business news in context, analysis with attitude

• The Boston Globe reports that over the past month, Wal-Mart has been soliciting its customers in the New England to sign up for something called the New England Customer Action Network, which essentially is “a sort of Wal-Mart defense league that can be tapped if the retailer faces local opposition to its expansion plans.”

More than 26,000 people have so far signed up to be part of the network, according to Wal-Mart, which says that it is attempting to put a human face on the company’s expansion efforts.

One flier being used to promote the organization reads: “If government officials try to limit your shopping choices, or prevent Wal-Mart from opening new stores or improving existing stores, Customer Action Network members can help by standing up for their rights.”

According to the Globe, “The New England Customer Action Network is modeled after the California Customer Action Network, launched four years ago … Members provide Wal-Mart with their phone number, street address, and e-mail address so they can be mobilized quickly. That hasn't happened yet, but the website says network members may be called upon for petition drives, letter-writing campaigns, testifying at public hearings, or just voting on election day.”

One vociferous Wal-Mart opponent, Al Norman, is a former journalist who has built a new career stopping Wal-Mart and other big box stores from expanding as much as they’d like to. And he’s not impressed with the Customer Action Network, telling the Globe that Wal-Mart’s “supporters like cheap underwear, but they're not likely to come away from the TV set long enough to lobby for it.”

• The Wall Street Journal reports that Wal-Mart has informed the various law firms that represent the company across the country that it will not abide any increases in fees. In a memo to the law firms, Wal-Mart wrote, “Until further notice, we will only consider reasonable, individual requests for rate increases for those attorneys in your firm who are performing at an exceptional level.”

KC's View:
If the folks in Bentonville are thinking about legal fees, wonder if they have ever considered opening legal clinics in its stores so it can provide low-cost lawyers to its customers? If they can open medical clinics, why not legal clinics?

Just a thought.

As for the Customer Action Network….all’s fair in the ongoing battle over retail sprawl. I will say this, tough – that Al Norman crack about Wal-Mart supporters who like cheap underwear is a pretty funny line.