Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Avoiding the Target

So why is it that some big box stores are OK?

There’s a store out there that give some 70 percent of its political contributions to Republicans.

They buy lots of goods that are cheaply made overseas.

In rural stores, they start their employees out at a little over minimum wage and they frequently show up on lists of large employers with the largest numbers of people on state assistance programs.*

They allow their pharmacists to refuse to dispense emergency contraception. Planned Parenthood is campaigning against them.

They aren’t unionized, of course, but their pissed-off employees still have a website

Yet the only people wanting to boycott them are upset with them kicking out the Salvation Army or are doing it for other wacky reasons

And most of my liberal friends shop there. I know I do. I haven’t been in a Walmart in at least a year. But every time we need furnace filters, dish soap or a cheap birthday present for my brothers, TheCSO and I head right out there.

To Target.

Not that I don’t like Target. I really do. I far prefer it to Walmart. It’s owned by a Minneasota Senator’s family rather that the ever-creepy Waltons. They sell nice-looking lamps and do a nice job advertising how socially responsible they are. They do a great job appealing to the upper-middle class and they are smaller so the numbers of people they are screwing over appear far less impressive.

But they actually give a slightly greater percentage of their PAC money to Republicans than WalMart does.


*Along with other places that hire lots of people for unskilled labor. Fast food chains, large staffing agencies, grocery chains, etc, all have a lot of people uninsured. All of them hire lots of poor people. In general, poor people are more likely to be uninsured.


LaReinaCobre said...

I don't think Wal-Mart or Target are bad for donating money to Republicans. I think Wal-Mart is bad for a whole lot of other reasons.

I stopped shopping at Target, too. My goal is to find alternatives to all of the "big box" stores in my town so I don't need to go to them. Fortunately, I don't shop much. Right now I'm trying to avoid having my contractor buy my sliding doors from Home Depot, but either directly from the manufacturer, or via a locally owned store.

Clothing is the next frontier - I've gotten to buying mostly used or handmade clothing, but I've got to buy my underwear from somewhere. :)

Anonymous said...

There is one major difference between WalMart and Target: WalMart exploits poor people in order to sell cheap crap to poor people. Target exploits poor people in order to sell moderately priced crap to middle-class people. I think it's easier to ignore the sins of a corporation when they actually succeed in making your life easier (i.e. by having all the moderately priced crap you need in one place).

Chalicechick said...

Linguist Friend lives in a small college town with a big Walmart. There's a butcher he goes to that I think obviously was once just a butcher.

I'm certain their meat is more expensive that WalMart's. But they do survive just fine. I credit their success to:

1. Superior product. They sell freash local meat from a local slaughterhouse.

2. Friendly staff who can aswer questions like "I'm making dinner for three, how much do we need?"

3. Having what basically amounts to a convenience store with produce in front of the store. Call people who only want to buy dinner supplies one place lazy if you must, but I am sure the fact that the market at least tries to make this possible helps keep their customers from just going to Walmart or Kroger.


TheCSO said...

In general, competing on price is not a viable strategy for small businesses. This may seem counterintuitive, and indeed many small business owners try to undercut their competition.

It usually doesn't work. Small businesses just don't have the economies of scale that large businesses do. And that's okay. Small businesses also have advantages that large ones don't, such as greater flexibility and ability to serve niche markets. That's okay too.

What small businesses need to do in order to succeed is to become high value added, high margin businesses. Because people *are* willing to pay more for a friendly "meat boutique" experience.

Or how about small family farms? It's just plain stupid for a small farm to try to grow commodity corn and sell it in direct competition with large agribusiness.

However, small farms can do very well filling niche, high-profit markets. For years, organic foods were a niche market that small farms prospered in. Now, with the growth of that market segment, it's big enough for agribusiness to care about, and the small farms based on organics may need to move on. There are plenty of other niche food markets, and one of the fastest-growing niches is the local "farm subscription". That's innovation.

It turns out that many ordinary people like having a bit more connection to their food. More and more small farms are finding that they can sell high-margin and low-volume by growing a variety of crops and basically running a "fresh veggies of the month" club.

Walmart is great at high volume, low margin sales. Small stores can be great at low volume, high margin sales. There is a natural synergy there.

And one more thing. Small does not always mean friendly. Often, the small stores are surly and unhelpful, while at least with Walmart there's that enforced corporate cheer most of the time. Many of these small stores deserve to fail - they can't even be *nice* to their customers, and when you can't even provide as pleasant a shopping experience as Walmart, that's pretty bad. It's not like you even have a particularly high standard to meet there.