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PRO-Wal-Mart? Hmmm

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 16, 2006

After we published our piece on the bankruptcy announcement of Brown & Cole, we received an angry e-mail in which the sender explained that he wanted to stop receiving the Pundit:

Unsubscribe — why?? Because I am sick and tired of your “PRO-Wal-Mart” stand.

Since we hope this gentleman, who works for a regional retailer, will change his mind we will refrain from giving his name.

But we want to address the substance of his complaint.

To start off with, what does it even mean to say that the Pundit is “Pro-Wal-Mart”? It certainly doesn’t mean that we won’t criticize Wal-Mart.

One of the most printed, forwarded and read pieces the Pundit has ever done was our review of the state of two new Wal-Mart Supercenters on their grand opening weekend. Those who haven’t read it, please read it here.

There were a lot of conversations in Bentonville that day and not a one of them was about how “Pro Wal-Mart” the Pundit is.

Or perhaps this reader missed our critique of Wal-Mart’s new system to divide consumers into designated groups. No bouquets from Bentonville for that one either. Read it here.

When I tied together Bob DiPiazza’s departure with all the problems at Wal-Mart, (read it here) Dick Spezzano, former Vice President of Produce at Vons, thought I was anti-Wal-Mart, and wrote us here to stick up for Bob and for Wal-Mart.

Just yesterday, the Pundit snidely blasted Wal-Mart for losing faith with its Every Day Low Prices model. See that here.

So, clearly, if our unhappy correspondent is honest, he will acknowledge that the Pundit has often spoken critically of Wal-Mart.

Yet, there is a sense in which the Pundit wishes to plead “Guilty as Charged.” Most journalism and most trade show seminars look for “interesting” things to highlight. So someone grows fresh herbs hydroponically in the store, as Fiesta Mart once did and they get 200 articles and six seminar panels; another store grows bean sprouts in the store as Pueblo’s Xtra once did, and they get write-ups galore.

And if you run a store filled with interesting imported or organic foods, high-end product and offer stunning presentations, like Whole Foods or HEB’s Central Market, you can sign yourself out of the office and hit the speaker circuit for two years if you want.

But the fact that all these things are interesting doesn’t mean that they are the most important things.

The Pundit wrote a cover story for DELI BUSINESS, one of the Pundit’s sister publications that made this point. You can read it here.

The truth is that for many tens of millions of people, life is rarely more than one missed paycheck away from real trouble and Wal-Mart has made the lives of countless people more comfortable.

That is why they have over 100 million shoppers every single week.

And yes, we think journalists can get so carried away with the beauty of an upscale concept, we forget that most people have more prudential concerns.

The Brown & Cole story revolved around a claim that the company had no trouble competing with Wal-Mart as long as Wal-Mart didn’t “over store” an area.

The Pundit asked what in the world that could mean?

If you have children, nephews, nieces or grandchildren and want to do them a favor, when you get home tonight teach them three little words: Define Your Terms.

When you analyze as many arguments as we do, you quickly learn that it is not so much that most are wrong as that they are meaningless.

Brown & Cole’s claim that it can compete against Wal-Mart as long as Wal-Mart doesn’t over store the area is true. It is true because it is a truism.

How would we know when an area is not over-stored? All the retailers would have good profitability.

All Brown & Cole was saying is the obvious: If Wal-Mart or any competitive retailer does not open a store except when that town has a shortage of retail space, then they will be easy to compete with or, more specifically, they won’t have to compete with them as there would be more business available than they could handle.

Now there are things Brown & Cole could have alleged. They could have said that Wal-Mart goes into a town, intentionally “over stores” the town, lowers prices way below cost and drives competitors out of business, whereupon Wal-Mart closes extra stores, raises prices and extracts monopoly profits from the community.

Except there is no evidence for this.

In any case, the Pundit has no reason to be “pro” or “anti” any individual company. We analyze each situation as it comes out and try our best to make sense of it.

Which is the main reason why we hope our unhappy correspondent will re-up with the Pundit. This board is open to the whole industry. Look at the thoughtful letters we’ve gotten from people like Jim Allen, New York Apple Association; Danny Dempster, President of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association; Peter Goulet of Pinnacle Marketing and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the PMA; Emanuel Lazopoulos of Del Monte and Incoming Chairman of United Fresh; John McClung, Texas Produce Association; Mark Munger, Andrew-Williamson; Bryan Silbermann, President of Produce Marketing Association; Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of United Fresh Produce Association; and many more.

These folks don’t always agree with the Pundit. In fact, they usually don’t. But this is a forum for all kinds of opinions.

If you think the Pundit is soft on Wal-Mart, don’t run away; state your case. Here arguments stand or fall, persuade or don’t, on their merits.

You might persuade the Pundit, but, more important, if your argument is strong, you can persuade the world. That is really what the Pundit is all about.

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