Published on: March 14, 2005
We got the following email from an MNB
user who happens to work for Wal-Mart:
A new book by Don Soderquist, retired Vice Chairman and COO of Wal-Mart, was put on display in the break room of my store Friday, on sale for $9.82 versus a price on the book of $14.99. The title is The Wal-Mart Way
, published by Nelson Books.
What we were shown was a Special Wal-Mart Associate Edition paperback of some 200+ pages. Inside and on the back cover were many words of praise from such as Paul Harvey, Frederick W. Smith(FedEx), Stanley C. Gault (Goodyear), Jack Welch (GE), John E. Pepper Jr. (P&G), the last three now retired. Also Anne Beiler, Founder and CEO of Auntie Anne's, Inc., Steven S. Reinemund, Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo, and Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author.
I haven't had a chance to read the entire book yet but did read one appendix: Perspective on External Criticism of Wal-Mart
. It's only one page long but the last sentence says a lot; at least, to me."Ironically, those who attack Wal-Mart will ultimately play a key role in making it a better company, and even a more successful retailer."
I believe that in the sense that he wrote it, Wal-Mart will listen, learn, and improve their ways of conducting their business which I'm sure their rivals and enemies don't wish to happen.
We think you’re right. Doesn’t make all the critics wrong, but it does mean that Wal-Mart has taken to its corporate heart the old saying that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
As for Wal-Mart’s goal of owning 35 percent of all the grocery sales in the US, another member of the MNB
community wrote:Their goal is very achievable, just look at their entry into the West Coast markets. They are being widely accepted. Their parking lots are full and their prices are low.
We wrote last week that while we think that Wal-Mart’s growth certainly can be attributed to the fact that it has more stores and the perception of the lowest prices, we also believe that its growth can be attributed to not enough stores providing consumers with compelling alternatives.
One member of the MNB
community disagreed:I do not completely buy into your theory that being asleep at the wheel will be the only factor leading to the demise of a competitive run against the big W! When traditional grocers pay twice what Wal-Mart pays someone to put a can on a shelf, they are going to lose out on the unexciting spends like detergent and green beans. Unfortunately, our economy seems to be producing people who do not have much choice but to shop at Wal-Mart. From that perspective alone, Wal-Mart is NOT to blame; they are doing whatever it takes to maximize profits for their shareholders. Where Wal-Mart IS to blame is when they deny the allegations brought towards their monopolistic activities; and the hypocrisy of the just plain folks, down home All-American symbol they claim to portray. They are as cunning, greedy and ruthless as anybody else who has ever been in American business and we as consumers must recognize this. Collectively, consumers are the factor that can slow their explosive advancement….and that is where the other merchants best be ready!
Interesting email on a related subject by MNB
user Mike Stern: I really enjoy your website. It is one of the few that I make a serious attempt to read each day. I am not in the retail biz, but I enjoy trying to be a good consumer. Best quality for the best price sold in a good atmosphere, etc. Maybe it’s the Virgo in me. I am lucky to live in Portland OR. We have a lot of fine grocery stores: Whole Foods, Zupan's (very cool local chain), New Seasons (started by the man who started Nature's , later acquired by Wild Oats). Let's not forget our favorite, Trader Joe's. Great products and great people.
I have heard/read for a long time about Wal-Mart's pricing policies. Price low as a new player, then raise when the rest are dead. Here's my question: To your knowledge has anyone proved this? I guess I always believed this stuff about Wal-Mart, but maybe because I heard it repeated a lot. I know that some commonly held beliefs turn out to be false.
We think that in most cases it is too early, and Wal-Mart is too young a company, to have proof positive about this fear.MNB
user Maria Becker knows how she feels:I, for one, have had it with Wal-Mart. I've made a conscientious decision to cease shopping there anymore. I admire the prices they offer and abhor the effect they are having on competition. I've drawn my line in the sand, and hope others do, too.
Conscientious decision? Or conscious decision?
Maybe both. Hmmmm…
We had a line the other day from Dominicks’ president Bruce Everette, who described the improved bakery offerings in the chain’s new format store as being “so good, it'll make your tongue flap around in your mouth and beat your brains out.”
To which one MNB
user responded:Now that’s a creative use of words! Let's not forget that Marsh is coming to Naperville, and has had the fresh concept in practice for over 10 years.
Point taken. Okay, the phraseology wasn’t exactly Shakespeare or Noel Coward. But it was a food industry executive expressing enthusiasm about a line of food products and not the bottom line. So let’s cut him some slack, okay?
We wrote last week about the fact that it will be tough to get the Japanese to drop their ban on US beef until the US opens its borders to Canadian beef.
Which gave MNB
user David E. Burbank a good idea:It seems like one easy answer here has been overlooked. The Canadian beef industry should institute a testing and traceback program, and go calling on the Japanese to market direct, bypassing US processors.
Reporting last week about McDonald’s considering a plan that would have call centers throughout the US taking orders at their drive-through windows, and then forwarding the orders to the local Mickey D’s, we noted that this only makes sense if the problem is the order taker and not the order-compiler. This prompted one MNB
user to write:Order taking is not a difficult thing if the person taking the orders is fluent in English. If English is a second language for the order taker, add to that the scratchiness of the speaker system and it becomes a test on one's ability to control the temper. Food preparation, however does not demand a command of the English language. That said, this is an English-speaking nation. My minor in college was in another language and I would not even think of applying for a job that demanded accurate communication on my part in that language with others who speak it as their first language, like order taking. If people want to work with the public in a language other than their first language, they need to find jobs in areas where accuracy of understanding and communication is not key. From that vantage point they can continue to work on their mastery of the English language. What are employers thinking when they place someone like this in that kind of position?
My ancestors immigrated to this country to better themselves. That is an admirable thing. However, my generation no longer speaks that language at home. This is as it should be. That is not to say I do not revere my German heritage. BUT I live in America, where we do business in English.
As a part of my job, I often speak on the phone with people who do not even answer the phone in America in English. Rudeness on their part can be a part of the issue at hand as well. When all is said and done, I do not always get the necessary information because the person on the other end of the line, living in America, does not understand that I am asking for their address and verification of telephone and fax numbers and names of contact people. One cannot help but wonder how long this will be a viable business.
And another MNB
user wrote:I started my career at McDonald's when I was 16. I received structured training and, upon completion, earned a counterperson card and grillperson card saying I was qualified to hold these positions. And while I did wear a polyester uniform and paper hat, I was proud of my work. My kids laugh to think I actually liked working at McDonald's. Even though I rarely eat there anymore, I can't go into one without mentally rating it on cleanliness, customer service and food quality. I believe our expectations have dropped so significantly that, as a group, Americans aren't outraged by poor service. I encourage all to say "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore," then boycott EVERY SINGLE PLACE that provides poor service. Customers do pay the bills. Let's vote with our wallets.
On the subject of banning junk food from schools, MNB
user Paul Schlossberg wrote:Didn't we once have a ban called prohibition? That did not work!
The USDA requires that all school districts must have a wellness policy in place by July 2006. There is an emerging set and wide diversity of local school board actions and new municipal and state regulations. Almost daily there are new developments in the news across the country. There is some consistency to these efforts...but some leave much to be desired. Your point about a national set of standards is worthy of discussion...but not a ban. Here are five points to consider:
1. This is about alternatives. The fast food chains are adding salads, fruit cups and other alternatives. They are not discontinuing fries and shakes.
2. This is about education. Schools should be adding nutrition education about balanced diets...not banning foods.
3. This is about physical activity. Schools should have "gym"...as a mandatory class.
4. School foodservice directors are under tremendous pressure. Childhood obesity is a legitimate issue and a serious challenge for them to solve alone. Their budgets are severely strained and the financial losses from banned ice cream, beverages and snacks make it worse. Recruiting and maintaining foodservice staff is an increasingly difficult problem as the most experienced school foodservice directors and line employees reach retirement age.
5. What is happening is "snacks and soft drinks in the parking lot." Student entrepreneurs are capitalizing on the bans. Others are bringing their own (banned) snacks and beverages from home or stopping off to buy what they want while en route to school. On open campuses, an increasing number of students are leaving to buy lunch (as they define it individually) elsewhere.
A prohibition on snacks, ice cream and beverages in schools will not work. It will not correct the underlying problems of lack of physical activity and lack of nutrition education. What's next, bans at colleges or in workplace?
user wrote:Your article this morning about Oklahoma's "...bill banning junk food..." seemed to pass over the need for some specificity in the bill's language. Does the bill really define the banned products as "soft drinks and low nutritional snack items"? This seems to leave a big enough hole in the bill's enactment for any manufacturer to drive a delivery van through. What will the answer be to a vitamin-enhanced chocolate bar? What is the definition of a "soft drink" for this bill (e.g. a carbonated regular sugar soft drink with x% juice added might tip the legal scale)?
What constitutes a "special occasion" where the banned products are allowed to be merchandised? Christmas? Hanukkah? Kwanza? Easter? Groundhog's Day? This is simply nearsighted at best.
As for this type of ban going federal...I doubt it.
Regarding the study suggesting that certain sports drinks are bad for your teeth, MNB
user Frank Rich wrote:I read the article about this study and find one problem. The study used enamel from teeth and soaked them in the sports drinks for 14 days straight - and then assumed this equated to 13 years of normal consumption. Did they take into account that most people (hopefully) brush their teeth, drink other beverages, eat food, etc. between their consumption of the sports drinks?
Responding to an email from last week, MNB
user Laura-Lynn Freck wrote:I raised my eyebrows in surprise when I read another user’s view that Whole Foods could be compared to Wal-Mart and that other grocery retailers should beware of Whole Foods. Whole Foods and Wal-Mart could not be any more different both in their respective corporate identities and in their corporate philosophies. Whole Foods is certainly not a low-price leader and instead gains market share through innovation and by offering a unique set of products. They seek to educate consumers on healthier eating habits and they strive towards environmental responsibility. The differentiation between the two retailers is very evident in their stated corporate philosophies:
Whole Foods-“Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet.”
Wal-Mart-“Always Low Prices, Always.”
Furthermore, while Wal-Mart consistently receives negative press for paying low wages, not offering adequate health care, breaking child labor laws, and more, Whole Foods pays their employees very well, offers extensive benefits, and empowers employees to be true decision makers across all positions. This is a prime reason why they keep moving up on many “Best Companies to Work For” lists, while Wal-Mart has sadly dropped off of most of these same lists.
I think if Wal-Mart truly lived by the creed that Sam Walton dictated, there may be more similarity between these companies. Sadly, however, greed has taken the place of Mr. Walton’s good vision and it is a disservice to Whole Foods to compare them to the current Wal-Mart. More retailers and companies in general should strive towards the excellence and distinction that Whole Foods has attained.
We wrote last week about the dilemma faced by Dunkin’ Donuts, which has blue collar roots but is moving slowly but surely upscale, and MNB
user Chris Frisbee responded:You know, although we bump into a lot of truck drivers when we stop at the Dunkin Donuts on our way from NYC to Cape Cod, we love the coffee and the donut holes. (We get the holes because we are convinced we are not eating as many calories!) Anyway, Starbucks can't fill the niche of Dunkin Donuts!
user was less impressed:Dunkin Donuts should take a close look at how Tim Horton's operates their coffee shops.
Dunkin Donuts needs a reality check. They have the best coffee, but their menu is very weak. The hospital lunchroom atmosphere doesn't help much either. Lower the franchise fee and I would buy a franchise as long as they worked with me to "build outside the current Dunkin Donuts box"...............no pun intended!
We suggested that some retailers might be able to use the lack of food available on airplanes as an opportunity to serve their customers, which prompted one MNB
user to write:Great comments about the airline food. In addition to food retailers having an opportunity, it would seem to me to be a big opportunity for a healthy fast food airport stand that features grab and go food. Travelers could simply grab a healthy meal to carry on the plane. MNB
user Mark McSwain observed:The best airline food I have had in quite a while came from Potbelly's Sandwich Works on my way through Midway Airport in Chicago. They made my sandwich to order wrapped it and packaged it in a brown bag for travel. Potbelly's has found a great market and I hope they spread to more airports.
Regarding the possibility that A&P might sell its Canadian operations, MNB
user David J. Livingston wrote:A&P always says there is no truth to sale rumors. About 3 years ago A&P took out a full page ad in the Milwaukee Journal claiming that no more stores would close and they were committed to staying open. All the rumors of selling out were false. The following month they began closing stores one by one and then finally sold off the rest to Roundy’s and a few other operators.
All companies deny sale rumors to keep employees from overreacting. It’s very rare that a company will announce they have a division for sale. Ahold did it with Bruno's. I think it was the right thing to do. It gives employees a chance to prepare and start a new job search while they still have a job.
Regarding mandated gym classes in school, MNB
user Denise Remark-Lundell wrote: I have never been what I'd describe as "athletic". Throughout my school years I HATED playing games like volleyball, kickball, softball, etc.; I wasn't good at these games & I was small & easily "out-played" by the bigger girls.
But, I LOVED exercising! My favorite gym days were when we did what we now call aerobics. To that end, I see no problem with 30 minutes of daily exercise in schools. Daily activity is important. Kids don't seem to play outside these days as much as we did when we were young but they still require physical activities. There may even be a study somewhere advancing the idea that students are more attentive when they exercise in school.
One a related matter, one MNB
user chimed in:In response to "Some suggest listing weight and body mass index on report cards as a wake up call.” that would be a shame. Yes, many children (and Parents) need a wake up call, however there are many children out there who have real health problems that are causing their weight issues. I have a niece who being 1 out of 6 children was the only one in the family who was obese, it was due to a thyroid problem. School is to teach our children academically not to judge them on their health.MNB
user Janet Miller wrote:It seems so obvious that everything at school is part of the lesson kids learn, doesn't it? Then why don't the school boards get this? It isn't just the classes and books and subjects, it is the atmosphere and the attitudes. So, food, what is so hard about serving kids healthy food choices? What South Beach extols is really all about balancing your diet with the right stuff, not empty calories and fats. Come to think of it, that's what a lot of diet plans are about so maybe the mindset should be right eating not dieting and then it is a natural for schools to adopt. I wonder if it is all about budgets and the reality that it is cheaper to serve junk foods. In these days of failing school levies there is more emphasis on the bottom line than the total learning environment.
Next they can address the "encouraged physical education" problem and bring real balance to developing bodies and minds.
Last week, we described much of cafeteria food as being “slop masquerading as crap.” MNB
user Gary R. Sarner took offense: We supply many schools in MI. with dry refrigerated and frozen food. You were more than a bit harsh and probably not well enough informed to make the statement: “Let’s face it. Most schools serve slop that is masquerading as crap. Nothing more.”
While what you say may be true in some cases, it is the minority and not the rule as you suggest. You have done a disservice to the hard working (mostly) women who get little reward and not enough respect for the job they do feeding our children.
Sorry. But as a parent, we’re appalled by what is served in our school cafeteria.
A response to Heineken’s plans to unveil a light beer from one MNB
user:I think this is a good move by them. I see their loyal customers enjoying Heineken Light because it seems like their customers are health conscious just as much as Budweiser drinkers that switched to Bud Light. Sam Adams Light has gone well and I have been known to purchase it from time to time. The question is, can they make it have the same consistency that Heineken has? I believe so.MNB
reported the other day South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds has signed into law legislation creating the South Dakota Certified Beef Program, which will allow consumers to find out where in the state the beef that they buy came from, tracking the animal from birth to the feedlot and eventually to the meatpacking plant.
To which MNB
user Dan Raftery responded:This program can't miss. The governor is named Rounds. And I heard that Sir Loin, the Canadian parliamentary noble, is so delighted that he sent his personal emissary, Chuck Shanks to meat with Rounds.
Not sure if you’d call these jokes medium rare or well done.
We report, you decide.