business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a piece last week in which we suggested that it might make sense strategically and from a public relations point of view for Wal-Mart to focus on creating inner stores…which led a number of people to make similar observations. MNB user Jason Harris wrote:

Wasn’t it just earlier this year that Wal-Mart was blistered by the local government and unions in Chicago as they tried implement their urban strategy by setting up a SuperCenter on the south side of Chicago? The “commercial desert” of the south side of Chicago was one of two proposed sites that they had approached the city to develop.

The south side SuperCenter would have been their first entry inside the city “turf”, and thus created quite a furor from several groups. From a consumer standpoint, the south side seemed to be an ideal place to build a new store. No one else has wanted to build there, and the abundant “liquor stores and fast-food restaurants” joined with every faction they could to protect their piece of the pie.

I don’t drink all of the Kool-Aid that Wal-Mart prepares, but many times they do seem to have a point when it talks about the “shopper”. You have probably seen quotes that Wal-Mart sees themselves as an advocate for the American consumer. They feel it is their duty to keep prices as low as possible and serve as a voice for the “little guy”. The “expense of being poor” dynamics seems to be one example of where their “lower prices for everyone” mantra makes sense. As the self-proclaimed protectorate of the American consumer, Wal-Mart’s mantra may be pompous, but in this instance the impact on the consumer is spot on. The shopper will make the choice of where to spend their money.

We all may agree that Wal-Mart’s size has stepped on their share of toes, but stifling competition just because is wrong! Urban areas (especially with heavy union ties), California, and New York City are a couple of areas, that in my opinion, the “consumer” would all benefit from a little price competition. Is it right to keep the recent expansion of SouthWest Airlines out of Chicago just to protect United and American from their low cost price structure? Who benefits in the situation? The consumer.

Fair competition benefits everyone!

Another MNB user wrote:

I'll start off by saying that I didn't read the actual Chicago Tribune article but am only responding to your mention of it. The Chicago Tribune should be fully aware that Wal-Mart petitioned the city to put a store on the south side of Chicago. The Chicago City council wouldn't let them, (I suppose they were worried about all those non-union jobs). Wal-Mart did get approval for a store on the west side after a long fight. The City of Chicago would rather spend $600+ million on Millennium Park than make any effort toward really helping people in the poorer areas.

We had a story last week about how Wal-Mart is doing well selling a KY crème that would be considered a sexual aid, and how this is somewhat ironic considering the retailer’s generally conservative view of the world. To which one MNB user responded:

I recently underwent surgery for a gynecologic cancer. In case having cancer and not being able to have children isn't bad enough, one of the side effects is that I now need products like this one simply to be physically able to be intimate with my husband. I for one am grateful that products like this are no longer quite so taboo. The fact that sales have grown means that people aren't too afraid or too ashamed or too proud to purchase a product that helps them enjoy a normal sex life.

This product has very conservative and respectful labeling. Most Harlequin romance novels have covers that are more provocative than a bottle of KY.

For the people who are so terribly shocked that Wal-Mart sells this item, get over it.

By the way, I had to stop reading your newsletter while recovering from surgery because it hurt to laugh.

We had a story last week about Tesco developing its own biofuels policy, and commented that it was nice to see that someone has an energy policy – that it doesn’t make sense to us to be so dependents on what essentially is a limited resource.

MNB user Wendy Gilliatt responded:

The market is now driving companies to explore alternatives as the article on Tesco shows.

But although I’m hearing a lot about recycled veggie oil as an alternative fuel source, I’ve seen few proponents mention that the price per gallon of veggie oil is higher than that of regular gas. If the veggie oil alternative becomes mainstream, doesn’t it stand to reason that there will be a shortage of used veggie oil? This could possibly lead to a conspiracy among veggie oil producers to encourage Americans to eat more fried foods to decrease our dependency on foreign oil. Veggie oil lobbyists will then buy our senators and convince them to throw the current food pyramid out the window and place doughnuts and French fries at the 5 servings a day range. Obesity levels will skyrocket…

Maybe we can just go back to the horse. But of course there’s PETA….

MNB user Gloria McVeigh wrote:

Agree with you whole-heartedly about the need to develop replacements for oil. Should have been done long ago. Imagine where we'd be today if we'd started committing serious R+D money during the first oil crisis in the early 1970's.

But there's another cost connected with our dependence on foreign oil, and that's the lives of the American men and women who've died there over the years (1,964 in Iraq, by last count). Their sacrifices should add
an urgency to our search for alternative energy sources.

On the subject of boxed wine, MNB user Cheryl Lewis responded to one of our stories and commentaries:

I completely agree – boxed wine is an assault to the senses – looks cheap, smells cheap, tastes cheap and the price is cheap. Give me a bottle of a good dry red wine every time, preferably with a cork!

Another MNB user wrote:

I appreciate the opinion you continue to hold about boxed wines, to say nothing of screw tops, but let me give you my perspective. I think at least part of the growth in wine drinking in the U.S. reflects baby boomers and others who are throwing off the heritage of the temperance movement and Prohibition.

My wife and I were basically raised to be teetotalers and evangelical Christians. While we're still what one might call theologically conservative, as Presbyterians now, we are learning to appreciate wine as a good gift from God when used rightly.

Most of our friends are still teetotaling evangelicals with whom we're unable to enjoy our wine, so much of what we consume is just for us two. Boxed wines are a blessing for us because they allow us to consume good wine at a slower rate, so it doesn't spoil on us. While we may be missing out on some of the cultural panache of drinking wine, we are able to enjoy it and its benefits together without wasting it. It also doesn't hurt that they're often more economical. The government here is now carrying more brands of them, so for us the growth of their popularity provides us more choices.

I think few Americans appreciate how much our culture has been influenced by our ancestors' thinking, and this area is no exception. It is also arguably a contributing factor to American drinking problems that we haven't learned how to drink responsibly from our parents and grandparents. I don't think western civilization is so much declining because of this; maybe we just need a course correction.

MNB user Bill Drew wrote:

I know we have gone around and around on the fact that some wine makers are developing, marketing, and selling "cask" wine, but if the wine doesn't lose its flavor, I'd be inclined buy the boxed stuff as well. I am no connoisseur (acid reflux prevents me from drinking most wine), but if I don't have to fight with a damned cork and am able to put the box in my refrigerator for wine that is best served chilled, why not? I'm sure most bottled wine is best consumed whole once the bottle has been opened…but again, if taste isn't sacrificed, give me convenience over tradition any day.

MNB user Bryan Silbermann wrote:

Had to chuckle at your comment about box wines! Fact is, I feel the same way.

However, I was struck by a similar sensation while recently visiting with two high school buddies in South Africa. We used to play in a successful rock band. There we were bemoaning the lack of “decent” new music today. While reflecting on that conversation a few days later, I realized that we were obviously getting old. After all, we were sounding just like our parents…

On the subject of health clinics in retail stores, MNB user Ron Pizur observed:

Why would people not "want people getting flu shots or treatment for basic diseases just a few aisles over from where the fresh produce is being sold"?

Most grocery stores have a pharmacy in them now and I'm sure some of the people getting their prescriptions filled are sick with some basic disease and the prescription is a treatment. Plus, getting a flu shot occurs before people have the flu so I would say they aren't sick while their in the store.

I would be more concerned about the pesticides and other processing items that could be on the produce.

What about the people who are sick and still shopping? You see them coughing and sneezing throughout the store. I'm sure they are fingering the produce looking for the best piece of fruit.

MNB user Bob McMath disagreed:

I'm not as concerned about people getting flu shots a couple of aisles over from fresh produce as I would be inviting people who are sick and haven't got a doctor, or who think this is cheaper, to go to one while actually suffering a major sickness. He or she could spread the sickness all over the store in handling produce, cans and packages, etc., as well as sneezing or coughing, etc., and spreading germs on the supermarket carts, etc., when they shop before or after the stop in the MinuteClinic!

Convenience is great, but what about the rest of us who tend to gravitate to the cleanest supermarkets just because we think they offer the cleanest and healthiest products?
KC's View: