My Name Is Duke, and I Shop at Wal-Mart


I have read several articles over the last couple of months supporting retailing giant Wal-Mart and defending its place in free markets. You can take a look at two good ones here and here.

While both the columns, and many more, make convincing economic arguments in support of the chain, it is my opinion that you can be an economic numbskull and shoot holes in the propaganda the anti-Wal-Mart people are spewing in print, Internet and on the network news.

How can I do this? By taking a look at how I spend my money, in just one area of my life. While this may seem like a narrow sample to back up my claims, just read through this column and apply my position to an area of your life, and see if my stance still rings true. I believe that it will.

One of the activities I like to partake of in my spare time is fishing. Since I like to fish for trout, largemouth bass and panfish, I will roughly outline my shopping habits for obtaining lures, reels, rods and fishing line. I use several avenues for procuring said products, and I unashamedly shop at Wal-Mart for many of them. Notice how I say 'many' and not 'all.'

Let's examine my buying patterns for tackle. I have three primary sources I take advantage of. In the first case, a small outdoor recreation store close to my home. Second, the big, bad ugly Wal-Mart, which is a 35-minute drive from me, and lastly, two large store chains with a huge online retail business arm.

How I decide which entity I will patronize is contingent on several factors. How quickly do I want an item? How much time from my day can I devote to obtaining said item or items? Do I want a particular brand of rod or reel, or do I want certain features built in, and so am I willing to shop many brands for the best price? Do I need it right away, or is it something I don't need for five to seven days? All of these factors are weighed in with every purchase, and the best route for me will win out. Sometimes this means the small store gets my money, sometimes Wal-Mart does, and sometimes I order online.

One of the most often repeated wailings by the haters of the store is the inherently incorrect claim that 'Wal-Mart puts small stores and Mom-and-Pop shops out of business.' This is most usually repeated as an emotional mantra by opponents of the company the late Sam Walton built. However, as I have just attested in the paragraph above, this is simply just not true.

One of the reasons this claim is erroneous is because it is a knee-jerk, overly sentimental assessment and not one based on fact or rationality. My choice to spend my money where I deem fit is always an option. Under the crusader's line of thought, since Wal-Mart is an option I therefore always go there blindly buying things willy-nilly, with glassed-over eyes, a slack-jawed expression and a bit of drool running down my chin.


So under this line of reasoning, if a Wal-Mart exists in a community, it acts in the same manner as a black hole ' sucking all money from the consumers within that community into only that store. This is typical of the socialist worldview as everything being a finite pie, or when one gains, another suffers. This is ludicrous, since it assumes that since the five dollars I spent at Wal-Mart did not go to the small store, the small store was somehow deprived of my five dollars. How can they arrive at this conclusion? Their position is that if I did not have Wal-Mart, I would spend money in the local store on a product I did not need or want! These people are lunatics. If any store does not have what I want, they will not get my money, period. A no sale in a small store is still a no sale, regardless of whether I bought something anywhere else.

'Wal-Mart deals in large volume with its suppliers, and can often price the little guy out.'

This is another oft-repeated criticism of the giant chain. However, I have already stated that the Wal-Mart closest to me is over a half hour drive away. In Los Angeles , traffic and high gas prices have a direct impact on my purchase plan. I, and many others in this city, will not drive that long to save two dollars. If the same item is stocked at my local store, I will gladly pay the higher price, since it will save me both time and money overall. If I am buying a number of lures, however, I may make the trip, because saving $30 or more will make the trip worthwhile.

While it may happen that small stores may go out of business after a Wal-Mart is built in a community, in my opinion the demise of the small business was not a direct cause of the larger store. How can I make this statement? Because no store, not even the super-sized ones, can possibly stock every product I will need and/or want. If the smaller store wants to compete, its owners can carry products that customers will want that Wal-Mart does not carry. At least in my small, locally owned tackle shop, this is exactly what happens. Therefore, it is not an impossible dream for any business.

In addition, how may of you Wal-Mart haters out there shop over the Internet? The 'Net shops have done every bit as much 'damage' to neighborhood stores as the large chains, according to your stance. Oh yes, but you buy books on, don't you, and not always at your local little bookseller. Why do I never hear you control freaks ever bring this up? Either because you know this claim is not true, or the Internet has enabled small businesses to continue to survive (and in many cases ' thrive) or you shop online yourselves, and would therefore prove to be hypocrites.

'Wal-Mart pays low wages, and no-benefits to its workers.'

So what? A number of businesses pay low wages and little or no benefits to their workers. Benefits are not an entitlement. They are offered by employers to attract the talent level and quality of people they want to have in their organization. Obviously, the level of skill required to work at Wal-Mart, or any other retailer, is possessed by a huge number of people. Therefore, they have a large potential base for employees, so they do not have to offer wages and/or benefits at the same level as a physical therapist, for example. If you want higher wages and benefits, the recipe is simple. Go to school and learn a trade that someone else will either need or want to pay you for.

Most of the chain's opposition position themselves as caring about 'the poor.' This is another load of manure, because if they did truly care about poor people, they would be singing the praises of Wal-Mart. Many people perform unskilled labor and receive low wages at places other than Wal-Mart. Do they not deserve a place to shop for low-priced goods? Or what of the factory workers overseas who have jobs thanks to vendors who supply Wal-Mart with goods? Do they not deserve to make a living, often a better one than many others make in their country? Not according to the anti-Wal-Marter. Solution? They appear to believe that getting voters to veto Wal-Mart will ensure you will spend your money in existing stores and pay higher prices for things you want or on things you don't want but will buy since there is no other choice. Amazing how these people's brains work.

Wal-Mart does not exist in a vacuum, which is true for any business. Many factors are assessed every day by consumers, who do not blindly open up their wallets for Wal-Mart as these opponents would have you believe. While it is not my only option, I am glad it is an option. This is something anyone who is a proponent of free markets and free choice should be a fan of. I will say it loud, and say it proud . . . . 'My name is Duke, and I shop at Wal-Mart.'!

Take a look at how you shop around, and I bet it is not much different from the manner I have discussed here.

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