GM's Corner: When Walmart Doesn't Work Out
Our Next Member Forum
Got a question? Got a problem? Want to hear the latest about expansion, prices or the Co-op’s bottom line? Join General Manager Jon Roesser for all that and more (by which we mean refreshments). The next session is:
Thursday, Aug. 18, 6:30-8 p.m.
The Garage, 542 Carpenter Lane (across the street from the Mt. Airy store.)
RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-843-2350, ext. 118.
Anyone been to Whitewright, Texas? Me neither.
Seventy six miles north of Dallas, surrounded by oil wells and sweet-potato farms, Whitewright doesn’t make it onto too many bucket lists.
Still, it looks like a pleasant enough place to live, with an historic downtown straight out of a Hollywood Western. There’s an old theater, a small museum and a couple of wineries just outside of town. (Yum, Texas wine.)
They used to have a grocery store too, Pettit’s, a family-run Whitewright institution, in business for 55 years.
Things are usually pretty quiet in Whitewright, but not in January 2015, when the whole town came together to welcome their newest addition: Walmart!
Everyone turned out. There was a big ribbon-cutting and speeches by the local poobahs.
Some people fretted about the fate of Pettit’s, but no one seemed too concerned. The town’s mayor was quoted in the local paper as saying “a little competition is good for everybody.”
Well, I bet you can guess what happened next.
Nine months later, Pettit’s closed. In an interview with CBS News, the owner said that when Walmart opened, shoppers simply “quit coming.” Fifty-five years in Whitewright.
If this sounds agonizingly familiar, well, it is. Putting places like Pettit’s out of business is fundamental to the business strategy of companies like Walmart. The elimination of competitors is the underlying secret of their success.
Except in the case of Whitewright, there’s a twist.
In January 2016, in a press release titled “Walmart Continues Sharpened Focus on Portfolio Management,” Walmart announced the closing of 269 stores. Some 16,000 jobs were eliminated. (The good news is that none of these people were being paid well in the first place.)
One of the 269 was the Whitewright store. It had been open about a year, just long enough to knock Pettit’s out of business.
“A little competition is good for everybody.” How’s having no grocery store at all?
Of course, the competitive marketplace really is good for consumers: merchants, competing for business, need to make sure their stores are clean, their service is good and their prices reasonable. Shoppers benefit from having options, and communities are enriched by the tapestry of choices.
But outfits like Walmart aren’t interested in competing. They’re interested in dominating, in fact, monopolizing. As a result, when it comes to food, clothes, medicine, furniture, toys, electronics and much more, for many communities across the country, Walmart is the only choice.
Except now, having scorch-earthed their brick-and-mortar competitors, Walmart is facing a serious threat to its model. Amazon and other online retailers are hacking at Walmart’s market share, and there’s little reason to believe the trend toward buying stuff online will slow down anytime soon. It’s the main reason Walmart has “sharpened focus on portfolio management” and closed underperforming stores. And this has been bad news for Whitewright.
To buy groceries, the denizens of Whitewright must now lug themselves to Sherman, about a 30-minute drive, where there is an Albertsons and a Sunset and, yes, a Walmart.
Driving to Sherman doesn’t strike me as a long-term solution. Who wants milk and other perishables roasting in the trunk on a hot Texas afternoon during the half-hour ride back home? And that’s an awfully long “quick trip” to the grocery store when you suddenly realize you’re out of bananas.
No, every town needs its own grocery store, arguably the most fundamental retail component of any community. So to the good people of Whitewright, I have one piece of advice: Form a co-op.
A co-op exists not for profit, but for need. And Whitewright needs a grocery store. In an increasingly competitive society, in which national retailers with no stake in the local community come and go based on their own interests, cooperative ownership puts control back into the hands of the people.
I will even offer the people of Whitewright eight hours of my own time — free consulting services to help them get organized. It’s what cooperators do. Just send me a bottle of that Texas wine.
See you around the Co-op.