January 18, 2010

Wal-Mart proud!

My mom made some “UghhWal-Mart” statement the other day, and having heard the same sort of disdain filled comment several times over the past week, I snapped. I half playfully unloaded on her. When I was all done she said, “I never thought about it that way. You have to blog that.” And she’s bribed me multiple times since to type it here. So here’s my wildly unpopular views on Wal-Mart.

To start, lets consider how their merchandise is actually made. There are all of these factories in China and different companies take their product around and get bids from the factories to produce it. Wal-Mart gets a bid from a factory to make a pair of track pants for a dollar each. Macey’s gets a bid from the same factory to make a similar pair of pants for a dollar as well. So at the same time, a single factory often manufactures similar products for a variety of stores. This is just the reality of how things work. I know this from watching a handful of documentaries, reading a few anti- Wallie World watch dog sites, and from a little old fashioned research into a topic that is surprisingly passionate for me.

So that factory ships the one dollar pants back over here to the US for the same cost to, lets say Kohls, Macey’s and Wal-Mart. They are all paying the same shipping fees, similar merchandise fees, using the same horrible sweat shop style factories. When the pants get here, they move on to their respective stores and that’s where the similarities end.

From there, Wal-Mart sells you those track pants for seven dollars while Kohls and Macey’s sell you a similar in quality pants for 30 or 40 bucks to make you feel like you are getting something more special than you could ever get at Wal-Mart. But wait. There's more.

Let’s look at the business practices. Wal-Mart offers health insurance to its employees, fair wages, and equal opportunity. Honestly, they do. Kohls and Macey’s claim to do the same, but the reality is that I have never walked into a Kohls or Macey’s and seen an employee with acne scars, missing teeth, or any obvious handicap. In short, these department stores that charge you more for the same also only hire beautiful young people. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, hires virtually anyone willing to do honest work for honest pay. You will regularly see people that are just plain a little rough around the edges working there and being friendly while they do it. Which do you support?

To add to this sad reality, Joe and I befriended several of our usual clerks at Fred-Meyer (also know as Smith’s and Kroger’s). They freely admitted that they bought their groceries at Wal-Mart because they weren’t paid enough to shop in their own place of business. Now, I love the feel of Fred Meyer, the free child care and lovely bakery, but what does that say about a store when the woman who bakes my kids’ birthday cakes can’t even afford to shop in her own store?

I hear people say they’d rather die than shop at Wal-Mart. Why? Because they can’t stand to have people who aren’t pageant contestants ring them up at the check stand? Or is it because you feel better than everyone else if what you have can’t be afforded by “those people?” Or maybe you are one of the many out there who actually believe that those overpriced department stores actually charge you more because their merchandise is coming from some place different, more socially responsible, than Wal-Mart’s merchandise. Well, it ain’t so, friend. It just ain’t so. The reality is, you’re only buying American when you buy yourself a sheep from the neighbor, sheer it to make your own fabric and then move on to make your own clothes. That’s the only way. Nothing, from almost any store you can drive to, is not being made in an overcrowded, underpaid, poor working conditions factory in China. I hate it, but I’m not going to pretend that Wal-Mart is the villain!

I also believe that you must put your money where your mouth is. My opinion is that any person willing to work to support their family deserves a chance to do it, even if they aren’t model material. You can also follow the money trail when it comes to political contributions. I know I’m not supposed to be super political these days, but there are issues worth working for and I believe it is good to spend your dollars with that in mind. When I can see that Target contributes heavily to pro-choice organizations while Wal-Mart does the same for the pro-lifers, again I’ll spend with my heart on this one. That’s not to say I don’t love Target and sometimes shop there (well, did before I moved to a Target free town) but when given the choice, I usually go with Wal-Mart.

It is easier to shop with that in mind when it happens to be the most economical as well, I’ll admit that. But in these times, when people almost have to shop where it is cheap, they need to know that there is no shame in shopping at Wal-mart. Stop acting like you’ve committed a felony when you get caught pulling out of the Wal-Mart parking lot. It’s all good. Be proud! You are supporting the true working man. You are getting the savings of our unfortunate commercial relationship with China instead of lining corporate pockets and supporting unhealthy ballot measures. Shun these pretty people only environments and teach your family to appreciate a person’s willingness to work and look past what’s on the outside. It’s what you say you believe. Why not have the guts to live it?

I have a friend who said, "But the people at Wal-Mart are so grumpy and the kids at Macey's are so friendly." To this I have to thoughts. I have shopped at Wal-Mart at night and yes, the people are tired and crabby as I would be if I were stuck at work at 9 at night. The morning crew is fresh and ready to assist. Really, there is a difference. But more importantly, the "kids at Macey's" are all about to head of to college and get their degrees and find jobs that are easier and higher paying than lugging canned goods around. Nothing wrong with that, but those prospects make for a cheery attitude. The people who work at Wal-Mart, you know? The grown-ups who are working hard to put food on the table? Yeah...this may be it for most of them. They have been as educated as they may ever be and they are making peace with being your checker for life. I have no problem with that, but most people don't make them feel too proud about their jobs and it's likely not what they dreamed of growing up to be. So cut them a little slack if they aren't over the top excited about getting to show you where the canned yams are.

Okay, now I’ve laid it out there. But I pride myself on being willing to hear and integrate a good argument. So, hit me! Feel free to tell me why I should still shun WalMart. I look forward to your notes back!

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