I like big box and I can not lie
You other brothers can’t deny…

Sam Walton was an all-American genius.  He took the concepts of the corporation, the entity, off of the Eastern Seaboard, and scattered it about across the land, the rural big box store – something that had never been done before.  Everything about Sam Walton’s company is 100% US of A.

He was no more of a politician than Robert Oppenheimer was.  You have to build it.  What the political ramifications are in the next 20 years belongs largely to the citizens at large, not to the inventor.

The hue and cry was that Wal-Mart had displaced and shuttered the downtowns; that had already happened twenty years before, with the malls and K-Mart and super-markets.  The blame properly fell on those institutions for wrecking the town’s Main Street commerce, not Wal-Mart.

What was the revolution of Wal-Mart?  I’d like to hear your ideas, but here are some of my own.

  1. When you drop a massive box store out on the prairie, after cunning study of location and catchment and customer count, you have no competition but the amber waves of grain.  Unlike a mall, there’s nothing around a Wal-Mart but cornfields.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Wal-Mart buys up a quarter-mile buffer around the stores to discourage competition.
  2. K-Mart is a store; Wal-Mart is a concept.  Corporations survive by giving the worst acceptable product at the highest tolerable price.  This is, as the Geico ad states, what you do if you are a corporation.  Walmart is the sluicing of finished product at the in-opening, to the manifold sales floors at the out-opening.  In this, they are no difference than Sears, or K-Mart, or the many earlier corporations which have considered this model.  But they don’t care what they are selling – they care about the breadth of categories of what they are selling.  Wal-Mart wants to sell everything retail to the customer.
  3. They don’t attract customers by advertising – they attract customers by availability.  If you come here and get what you want, you come here again.
  4. American customers no longer understand quality and price.  They know what they can afford; they cannot tell if they are getting a bargain.  They/we are absolutely blind to the details when they walk in a store.  Wal-Mart sells six pork chops for three dollars, let’s buy them.  We don’t need to know if they are good pork chops (or even what the term ‘good pork chops’ might mean.)  We don’t serve meat at dinner based on what’s a good bargain; we serve it by whim, if we even serve it at all, or even have a dining room table.  We don’t know what things cost.  We just take what they offer.

What Sam Walton’s done is part of an awful trend in American society and civilization, but I don’t blame Sam Walton.  He saw a spectacular way to make some righteous cash, and went for it.  It’s really our duty as a civilization to say no to what’s possible but dangerous.  But that concept goes against the modernist, American go-to style that says, if it can be done, it should be done.  Human cloning?  Hoo-yah!  Jurassic Park?  I want a life time pass.  Nuclear weapons?  Got ’em.  Can’t blame Sam Walton for chasing the can-do stick down the rabbit hole of American Corporate Retail.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll look at the problem, and even the way out.