The Washington Post reports Wal-Mart is expected to become the world’s largest company when Fortune Magazine unveils its next Fortune 500 in April:
…Wal-Mart’s incredible success can be attributed to the business philosophy (Sam) Walton swore by and which is still in practice a decade after his death: “Try to squeeze the lowest price possible from the people who sell to you, and then pass the savings on to the customer,” explained Kurt Barnard, a longtime retail consultant.
I’m not a Wal-Mart shopper. (However, I do recommend their fried chicken for the next time you have a picnic or tailgate party and they’ve got good prices on DVDs, but I wouldn’t know anything else because I don’t shop there. Much. Okay, okay. I don’t shop there unless I can’t find what I need at Sam’s.)
Despite my desire to support Main Street merchants and local grocers, Wal-Mart has done more to bury small retailers than any force in history. Sam Walton admits as much in
his autobiography (written a decade ago by John Huey), but also presents suggestions on ways small merchants can compete. The ironic thing is that small business owners, due to our parsimony I presume, are the primary customer-base of Wal-Mart’s “buyers club” unit, Sam’s Club. For example, the restaurant in our office building uses Sam’s as its supplier for condiments, paper-goods and god-knows what else.
In self-defense, Wal-Mart touts its support of local communities and use of small business suppliers. I’m sure there are many, many examples of businesses which have grown due to their distribution through the Wal-Mart channel. But the whispered chat about supplying Wal-Mart usually revolves around the difficulty of working with them, even for the largest of suppliers.
But Wal-Mart is an amazing success story. I marvel everytime I enter one of their super stores. I am awe-struck when making my quarterly pilgrimage to Sam’s. The spectrum of branded products priced aggressively means American consumers in even the smallest of towns can find amazing bargains.
So I’m torn. Wal-Mart has played a key role in the demise of many small town Main Streets and the businesses along them. But then, Sam Walton started out on one of those small town squares, himself. And 40 years after opening his first Wal-Mart, his small business is the world’s largest business. Number one on the world Fortune 500. I don’t know if this news makes me happy or sad, but I do know it makes me hungry for some fried chicken.