Column | Wal-Mart’s here, now deal with itWhile I was walking Wednesday through the new Wal-Mart Supercenter in Jamestown, I felt both amazement and fear as I looked over the products and prices. Amazement at all the things that I could buy in one place, fear for any local businesses that don’t realize quickly that they are in serious trouble.
By: Logan C. Adams, The Jamestown Sun
While I was walking Wednesday through the new Wal-Mart Supercenter in Jamestown, I felt both amazement and fear as I looked over the products and prices.
Amazement at all the things that I could buy in one place, fear for any local businesses that don’t realize quickly that they are in serious trouble.
There was also the incessant the voice of consumerism in my brain screaming “BUY THAT! BUY THAT TOO!,” but that’s a different issue.
As I’ve said before, Wal-Mart is not evil, nor is it good. It is simply a juggernaut of efficient consumerism that has come here from Bentonville, Ark., to sell us lots of stuff for cheap and make lots of money.
But as I browsed the aisles and took in the decor, one reality — one that all business owners and managers within 50 miles of Jamestown need to know — became clear: Wal-Mart brought its “A” game to town.
This store has more products in one place than any other Jamestown retailer. The floors are clean, except for a few spots where the roof was been leaking after Tuesday night’s heavy rains, and the colors in the store’s decorations are actually somewhat pleasing to the eye.
I could go on, but it’s probably best I just say that anyone who wants to compete with Wal-Mart had better be looking for a challenge. In fact, local businesspeople would be wise to take a stroll through the new store themselves to see what they’re up against.
The silver lining for our local businesses is that this big box still doesn’t have adequate parking and won’t until the old store is knocked and paved over. This means that the new store won’t be performing at its best until August, so you locals have some time to change, and you should start with customer service.
I’d written in a prior column that customer service is lacking in this city — I’ve received plenty of reader mail confirming my belief, believe me — but that prompted an area employer to complain that I didn’t provide enough solutions. Well then, here are two.
To start, bosses of the area, make sure your employees care about what they do for a living. I’ve worked jobs in the past where I had trouble caring, and my performance suffered as a result. There were many reasons why I couldn’t care all that much, such as low pay, incompetent management and a general attitude from the company that it cared very little if I lived or died.
Bosses everywhere should be careful that their workers aren’t experiencing anything like that. Give them a good work environment with decent wages and a fair workload, or you’re bound to have unhappy workers.
Of course, some people simply don’t want to care, or are flat-out incapable of caring. Pink slips were invented for these people, whether or not their parent is the owner or manager.
After that, convert your employees to the cult of “Thank you.” That is to say, if the kindest thing your cashier says to me during the exchange is “Here’s your change,” something is wrong.
There should be a giving of thanks every time someone gives you money for a product or service, without exception. Your customers give you money, which you use to pay your employees. Those employees can afford to show some gratitude.
It’s a shame I even have to mention it, but the employees at you-know-who hardly ever fail to say thank you to me at the end of a transaction, so all the other businesses in town really don’t have any excuse.
Good customer service can save a business from getting steamrolled by the big boxes, but sometimes a little something more is needed. It’s called innovation, and anyone can do it. In fact, it helps to be a small business in this category.
Big companies like Wal-Mart sure make lots of money, but these companies also develop their own sort of inertia when it comes to innovation. It takes more to get them moving than the smaller businesses, and it takes them longer to change directions or stop. Little companies can try new things without having to work through complex chains of command.
Sadly, this doesn’t work out as often as I’d like because the managers of little companies are often stupid, change-fearing people who like to say “Let’s just guilt people into shopping here because we’re their neighbors.” That needs to stop.
If you can’t think of new products and services to offer, your business is in trouble. If you refuse to consider them in the first place, you deserve bankruptcy and nothing more.
This goes beyond retail stores. MarketWatch reported last week that Wal-Mart wants to set up an electronics service similar to Best Buy’s “Geek Squad.” It will take it months at least to make it happen, but the news should serve as a warning to everyone: Wal-Mart is always trying to make more money, and though it may be slow, it doesn’t give up. The trick is to stay out in front.
Finally, people (myself included) are going to shop at Wal-Mart in droves. That cannot be stopped. Bosses of the area, your new goal is to convince them that they should come by your places, too.
(Logan C. Adams is the assistant editor of The Jamestown Sun. He operates the Sun’s news blog at www.areavoices.com/adams and can be reached at 701-952-8451 or by e-mail at email@example.com)