time to check myself as well while I was lying there.

If you had been more centered/balanced/grounded could this have still happened? Not having insurance can mean taking responsibility for your own health even when walking around or talking to the phone company about a bill. It is an approach, an attitude

I'm not quite sure what you mean here. I wasn't carrying anything, there was plenty of light, and I have very good balance; I used to be a dancer. I had just returned home from a vacation and was in a good mood, and am in excellent health; well, before the ankle broke, anyway. Is there some other aspect to this question that I'm not getting? I've been walking more or less successfully for about 40 years, so I'm not sure how I could have done it more responsibly.
posted by JanetLand at 10:57 AM on July 30, 2006


Kind of like how I've managed for most of my life to not walk into walls. Nonetheless, I can not claim complete success in the effort.

Then there are the few times I've managed to fall down the stairs. The ol' brain says "step there" but the foot manages to step there and whoopsie, it's ass-over-teakettle.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:50 PM on July 30, 2006


The video survellience bothers me. Way to go, unions!
posted by ®@ at 1:18 PM on July 30, 2006


Video survellience at Walmart is ubiquitous. Several years ago I did some contract work in the IT center at headquarters in Bentonville. It was your basic IT cube farm, except for the silvered domes in the ceiling. Oh, and the fact that the staff considered it perfectly normal to work 5.5 days out of seven.
posted by djfiander at 1:38 PM on July 30, 2006


There doesn't seem to be a general understanding of the fact that Wal-Mart meets opposition by shutting down stores and/or cancelling plans to open them. There have been a number of examples of towns that fought Wal-Mart's proposal to open stores, and won. Wal-Mart is too cheap to sink resources into overcoming opponents.
posted by orange swan at 3:35 PM on July 30, 2006


In Germany, it's all about the nookie. Or, more accurately, the possibility of the nookie.

Mmmm. Still, I gotta wonder how WM management defines "flirting".

The only place I've ever actually seen a description of trying to enforce against flirting was the "anti-sex league" stuff in Orwell's 1984.

I don't frequent too many big box stores, but I avoid WalMart like the plague largely because of the weird "greeter" ritual at the door. What, are these people trying to flirt with me?
posted by telstar at 5:01 PM on July 30, 2006


Employees were forbidden, for instance, from dating colleagues in positions of influence. Workers were also told not to flirt with one another.

Is this really 'Wal-mart' philosophy in action or a product of sexual harrassment in the workplace laws? I'm frankly surprised it's accepted in Germany.
posted by kigpig at 5:08 PM on July 30, 2006


Isn't the point that it wasn't accepted in Germany?
posted by hototogisu at 6:51 PM on July 30, 2006


kigpig : "Is this really 'Wal-mart' philosophy in action or a product of sexual harrassment in the workplace laws? I'm frankly surprised it's accepted in Germany."

My assumption is that this is a part of Wal-mart philosophy that developed in response to sexual harrassment laws in the US, and those laws are different in Germany, hence the conflict. Kinda like if a Singapore baseball management company had a corporate policy against employees spitting, because of anti-spitting laws in Singapore, and then tried to manage a US baseball team and restrict spitting.
posted by Bugbread at 8:42 PM on July 30, 2006


and then tried to manage a US baseball team and restrict spitting.

would love to a see a cite or two illustrating the differences in US/German sexual harrasment legislation that brought Wal-Mart to its knees in one of the biggest consumer markets on earth.
posted by telstar at 11:17 PM on July 30, 2006


Well, first of all, my comment wasn't about what sexual harrassment legislation entailed, but what corporate policy made in response to sexual harrassment legislation entailed. Usually, company rules are more strict than the legislation itself, in order to prevent a legal infraction. The amount of extra strictness varies from country to country, so it could certainly be the case that both German sexual harrassment laws and US sexual harrassment laws are equally strict, but Walmart built in a much larger safety margin than a German company would.

Second, I certainly doubt that the sexual harrassment/flirting issue is some sole factor that brought Walmart Germany to its knees. It's just one of many factors, perhaps big, perhaps small. Reductionism is usually wrong.
posted by Bugbread at 11:57 PM on July 30, 2006


Wal-Mart is OK if you know precisely what you're buying, don't need to ask anybody for anything, and can handle being around people with horrible manners for brief periods. I routinely drive past the nearest one to shop at Target even if the prices aren't quite rock bottom -- I like being smiled at and even occasionally asked if I'd like some help, plus the quality's noticeably better on lots of stuff. Important with clothes and furniture, less so with batteries and potato chips.

I wonder what would've happened if Wal-Mart had tried an experiment with those 85 German stores: "You can regard everything in the ring binder merely a useful (we hope) suggestion provided you can hit a profit margin of x. If you succeed, we'll be interested in studying why and how Germans do things in German stores. If you fail to meet the criterion, we'll bring in American management teams and do things our usual way."
posted by pax digita at 7:57 AM on July 31, 2006


Eh. Bullshit. Sure, there's lots of stuff outside one's control, where it is indeed luck of the draw, but there's tons of stuff you can do to keep from getting sick or injured.

sorry for derail; this attitude annoys me, probably because I have had the totally unexpected and devastating health issues in my own life and those of people I love. As someone said above, the whole point of insurance is to insure against the unlikely, and allow you to have regular check ups to prevent some of those unexpected situations from not being attended to until it's too late. Sure, treat yourself well and be careful, etc, but don't presume people who get sick did something to deserve it, or that you are somehow smarter or better for not having dealt with any major health issues yourself. I considered my family strong & healthy with almost no real medical issues for most of my life, and then my mom was diagnosed with MS in her 40s, and I got cancer (HD) at 26. A friend of mine from high school died of skin cancer at about 30. These diseases could not have been prevented by washing our hands more regularly - and all of them have much better odds if caught early.

posted by mdn at 8:36 AM on July 31, 2006


A German court ruled last year against [WalMart's] attempt to introduce a telephone hotline for employees to inform on their colleagues.

It doesn't take a PhD in history to figure out that a country that had to deal with the Gestapo and the Stasi might have a wee bit of a problem with a disciplinary hotline dependent on anonymous informants. It's not rocket Wissenschaft, people!
posted by jonp72 at 10:33 AM on July 31, 2006


"If you fail to meet the criterion, we'll bring in American management teams and do things our usual way."

I love it. American style management as a punishment. Yes indeedy, that's about the best characterization I've seen so far of US corporate "leadership."
posted by telstar at 3:18 PM on July 31, 2006


I love it. American style management as a punishment.

Funnily enough, I didn't intend it that way, but actually, I agree that's how it would be perceived!
posted by pax digita at 4:52 PM on July 31, 2006


Intersting story on Wal-Mart here, where this guy tries to make the case that Wal-mart is good for America because it depressed prices along with wages. Complete bollocks, of course.
posted by urthwalker at 9:10 PM on July 31, 2006


It's not complete bollocks-- it's a controversial issue, and why you'd link to that blog to summarise the "Wal-mart is good for America" argument is a mystery to me. If anyone is interested in further reading, this wikipedia article is the best place to start.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:36 AM on August 1, 2006


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