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The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart 731

Charles Fishman, senior writer for Fast Company magazine has recently published a book entitled The Man Who Said No To Wal-mart. It's an excellent book (Yes, I've read it) that talks about the intersection of making good stuff, the commodization of products, and the changing world that we work in; not exactly high tech, but tech nonetheless.
Every year, thousands of executives venture to Bentonville, Arkansas, hoping to get their products onto the shelves of the world's biggest retailer. But Jim Wier wanted Wal-Mart to stop selling his Snapper mowers.What struck Jim Wier first, as he entered the Wal-Mart vice president's office, was the seating area for visitors. "It was just some lawn chairs that some other peddler had left behind as samples." The vice president's office was furnished with a folding lawn chair and a chaise lounge.

And so Wier, the CEO of lawn-equipment maker Simplicity, dressed in a suit, took a seat on the chaise lounge. "I sat forward, of course, with my legs off to the side. If you've ever sat in a lawn chair, well, they are lower than regular chairs. And I was on the chaise. It was a bit intimidating. It was uncomfortable, and it was going to be an uncomfortable meeting."

It was a Wal-Mart moment that couldn't be scripted, or perhaps even imagined. A vice president responsible for billions of dollars' worth of business in the largest company in history has his visitors sit in mismatched, cast-off lawn chairs that Wal-Mart quite likely never had to pay for.

The vice president had a bigger surprise for Wier, though. Wal-Mart not only wanted to keep selling his lawn mowers, it wanted to sell lots more of them. Wal-Mart wanted to sell mowers nose-to-nose against Home Depot and Lowe's.

"Usually," says Wier, "I don't perspire easily." But perched on the edge of his chaise, "I felt my arms getting drippy."

Wier took a breath and said, "Let me tell you why it doesn't work."

Tens of thousands of executives make the pilgrimage to northwest Arkansas every year to woo Wal-Mart, marshaling whatever arguments, data, samples, and pure persuasive power they have in the hope of an order for their products, or an increase in their current order. Almost no matter what you're selling, the gravitational force of Wal-Mart's 3,811 U.S. "doorways" is irresistible. Very few people fly into Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport thinking about telling Wal-Mart no, or no more.

In 2002, Jim Wier's company, Simplicity, was buying Snapper, a complementary company with a 50-year heritage of making high-quality residential and commercial lawn equipment. Wier had studied his new acquisition enough to conclude that continuing to sell Snapper mowers through Wal-Mart stores was, as he put it, "incompatible with our strategy. And I felt I owed them a visit to tell them why we weren't going to continue to sell to them."

Selling Snapper lawn mowers at Wal-Mart wasn't just incompatible with Snapper's future -- Wier thought it was hazardous to Snapper's health. Snapper is known in the outdoor-equipment business not for huge volume but for quality, reliability, durability. A well-maintained Snapper lawn mower will last decades; many customers buy the mowers as adults because their fathers used them when they were kids. But Snapper lawn mowers are not cheap, any more than a Viking range is cheap. The value isn't in the price, it's in the performance and the longevity.

You can buy a lawn mower at Wal-Mart for $99.96, and depending on the size and location of the store, there are slightly better models for every additional $20 bill you're willing to put down -- priced at $122, $138, $154, $163, and $188. That's six models of lawn mowers below $200. Mind you, in some Wal-Marts you literally cannot see what you are buying; there are no display models, just lawn mowers in huge cardboard boxes.

The least expensive Snapper lawn mower -- a 19-inch push mower with a 5.5-horsepower engine -- sells for $349.99 at full list price. Even finding it discounted to $299, you can buy two or three lawn mowers at Wal-Mart for the cost of a single Snapper.

If you know nothing about maintaining a mower, Wal-Mart has helped make that ignorance irrelevant: At even $138, the lawn mowers at Wal-Mart are cheap enough to be disposable. Use one for a season, and if you can't start it the next spring (Wal-Mart won't help you out with that), put it at the curb and buy another one. That kind of pricing changes not just the economics at the low end of the lawn-mower market, it changes expectations of customers throughout the market. Why would you buy a walk-behind mower from Snapper that costs $519? What could it possibly have to justify spending $300 or $400 more?

That's the question that motivated Jim Wier to stop doing business with Wal-Mart. Wier is too judicious to describe it this way, but he looked into a future of supplying lawn mowers and snow blowers to Wal-Mart and saw a whirlpool of lower prices, collapsing profitability, offshore manufacturing, and the gradual but irresistible corrosion of the very qualities for which Snapper was known. Jim Wier looked into the future and saw a death spiral.

Wier had two things going for him: First, he had another way to get his lawn mowers to customers -- a well-established network of independent lawn-equipment dealers that accounted for 80% of Snapper's sales. And Wier had the courage, the foresight, to take an unblinking view of where his Wal-Mart business was heading -- not in year 3, or year 4, but year 10.

Wier traveled to Bentonville with a firm grasp of the values of Snapper, the dynamics of the lawn-mower business, the needs of the dealers, the needs of the Snapper customer, and the needs of the Wal-Mart customer. He was not dazzled by the tens of millions of dollars' worth of lawn mowers Wal-Mart was already selling for Snapper; he was not deluded about his ability to beat Wal-Mart at its own game, to somehow resist the price pressure. He was not imagining that he could take the sales now and figure out the profits later.

Jim Wier believed that Snapper's health -- indeed, its very long-term survival -- required that it not do business with Wal-Mart.

Every Snapper lawn mower sold anywhere in the world comes from a factory in McDonough, Georgia, a small town 30 minutes southeast of Atlanta. Coils of raw steel arrive on flatbed trucks every day at the old, nondescript building; brand-new fire-engine-red lawn mowers leave every day, loaded in 18-wheelers. The facility looks undistinguished, but it is energetically trying to defy the conventional wisdom about manufacturing in the global economy.

The Snapper factory has had an invigorating decade. Ten years ago, it produced about 40 models of mowers, leaf blowers, and snow blowers; now it makes 145. Today, robots do the welding, lasers cut parts, and computers control the steel-stamping presses. Productivity is three times what it was 10 years ago, and the number of people working here, 650, is half what it was.

Indeed, the productivity of every factory worker is measured "every hour, every day, every month, every year," says Snapper president Shane Sumners, who walks the 10.5-acre factory floor with comfort and familiarity. "And everybody's performance is posted, publicly, every day for everyone to see." It's a lot like Wal-Mart -- which measures the number of items every checkout clerk scans every hour. Some of Snapper's dramatic productivity improvements, in fact, seem to come almost directly from the Wal-Mart playbook. These days, the Snapper factory operates in Wal-Mart time. It must, because it operates in Wal-Mart's ecosystem.

Ten years ago, at about the time Sumners came on board, Snapper had 52 regional distributors. It uses no distributors now -- the company runs four regional warehouses of its own and sells directly to 10,000 independent dealerships. Ten years ago, in part because of the complexity of the middleman distribution system, Snapper carried a huge quantity of inventory. It paid to manufacture and ship thousands of lawn mowers -- worth tens of millions of dollars -- without quite knowing when they would be sold. Now planners come up with an ideal level of inventory for every model, for every region of the country, based on things like historic demand and the weather. The goal is to make sure every customer can get the mower he wants -- while making absolutely the smallest number of lawn mowers.

Production at the Snapper factory is rescheduled every week, according to the pace at which mowers sell. A computer juggles work assignments and balances the various parts of the assembly line. The main manufacturing line for Snapper's entry-level walk-behind mowers -- with 28 people -- was recently charged with producing 265 lawn mowers in an eight-hour shift. The group hit the mark exactly. That's a new lawn mower, from loose parts to sealed box, every 109 seconds. "It's all a matter of seconds," says Sumners.

It's not hard to make a cheap lawn mower. A cheap lawn mower feels flimsy, sounds louder than it has to, and even when new, requires a mysterious, frustrating combination of choke, priming, and pulling to start. The cutting deck of a cheap mower is stamped from thin sheet metal. Making a high-quality lawn mower -- even in 109 seconds -- requires attention to detail and constant improvement, which seems surprising for a machine that doesn't evolve that much.

All Snapper machines, from the simplest walk-behind to the most elaborate riding mower, are painted one color: what Shane Sumners calls "Snapper red." In the factory, the finished chassis of riding mowers coast along slowly, dangling from an overhead conveyor as they approach a 20-foot-long pool of red paint. The conveyor track dips low, and the mowers glide down into the pool and completely disappear beneath the surface, then rise back up, gleaming red, before heading for a pass through a curing oven.

It's not quite as simple as dip and bake, however. Each mower is electrically grounded as it hangs from the overhead conveyor, and a slight positive electrical charge runs through the 16,000-gallon trench of paint. "So the paint is attracted to the metal and builds up on the parts and sticks very effectively and evenly," says Sumners. The process is monitored every hour -- from the speed of the conveyor and the temperature of the ovens to the pH of the paint -- along 115 parameters. "If you control the process," says Sumners, "you will get a good paint job."

Snapper technicians start every riding mower before it leaves the McDonough plant. At the "hot start" station, a man wearing ear protectors squirts gas into the fuel tank and oil into the crankcase, pulls the starter cord, and brings the machine to life. He runs through all the gears, checks speed, engine performance, the mounting of the seat. The engine is given just enough fuel for the "run in." If the mower passes all the tests, the man sucks the oil back out and sends the mower on to be boxed.

As Sumners watches, one of the riding mowers takes two pulls to start, then comes to life with a rough growl. In the blink of an eye, the technician shuts it down. "Did you hear how that sounded?" asks Sumners. "It's not right. That's a bad one." The mower is shunted off to be inspected and properly tuned if possible. "If we didn't," says Sumners, "that mower would have gone to a customer."

The Snapper factory started making riding mowers in 1951. It is unadorned and old, but it is old in the sense of solidity and use. There is nothing tired about it. More significant, there is nothing sentimental about it. This factory isn't here out of some misplaced sense of economic loyalty to U.S. manufacturing. It's here because it makes Snapper-quality lawn mowers at a competitive price.

Snapper's factory hums with discipline and focus and urgency. Even with no products at Wal-Mart, a company like Snapper has to compete psychologically, has to keep the price gap between the big-box lawn mowers and its lawn mowers rational. If it did not, its potential slice of the market would get smaller and smaller.

Sumners has to spur his factory on with the same tirelessness as if it were supplying Wal-Mart -- the efficiency of every factory worker measured every hour of every day -- because Wal-Mart sets the pace, even if you're not working for them.

Jim Wier is 62 years old, with a youthful twinkle, despite a thatch of white hair. He is a solidly built man who dresses casually. He is comfortable with himself. Wier, who until the summer of 2005 ran a group of lawn-equipment businesses that approach half a billion dollars a year in sales, is confident, direct, and unprepossessing. He mows his own lawn. "I don't want to hire a service," he says. "I still love to cut my grass."

Wier is much like Snapper's customers. "When we do surveys of our customers, they like to cut their grass. And they want a good piece of equipment to do it. We're designed to give you the best quality of cut. We have full rollers on the riding mowers, to give that nice striped look on your grass, like on the baseball fields. It makes you feel proud of the home you own. Proud of your lawn. The neighbors walk by, they say, 'Look how good the yard looks.' "

Wier doesn't really think that a $99 lawn mower from Wal-Mart and Snapper's lawn mowers are the same product any more than a cup of 50-cent vending-machine coffee is the same as a Starbucks nonfat venti latte. "We're not obsessed with volume," says Wier. "We're obsessed with having differentiated, high-end, quality products." Wier wants them sold -- he thinks they must be sold -- at a store where the staff is eager to explain the virtues of various models, where they understand the equipment, can teach customers how to use a mower, can service it when something goes wrong. Wier wants customers who want that kind of help -- customers who are unlikely to be happy buying a lawn mower at Wal-Mart, and who might connect a bum experience doing so not with Wal-Mart but with Snapper.

And so in October 2002, with a colleague, Wier kept an appointment with a merchandise vice president for Wal-Mart's outdoor-product category.

"The whole visit to Wal-Mart headquarters is a great experience," says Wier. It really is a pilgrimage to the center of the retail universe. "It's so crowded, you have to drive around, waiting for a parking space, you have to follow someone who is leaving, walking back to their car, and get their spot. Then you go inside this building, you register for your appointment, they give you a badge, and then you wait in the pews with the rest of the peddlers, the guy with the bras draped over his shoulder."

Normally, meetings between Wal-Mart buyers and people from supplier companies take place in the legendary meeting rooms just off the vendor lobby. These cubicles are simple to the point of barren -- a table and four chairs, and 30 minutes to make your case. "It's a little like going to see the principal, really," says Wier.

In this case, Wier says, both he and the Wal-Mart managers "had a feeling that this would be an important meeting." So Wier and his colleague were scheduled to visit the vice president in his office. Sitting on lawn chairs.

"The meeting started with the vice president of the category saying how it was clear that Lowe's was going to build their outdoor power-equipment business with the Cub Cadet brand, and how Home Depot was going to build theirs with John Deere," says Wier. "Wal-Mart wanted to build their outdoor power-equipment business around the Snapper brand. Were we prepared to go large?"

Talk about coming to the table with different agendas. Wier was in Bentonville to pull his mowers from Wal-Mart's stores. The vice president was offering a greater temptation: Let's join hands and go head-to-head against the home-improvement superstores.

Which is when Wier said no.

"As I look at the three years Snapper has been with you," he told the vice president, "every year the price has come down. Every year the content of the product has gone up. We're at a position where, first, it's still priced where it doesn't meet the needs of your clientele. For Wal-Mart, it's still too high-priced. I think you'd agree with that.

"Now, at the price I'm selling to you today, I'm not making any money on it. And if we do what you want next year, I'll lose money. I could do that and not go out of business. But we have this independent-dealer channel. And 80% of our business is over here with them. And I can't put them at a competitive disadvantage. If I do that, I lose everything. So this just isn't a compatible fit."

The Wal-Mart vice president responded with strategy and argument. Snapper is the sort of high-quality nameplate, like Levi Strauss, that Wal-Mart hopes can ultimately make it more Target-like. He suggested that Snapper find a lower-cost contract manufacturer. He suggested producing a separate, lesser-quality line with the Snapper nameplate just for Wal-Mart. Just like Levi did.

"My response was, we would take a look at that," says Wier. "The reason I gave that response was, it was a legitimate question. In my own mind, I knew where I'd go with that" -- no thanks -- "but at that kind of meeting you at least have to be willing to say, I'll investigate." And that was it. "The tone at the end was, We're not going forward as a supplier."

No lightning bolt struck. Except that Snapper instantly gave up almost 20% of its business. "But when we told the dealers that they would no longer find Snapper in Wal-Mart, they were very pleased with that decision. And I think we got most of that business back by winning the hearts of the dealers."

Snapper was successfully integrated into Simplicity, which in 2004 was itself bought by Briggs & Stratton, the company that makes many of the engines in Snapper and Simplicity mowers. Simplicity and Snapper operate as independent divisions, and Wier remained CEO of both until last summer, when he resigned to join the private equity firm Kohlberg & Co. In McDonough, business is strong. Shane Sumners plans to add a second assembly line for both walk-behind and riding mowers.

One serious hazard to Wier's strategy is that independent lawn-equipment dealers face all the same pressures that have killed, for instance, many independent hardware stores and toy stores. "That is a legitimate question and a legitimate concern," says Wier. "I think we have a part in that outcome. Can Snapper, as a major supplier, continue to supply [the independents] with great product, and a product different than you can buy at Wal-Mart?"

Wier says, "I'm probably pro-Wal-Mart. I'm certainly not anti-Wal-Mart. I believe Wal-Mart has done a great service to the country in many ways. They offer reasonably good product at very good prices, and they've streamlined the entire distribution system. And it may be that along the way, they've driven some people out of business who shouldn't have been driven out of business." Wier wasn't going to let that happen to Snapper.

Wier had determined to lead Snapper to focus on quality, and through quality, on cachet. Not every car is a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry; there is more than enough business to support Audi and BMW and Lexus. And so it is with lawn mowers, Wier hoped. Still, perhaps the most remarkable thing is that the Wal-Mart effect is so pervasive that it sets the metabolism even of companies that purposefully do no business with Wal-Mart.

And the power and allure of Wal-Mart is such that even Jim Wier, the man who said no to Wal-Mart, a man who knows all the reasons why that was the right decision, has slivers of doubt.

"I could go to my grave, and my tombstone could say, 'Here lies the dumbest CEO ever to live. He chose not to sell to Wal-Mart.'"

Charles Fishman is a Fast Company senior writer and the author of, "The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works -- And How It's Transforming the American Economy." See for more information.

From THE WAL-MART EFFECT by Charles Fishman. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) Charles Fishman, 2006. Charles is a senior writer for Fast Company magazine.
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The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart

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  • Obvious. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tpgp ( 48001 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:06PM (#15019702) Homepage
    Walmart sells cheap crap - if your company does not sell cheap crap, you can't sell at walmart.

    Oh - and the quote: same product any more than a cup of 50-cent vending-machine coffee is the same as a Starbucks nonfat venti latte.

    Dreadful analogy - the 50-cent vending machine coffee is crap, the $3.50 starbucks latte is crap.

    • Re:Obvious. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sammeal ( 859766 )
      "Walmart sells cheap crap - if your company does not sell cheap crap, you can't sell at walmart"

      Wal-Mart sells a huge variety of well-known well-regarded quality brands.... including Apple and Sony. If Apple and Sony are crap, than EVERY SINGLE PRODUCT EVERYWHERE is crap.

      • Wal-Mart sells a huge variety of well-known well-regarded quality brands.... including Apple and Sony. If Apple and Sony are crap, than EVERY SINGLE PRODUCT EVERYWHERE is crap.

        Haven't purchased any Sony consumer electronics recently, have you?

      • Re:Obvious. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by sqlrob ( 173498 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:27PM (#15019916)
        And if you RTFA, companies can (and do) give lesser quality products under the same label to Wal-Mart.

        IIRC, the same is true of some of the stuff at Best Buy as well.

      • Re:Obvious. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Pig Hogger ( 10379 )

        Wal-Mart sells a huge variety of well-known well-regarded quality brands.... including Apple and Sony. If Apple and Sony are crap, than EVERY SINGLE PRODUCT EVERYWHERE is crap.

        Plenty of manufacturer make cheaper/crappier versions of their products specifically to sell to Wall-Marde.

        If you RTFA (I did, weeks ago), you'd see that Wall-Marde told the Snapper guy to have crappy lawnmowers manufactured in China with the "Snapper" label on them. The guy refused to adulterate his products by having Wall-Marde

    • Re:Obvious. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) <> on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:17PM (#15019812) Homepage Journal
      The other side of the coin is that the low prices at Wal Mart are subsidized by the rest of us.

      For example, they don't provide proper health insurance to their employees which forces many of them to get government medical insurance assistance, otherwise known as Medicaid.

      Wal Mart also drives competitors out of business, reducing the diversity of choices in a community. Some places if you want to work, you work at Wal Mart. You want to shop? Wal Mart is practically your only choice.

      Wal Mart drives prices lower and lower, forcing suppliers to move their production offshore. This means that we're losing manufacturing capability in this country, and we're losing the manufacturing jobs.

      Wal Mart hurts our port security too. They are currently pushing hard against adopting a policy of scanning every single cargo container entering our ports, because that would screw up their delivery system. Basically they are ready to trade off some of our safety for the sake of their profits.

      Avoid Wal Mart whenever you can.
      • Re:Obvious. (Score:2, Insightful)

        by CastrTroy ( 595695 )
        For example, they don't provide proper health insurance to their employees which forces many of them to get government medical insurance assistance, otherwise known as Medicaid.

        Why should it be the responsiblity of corporations, who's only concern is to it's shareholders, and the almighty dollar, to pay for health insurance?
        • Re:Obvious. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by StarvingSE ( 875139 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:48PM (#15020081)
          And comments like this are what is wrong with our country. Corporations and their shareholders would not be making any money at all if not for their employees. Human resourcess should be a company's most important resource. Health care for employees means that the company cares about the welfare of their employees.

          Also, I hear that productivity goes waaaay down when employees are sick ;)
          • Re:Obvious. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by acvh ( 120205 ) <geek@m s c i g a r> on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @04:04PM (#15020210) Homepage
            the linkage of health insurance to employment is one of the great wrongs in US history. why SHOULD an employer be expected to subsidize health care? I would prefer to see employers pay wages that allowed employees to make their own health care decisions, rather than shop for the lowest cost health care plan they can get away with and channel their employees into substandard, assembly line managed care plans.

            if my employer would just give me as salary the money they pay for my health insurance I could go out and get a more appropriate level of coverage for my family. since they don't do that, the only economically sound decision I can make is to use what they provide.
            • Re:Obvious. (Score:3, Insightful)

              by HairyCanary ( 688865 )
              Employers are not merely expected to subsidize health care -- they want to. When shopping for insurance, they get lower prices than you do. A lot lower, probably. If they had to pay you competative wages with everyone else so you could choose your insurance provider, then the cost would be higher -- for you, and then by extension, for them.
            • Re:Obvious. (Score:4, Insightful)

              by tmbailey123 ( 230145 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @05:02PM (#15020701)
              While I agree with the premise that linking health insurance to employment is flawed, the premise that everyone can go out an purchase good health insurance in todays market is sheer lunacy. Obviously your familiy is blessed with relatively good health. Many families are not as blessed.

              Insurance companies either simply refuse to write policies for those with serious health conditions or will increase the price of their existing policy till it is out of the financial means of that family. So a family with a member who has diabetes, cancer, luekemia, or other serious health malady is left without.

              Healthcare in this country is treated as a for profit business. We have allowed this country healthcare system to place profits ahead of humanity and morality. Granted many of the social programs of other countries have their faults when trying to tend to the needs of their population at large, but at least everyone has an equal opportunity. This is not true in our country. The limited social "healthcare" in this country is more like "sickcare". Poor people wait until they are really sick before seeking treatment.

              I will step off the soapbox before I start writing the epic novel on what is wrong with our healthcare system.

              • Health insurance (Score:3, Interesting)

                by booch ( 4157 )
                The bigger problem is having for-profit insurance companies make health care decisions for people. Companies are required by law to maximize profits. These same companies then get to decide what level of medical care you get. If that's not unethical, I don't know what is.
          • Re:Obvious. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Pxtl ( 151020 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @04:33PM (#15020456) Homepage
            That's an unrealistic viewpoint. The fact is that the shareholders run the company. If the CEO is not exploiting opportunities to the fullest, the board will replace him with someone who will. The board is made up of shareholders - big, faceless mutual funds for example.

            What this means in the long run is that a publicly traded company will naturally be drawn to maximizing shareholder profits, just as organisms are drawn to reproduce and survive. To expect otherwise is to go against nature.

            If you want a publicly run company to be good, you must force it to be good - either by providing incentives to make it good, or consistently enforced deterrents from being bad. Otherwise, an ethical CEO will be replaced by a profitable one. If Wal-mart should be paying for medical insurance, then make a law stating that unskilled-labour businesses like wal-mart should pay for medical insurance Otherwise they won't.

            This is why corporate libertarians bewilder me. Deregulation is basically handing the keys to a drunk driver.
            • Re:Obvious. (Score:3, Funny)

              by VAXcat ( 674775 )
              >This is why corporate libertarians bewilder me. Deregulation is basically >handing the keys to a drunk driver. Oh yeah, because letting the government centrally control things always works out so much better! Good news Comrade! We have a new five year plan for lawnmower production! And the chocolate ration has been increased to 30 grams!
          • Re:Obvious. (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Ugmo ( 36922 )
            Human resourcess should be a company's most important resource.

            The above poster is correct, but many companies these days see resources as something to be used up and then spit out. They do not care if it is sustainable or not.

            Using up employees without providing health care is like a mining company that strip mines a region. They then let a shell company declare bankruptcy rather than pay for the clean up they originally promised to provide as a condition to strip mine in the first place.

            Using up employees
        • who's only concern is to it's shareholders

          Ah, my eyes! Somebody stop the pain!

        • Re:Obvious. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @04:27PM (#15020403) Homepage
          You sound like a free-market sort, likely to be opposed to "socialism," etc.

          So think about this: Wal-mart encourages its employees to go on medicaid and welfare to make ends meet, and has programs and personnel whose roles are specifically to help new sales associates to enroll in these programs so that they can live on Wal-mart wages.

          The U.S. however, has no national health for everyone, only for the "needy," which in many cases means Wal-mart employees. So you are spending your tax dollars in spades, and it is going to feed and care for Wal-mart employees, thereby increasing profits for shareholders, yes... who then pay taxes on their capital gains that will go to support these very programs, which continually have to increase as wages are drawn down. And of course, as wages are drawn down, more and more people can only afford to shop at Wal-mart.

          IN short, this attitude is little more than robbing Peter to pay Paul, with Wal-mart executives skimming off the top for their salaries and shareholders encouraging a transition to defacto socialism, although an inequitable one where only those who work for certain companies are eligible for government benefits by virtue of their poor pay.

          And if you are neither a shareholder nor a shopper at Wal-mart (like myself) then you are merely being forced to subsidize high Wal-mart earnings for its shareholders and low Wal-mart prices for other people who will then have a minor economic advantage over you (because they spend less for the same goods) as all of you gradually lose wealth.

          In short, the Wal-mart philosophy is an insidious force in society that gradually reduces everyone who is not a shareholder to poverty, while the shareholders merely tread water as they, too, increasingly subsidize the system to counterbalance the poverty that they impose with their greed (and they have to do so because otherwise crime would skyrocket as people increasingly try to survive). Who really gets rich? Management and China, who is Wal-mart's largest supplier, by far.
          • Re:Obvious. (Score:3, Informative)

            by Zordak ( 123132 )

            who then pay taxes on their capital gains that will go to support these very programs

            You sound like a socialist or at least somewhat radical sort (judging by your .sig), so I hate to fuel your fire, but here goes...

            The capital gains taxes these guys pay on their fat dividends do not pay for Social Security and Medicaid. There is a separate flat-rate SSM tax that everybody pays without deductions, exemptions or exclusions. It accounts for something like 2/3 of our annual federal budget. But that tax is

            • Re:Obvious. (Score:3, Informative)

              Yes and no. Those taxes are (theoretically) separate once they arrive in the feds' pockets. But they originate in personal wealth. Much of the middle class is now heavily invested because there is no social safety net and employers no longer provide pensions and banks can't keep up with inflation, much less exceed it.

              So for example a mom and pop put their nestegg at least in part in the retail sector. Then, true to American values, they shop at the cut-rate retailers they're invested in because a) the retai
          • Re:Obvious. (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Bimo_Dude ( 178966 ) <bimoslash&theness,org> on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @05:10PM (#15020770) Homepage Journal
            Well said.

            I remember when Wal-mart was just starting their expansion. There was Sam Walton on TV saying that the chain only buys US manufactured goods, and tries to sell them for the lowest prices. There was a lot of hype about how "American" it was to shop there, and how they and their customers are helping the US economy.

            Then Sam died. With him went his vision, as well as the ethics of the company.

            He must be rolling over in his grave.

      • Re:Obvious. (Score:3, Informative)

        by Thangodin ( 177516 )
        There are even more subtle and less known ways that they pick your pocket.

        One of Wal-Mart's main strategies (well documented, by the way) is to create a monopoly in a small town by opening two big stores, with concessions from the local government for ramps, zoning, etc. Both stores have a lease which stipulates that they may not be rented to another retail business for decades. Both run at extremely low prices, even lower than usual for Wal-Mart. Finally, all competition collapses, leaving only Wal-Mart fo
    • Re:Obvious. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by everphilski ( 877346 )
      Dreadful analogy - the 50-cent vending machine coffee is crap, the $3.50 starbucks latte is crap.

      Excellent analogy. I'd rather have 7 cups of generic coffee than 1 cup of super expensive coffee that tastes a little better than the generic.

      I shop at WalMart. For the basic everyday items (food, toiletries, etc.) generic items at decent prices. However for something that is a long-term investment - computers, furniture, clothing, etc - we go for quality. Its a balance.

      This guy is nothing new. I read the
      • Re:Obvious. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <> on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:56PM (#15020146) Homepage Journal
        This guy is nothing new. I read the article in Fast Company a few months ago. He wasn't willing to bend and neither was Walmart, so the deal was cut off. Deals are called off all the time...

        I stopped shopping at Wal-Mart when I realized this guy was rare- that EVERY freakin' thing in Wal-Mart that wasn't produce was made someplace other than America. The way I look at it, just like in warfare, in capitalism there are Patriots, and there are Traitors- and Wal-Mart is effectively the economic version of the Chinese Secret Police.
  • by ( 960072 ) * on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:08PM (#15019725)
    The decision not to do business with Walmart is not only an issue of branding, but an issue of scalability. With your mowers in the hands of 20% more consumers, more warranties have to be honored forcing Snapper to increase 'support' for their machines.

    And if it turns out that the lower end users have a propensity to be pickier about the product, requesting support, service, and such, the returns get even worse.

    Jim []
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:27PM (#15019917) Homepage
      you are ignoring something. the lower end will NOT buy a snapper. they will buy thr $99.00 cheapie. Just like the really busy Manager will buy the $99.00 cheapie.

      They both buy the cheapie for different reasons. The low end buys it because that is all they can afford.

      The Manager buys it because he can trash it on the curb in the fall and buy new in the spring not worrying about getting it tuned, the oil changed, new blade, and it get's it out of his garage for that Jaguar to sit all winter.

      and the funny part is that disposable behaivoir fuels another economy. the garbage pickers that grab those mowers, do that maintaince and sells them for $50.00 because they still look new.
    • The assumed cost of support is likely to be built into the cost of the product. If it's not, then they are already losing money on support.

      Having read the summary, the real issue was twofold: First, in order to deal with Wal-Mart, Snapper would have to make sacrifices in both product quality and profit margin in order to compete with the already 'disposable' equipment that Wal-Mart sells.

      Second, the bulk of their business (80% independent retailers) would find themselves outgunned by Wal-Mart's cutthroat pr
    • by mblase ( 200735 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @04:03PM (#15020201)
      I seem to remember that, in the early days, iPods weren't purchasable anywhere except directly from Apple. Partially this was because they weren't in demand yet, and eventually it became a matter of Apple refusing to discount its products for anybody. The price you paid for a new iPod (or any new Apple product) at Apple's stores is as low as the price you paid anywhere else.

      As iPods became more and more popular, it became painfully obvious that Wal-Mart was the last major retailer not to sell them. And, of course, this is because Wal-Mart's policy is to price anything it sells lower than all of its competitors.

      So Wal-Mart had a problem: they needed to sell these iconic iPods, but Apple wouldn't let them sell it at a lower price. They'd be eroding their own business, but more importantly, they'd be losing a lot of money on what Apple insisted should be a quality product worth a higher price.

      Eventually the two came to some kind of compromise, because you can buy a new iPod Nano at the Apple Store for $149.00, or at Wal-Mart for... $147.88. No matter what iPod you want to buy, Wal-Mart will sell it to you for precisely $1.12 less than Apple. And I'm assuming that Wal-Mart eats that loss themselves in the hopes of selling iPod accessories to you while you're in the store.

      Capitalism is capitalism, and I don't begrudge Wal-Mart for the quite successful strategy it uses. But let's face it: for the most part, you get what you pay for. I'd much rather keep enjoying the $150 DVD player I have in my family room than some $30 P.o.S. from an off-brand Chinese manufacturer who only sells it to Wal-Mart because the remote control is incomprehensible and the components aren't expected to last a year.
  • by Hamster Lover ( 558288 ) * on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:11PM (#15019750) Journal
    The book by Charles Fishman is called [i]The Walmart Effect[/i] not [i]The Man Who Said No to Walmart[/i], which is the title of the Fast Company article that forms the basis for the Slashdot article.


  • by Suppafly ( 179830 ) <slashdot@sup[ ] ['paf' in gap]> on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:11PM (#15019753)
    I usually enjoy the book reviews here, but this isn't that, this just appears to be an ad.
  • Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by donutello ( 88309 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:14PM (#15019780) Homepage
    Company A decides to target a higher-margin, lower-volume segment of the market v/s a lower-margin, higher-volume segment. I didn't need to read a 1000-word essay telling me about it. Companies do this all the time and it's not news. Sounds more like a publicity stunt for Snapper and the book author than anything else.
  • by plankrwf ( 929870 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:14PM (#15019783)
    A similar thing happened a year ago in the Netherlands, where a Dutch 'cake'-maker* (for those who know Dutch: ontbijtkoek)
    actually went to court so that they wouldn't be obliged to sell to a certain supermarket** anymore... (By the way, they won!)


    * Peijnenburg was the 'cake'-maker;
    ** Albert Hein was the supermarket store.
    Link in dutch: ents/financien/rtlz/2005/02_februari/02-peijnenbur g_albert_heijn_supermarktoorlog_koek_uit_schap.xml []
    • ...a Dutch 'cake'-maker* (for those who know Dutch: ontbijtkoek)
      actually went to court so that they wouldn't be obliged to sell to a certain supermarket** anymore

      Huh? Why in God's name would the be "obliged" to sell to anyone? Is it part of the Dutch business license, that you can't refuse to do business with someone? Please explain in detail, I feel like I'm missing something.
  • And this guy said... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by garcia ( 6573 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:15PM (#15019801)
    And this [] guy said "YES!" to Walmart. Well, for 41 hours at least.
  • Kind of pointless (Score:5, Informative)

    by RedHatLinux ( 453603 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:16PM (#15019802) Homepage
    There are far more interesting and important issues involving Wal-Mart than some guy not willing to sell his stuff to them, like Crazy Fat Chicks []

    Also, check out this links.

    Hel-Mart []

    Sprawl Busters []

    PBS Store Wars- Facts About Wal-Mart []

    Wal-Mart []

    Wal-Mart Litigation Project []

    Wal-Mart Movie []

    Wal-Mart []

    Wal-Mart Watch []

    Wal-Mart vs Women []

  • you keep your precious Snapper brand name for your quality products and start up some new brand name for your low end crap you sell at Wal-Mart. Win - win.
    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:20PM (#15019837) Homepage Journal you keep your precious Snapper brand name for your quality products and start up some new brand name for your low end crap you sell at Wal-Mart.

      Because Walmart didn't want his production capabilities. They wanted his brand.
    • The problem is that Wal-Mart wants cheap lawnmowers with a prestige name on them. Wal-Mart doesn't care if the products are the same quality as what are sold at higher priced dealers, they just want mowers that have shiny bells and whistles and a prestige name brand. I used to have a Snapper lawn mower, it really was a good as the review made Snapper sound. I had the mower for five years and sold it for nearly what I paid for it.
  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:17PM (#15019814)
    They have created a vicious cycle that makes it so that they drive down the profits of domestic manufacturers, which sends the good jobs out of the country, and then they sell the cheap, Chinese-made crap to the people who lost their job because now it's all they can afford. Eventually, the Wal-Martification of the economy will leave us on the brink of disaster because all of our real manufacturing will be outsourced.

    What this guy did that was so smart was to recognize that at the end of the day, there is only economic destruction to be had from placing sales numbers and short term profits on a pedastal. Most of Wal-Mart's suppliers would do well to follow in his foot steps and reach a gentleman's agreement to collectively tell Wally World to agree to their terms or fuck off.

    But wait... they can't do that. That'd be price colluding, even though it would actually benefit the public if the makers of kitchen supplies collectively pulled out of Wal-Mart, for example. Wal-Mart isn't that profitable. They make take in $220B a year, but last I saw they only make about $7B. You know what smart people call that, considering how many stores that profit is spread over? A house of cards. All it would take would be 1 or 2 years of a concerted effort by their suppliers to revolt to bring Wal-Mart to its knees.
    • That would be nice to see: Wal-Mart executives going to their suppliers, asking what they can do to carry their product. Maybe the suppliers will have no chairs, or bed of nail chairs for the Wal-Mart guys to sit in. "Make yourself comfortable, have a seat..."
    • They have created a vicious cycle that makes it so that they drive down the profits of domestic manufacturers, which sends the good jobs out of the country

      I'd prefer selling lawnmowers to manufacturing them. I'd hardly call "manufacturing" jobs "good."

      Yeah, they used to be $9/hr + benefits in the midwest, but the stuff also cost more. There are way better jobs out there, you just need some education to get them. Let China make crap, and when they get money and want better jobs, they'll outsource too.

      In the
    • by cant_get_a_good_nick ( 172131 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:36PM (#15019994)
      You haven't described Wal-Mart as much as most capitalists today. The goal of every organization seems to be solely to drive down prices. Wal_Mart has just grown to the point where it's most effective at it.

      The problem isn't walmart per se as much as how we've constructed the system. It focusses solely on a very small part of the complex system known as an economy, an individual corporation's costs. It rewards companies that do this - Wal-Mart, Dell, etc. The problem is this isn't good for the long term health of the overall system.

      Henry Ford years ago knew that the best way to make his cars sell was to have overall system health. The efficiencies of the assembly line allowed him to raise wages, as he thought having people able to afford his cars was a good thing. The Snapper guy saw the same, the long term health of his company, and made a business decision that he felt was best for longer term health. I wish him well, he doesn't have the advantages that Ford did at his time, and lots of disadvantages.
      • Henry Ford's context for those amazing wages was that he was the first, or one of the first, mass production automobile manufacturers, had little or no competition, and could afford to not sweat the salaries in order to hire the best workers. No one ever mentions that, they make him out to be some magnanimous altruistic nice guy who liked paying his workers fairly. He was not. He was just as cold blooded as any factory owner and later proved it when he had competition.
      • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @04:36PM (#15020479)
        But not all companies are like that. I think people tend to overfocus on the companies that screw their employees and forget there are a lot that don't. In the category of competition to Wal Mart there's Costco. They are a discount sotre, big warehouse large volume and all that. They are profitable, to the tune of $1 billion per year real profit (like $6.6 billion gross profit), $3 billion in the bank, less than a billion in debt, all in all a solid, profitable corp. None the less they pay their employess very well, to the tune of $15/hour, they get good benefits, etc.

        They don't make as much as Walmart does, but then they aren't as big. Also Walmart has a great deal of outstanding debt, about 70% of their total equity, whereas Costco could pay their entire debt, if it was to their advantage to do so.

        It's perfectly possible for companies to thrive and not be cutthroats like Walmart. Will they be as big? Maybe not, but who cares? There is room in the market for a big guy who's all about cutting things to the minimum as well as others that pitch a little higher class.

        Walmart's "low prices" aren't some magical field that just suck everyone in. I personally don't care for their stores and the merchandise they choose to stock. So I don't shop there, I shop at Costco instead for the most part. Works just fine. It's not like Walmart is charging 10% of what their competitors do or anything. Sure they are probably a little cheaper, but not enough I have to care.
    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:47PM (#15020076) Homepage Journal
      Parasite? Landlord is more like it.

      This reminded of something I learned 20 years ago when my college made me learn economics: Ricardo's Theory of Rent.

      Suppose you are a landlord with two plots of land suitable for growing corn. A, however, products more corn per acre than B. Do you charge the same rent? Of course not. You charge more for A of course. But how much more? Ricardo's argument supposedly showed that if A produced a hundred bushels a year more than B, market forces would place the rent of A at price higher than B by the amount of profit in a hundred bushels of corn.

      Get it? Any excess productivity due to the land goes to the landlord.

      I don't see why his argument doesn't apply equally to Wal-Mart. If Wal-Mart's access to customers is so much greater, then the differential profit is largely if not entirely theirs.

      Why would you do business with them? Well, perhaps you're especially efficient at being a large scale sharecropper. Your marginal cost for producing an 100 additional bushels of corn is less than the difference in rent, so you still profit more by renting A. The fellow renting B, however, may be at or above his capacity. Imagine he makes fancy "artisinal" corn to supply high end restaurants. He could in theory produce more corn on A, but it would cost him more than the difference in rent.

      Clearly, a company like Snapper is no more suited for supplying Wal-Mart than a Japanese Kobe beef farmer can supply McDonalds. And that wasn't what Wal-Mart wanted. Wal-Mart was offering him a chance to liquidate the value in his company's brand, turning future steady profits into quick cash. If this had been a family business with sons who didn't want to take it over, it would have been a sweet deal. However, as he intended to continue running the business, it was not in his interest to undermine his high end product with cheap knock-offs carrying the same nameplate.

      It's not exactly a genius move.
  • by Erwos ( 553607 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:18PM (#15019819)
    I mean, really, this is hardly the earth-shattering revelation I was expecting. Walmart sells cheap stuff. Company wants to sell expensive stuff. Company decides not to go with Walmart. There weren't any death threats or dirty tricks, just some calm discussion and reasonable logic.

    I don't see why it's news that branding and quality are important. Even the folks running Walmart are not so dense - they just like to feed off that lower part of the retail sector. Historical note: the United States got its start in the textile industry not by producing higher quality stuff than you'd find in, say, Britain, but by producing lower quality stuff that was "good enough", but much cheaper. America got a reputation for cheap, lousy material - but then again, everyone bought it, even when better-but-more-expensive local material was available

  • wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by donnyspi ( 701349 ) <junk5.donnyspi@com> on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:20PM (#15019836) Homepage
    Wow, thanks for the "brief" "summary." I don't think I need to read the book now...
  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:25PM (#15019894) ak.ap/index.html []
    DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- For spring break, some college students set out for sun-drenched beaches or cheap European cities. Skyler Bartels headed for the local Wal-Mart. Bartels, 20, an aspiring writer and Drake University sophomore, thought he'd spend a week in a Wal-Mart as a test of endurance, using it as the premise for a magazine article. His college adviser liked the idea.
    For 41 hours, Bartels wandered the aisles of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Windsor Heights that's open 24 hours a day. He checked out shoppers, read magazines, watched movies on the DVD display and played video games.
    Other shoppers and employees didn't pay much attention until the end of his stay, he said, when it appeared some store greeters began to take notice -- pointing at him and whispering.
    A shift manager approached him and asked him if he was finding everything he needed.
    "He said, 'Didn't I see you over by the magazines, like, five hours ago?' I told him, 'Maybe,"' Bartels said.

    This guy lived at Wal-Mart during his Spring Break. I heard Des Moines can be boring at times, but come on now, whatever happened to exploring the great outdoors?
  • Why even link to the article if you're going to reprint the entire text of it? Also, as someone else mentioned, it's kind of odd that Hemos is saying "Yes, I've read the book," but then completely gets the title wrong. Something ain't quite right at slashdot...
    • Shit. My bad. He didn't even link to the article. One has to wonder how much Penguin Press paid Slashdot for this ridiculously blatant advertisement. Quite honestly, this is without a doubt definitive proof that slashdot gets paid to run slashvertisements.
  • by syrion ( 744778 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:29PM (#15019935)
    Snappers really are excellent mowers. I don't know that I'd buy a Snapper push-mower, just because push-mowers tend to get banged up since their job is basically to get the rough areas where a riding mower won't go, but their riding mowers are reliable and easy to maintain.
  • by shrapnull ( 780217 ) * on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:30PM (#15019944)
    Snapper had been acquired by Simplicity, just as Simplicity was acquired by Briggs & Stratton. This gives B&S all tiers of products: consumer, professional and commercial.

    Snapper may not be in the commodity stores, but that's not because they are a boutique item. It is an intentional attempt to maintain a reputation of dignity among professionals.

    From Simplicity Manufacturing's Website:

    On July 4, 2004, Briggs & Stratton Corporation acquired Simplicity Manufacturing and its companies Snapper, Ferris Industries and Giant-Vac. The purchase represents Briggs & Stratton's first attempt to serve the lawn and garden industry directly. Briggs & Stratton believes this acquisition will allow it to build closer relationships with its OEM and retail customers from an operational, sales and marketing standpoint.

    "Simplicity is a solid company with several compelling brands, a strong position in the retail dealer channel for outdoor power product, and superior product development capabilities," said John S. Shiely, Briggs & Stratton's Chairman, CEO and President. "This acquisition is another step in our strategy to present an even more compelling value proposition to consumers of our products and superior returns to our shareholders," he said.

    Simplicity Manufacturing, Inc. Port Washington, WI

    In other words, they already had the cheap crap to sell (B&S Mowers), and didn't want to compete with themselves with higher priced models that could go to specialty home improvement stores where they would move more quickly.

  • The difference. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hal2814 ( 725639 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:31PM (#15019951)
    "Wier doesn't really think that a $99 lawn mower from Wal-Mart and Snapper's lawn mowers are the same product any more than a cup of 50-cent vending-machine coffee is the same as a Starbucks nonfat venti latte."

    Yeah, one of each pair is massively overpriced for what you get. Snapper makes a decent mower, but similar quality mowers can be found at far cheaper prices.
  • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:36PM (#15019996)

    As someone who spent one summer installing security cameras in a Wal-mart (so they could more carefully watch their cashiers) and assembling lawn-mowers etc. for displays and for customers who paid for that option, I can confirm that the quality of the machines they sell is abysmal. It was not at all unusual to go through three sets of parts to get enough properly made parts to assemble one lawn mower. I wouldn't accept one as a gift.

  • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:42PM (#15020033) Homepage Journal
    Snapper is the sort of high-quality nameplate, like Levi Strauss, that Wal-Mart hopes can ultimately make it more Target-like.

    Wait, wait, wait.. there's supposed to be a difference between Target and Walmart??
    • Actually, yes. Target tends to attract more affluent customers who are willing to pay a bit more than the typical Wal-mart customer. Target does this by creating the perception that their products of higher quality, but still relatively cheap. (I have to admit that I certainly think that Target products, while not being of high quality, are on average better than what one finds at Wal-mart)

      I can certainly see the difference in customers where I live. At Wal-mart, most of the customers look like they emer
  • by gatkinso ( 15975 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @03:54PM (#15020124)
    A lawn mower is for the most part, an engine. B&S makes engines for most of the mowers out there (Snapper included). B&S engines are also on Murrays - the $138 mower sold at Walmart.

    I bought one of these mowers 5 years ago... and it still runs fine.

    Briggs and Stratton is the real variable here, not Snapper.
    • by sirwired ( 27582 )
      The deck on your $138 Murray special is made from much thinner steel, uses plastic bushings on the wheels, has a diapraghm-based carb, (which is an inferior design to the bowl-carbs used on better engines) uses cheaper paint, a smaller, less-powerful engine, poor mulching capability, and has a smaller fuel tank. It also has a weaker handle, and is a pain to adjust. Maintenance is messy and more difficult. On the other hand, it is a LOT lighter than a quality mower.

      As a random side note, B&S ALSO owns
  • Hey (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cubicledrone ( 681598 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2006 @07:16PM (#15021796)
    Is anyone else bothered by the fact that the U.S. is borrowing money to buy products from foreign countries with unemployment checks?

    Anyone else bothered by the fact that entire towns are being closed because Wal-Mart says "your product is too expensive?"

    Can anyone explain what the fuck "your product is too expensive" has to do with the free market? Isn't "too expensive" the customer's decision?

    Anyone bothered by the fact of both record budget and trade deficits while 50% of working-age adults are not employed full-time?

    Or is everyone just fine with their neighbors being thrown out of work while they rack up another five figures on the 28% credit card for a plasma TV?

    Can anyone tell me what "circling the bowl" means?

    This isn't about low low prices. This is about low low standard of living. It sucks and it's getting worse.

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly