Thursday, March 30, 2006

Walmart Boycott

In the previous post, I mentioned that I am boycotting Walmart. I have long since called Walmart a "necessary evil." Personally, I have always found the stores to be gritty, the produce to be sub par, and the meats to be poorly cut and packaged. Ideologically, the concept of the store has always given me problems as well. A few years back, I remember talking with a friend of a friend who happened to work at a Walmart warehouse. The stories he told about the employee treatment bordered on brainwashing to me. Then of course there have been the countless news stories regarding about things like locking their night time employees in the store, poor wages, and unfair price haggling with their distributors.

A recent interview on NPR with the author of this book was very telling. He indicated that something like 40 states had law suits against Walmart for forcing employees to do things like clock out then continue working. Of those lawsuits, all had either been lost or settled out of court. He also cited an example of a lawn sprinkler manufacturer in Illinois that had been the major producer of inexpensive lawn sprinkler for decades. Walmart was 40% of their business, and after forcing them to drive down their costs to the lowest possible cost, they insisted that this company either ship their manufacturing to China for cheaper labor costs or lose Walmart's business to an alternate supplier in China.

In terms of communities, I also hate that independent stores can rarely survive due to the variance in their costs of doing business in comparison to Walmart's. In communities where there were once bookstores, toy stores, grocers, and hardware stores -- there are now just Walmarts. And if should some of these independent businesses actually make it, they are forced to raise their costs to the point of being nearly impractical for families on a budget just to stay in business.

Its people like me that gave Walmart its power. People like me who minds my pennies closely and values getting a good product at a low price. And while I'm sure plenty of naysayers will quickly insert that me and my less $300-$400 a month in groceries and household goods isn't really going to make a difference to Walmart's bottom line of billions, I just want to take my power of choice and the power of my few dollars elsewhere, to companies that at least make an effort to be mindful of their community and their impact.

Unfortunately, it seems to be almost too late to save the independents. The local grocer marks prices up sometimes as much as double what Walmart charges just to stay alive, and even then, the news is full of sad tales of how this particular local chain is likely to go under in the next few years. Their nice, clean stores, desireable and often local produce, and keen eye for customer service just is not enough to compete with the fact that the same can of soup sells for a $1.50 less at your local Walmart. For my single income family on a budget, shopping at this store for the bulk of our food just is not a fiscally responsible option.

What I'm left with are the alternate "big box" stores. The other stores that function with a similar concept to Super Walmarts, but hopefully with a less damaging path of attack. I did my research, talking to other moms on a budget, former and current employees/managers of various other stores, and doing a bit of cost and selection comparison. What I ended up with was Meijer, a regional "buy everything here" kind of store that seems to have an eye on its community while still maintaining competitive prices. (Their produce section is LOVELY!) There are other stores I like, but the prices and/or selection limit me to just shopping at them once a month for special items that I can not find everywhere.

This is the luxury of having time during the day to consider the economic policies of your local grocers, research better options, and drive to the next town in order to shop at a more fair minded supermarket. See, us stay-at-home-moms, we're BUSY!!!

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