Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Our man in bananas

Today I had the honor of working side by side with a Wal-Mart manager who shall remain nameless. This man, a retired Special Forces operative who has been everywhere from Peru to Panama to Scotland to Texas and now Florida, was entirely Gung Ho, in every fibre of his material extension, as Gung Ho-ness can possibly be. He was all about being the first to lift the heavy loads, the one to help all, the one to never participate in a conversation without promoting Wal-Mart, his employer of some 18 months. His basic approach to Wal-Mart: it is God, alias Mr. Bush, alias the Flag, and he sees no reason why anyone might wish to spend any money on consumer items or perishables anywhere else.

It was fascinating - this fit of unfeigned competence and fanaticism. He is in process of opening a giant distribution center -- said to be the largest anywhere -- which will deliver Wal-Mart stuffs to its Superstores and Sam's Clubs throughout Southwest Florida.

The scale of the operation clearly holds him in awe. Giant nitrogen-chilled rooms to hold bananas; Radio Frequency Identification for intelligent barcodes and hyperintimacy; hatred of Kerry for having the courage to dissent from the glory of Swiftboat Vet Self-Immortalization, Jimmy Carter is a coward, Clinton should have caught Bin Laden - no, that's his other life, but they are so difficult to keep separate, at least, they were for him.

As a military careerist, he had served on ships, been in Iraq in the first Bush war, reads the Drudge report with fervor and thinks Fox News and CNN are equally biased. "Somos pocos, pero somos locos" is tatooed around an image on his back. He worships Lee Scott, the current ceo of Wal-Mart, and as he reported after lunch, he dined in a local establishment where a few locals were putting on money airs, causing him to call his wife and tell her, viva voce, that they would be dining with Mr. Scott in December. The entire place, according to his telling, fell silent in rapt awe.

He knew little about retailing. He said a few interesting things, which could be entirely untrue, but no less intriguing as examples of what current Wal-Mart middle management believes:
  1. Wal-Mart tells all its suppliers what its customers want; they bend to its all powerful voice.
  2. Wal-Mart's suppliers have come to Bentonville and built sleek offices which are merely craven ambassadors waiting upon the pleasure of the King of Wal-Mart at his court, a warren of humble one-story wood-panelled offices, where whatever he says shapes their world, their marketing, and the future location of their employees, which is always China.
  3. Wal-Mart makes $.04 on everything it sells, no matter its price. It rules solely by volume (not unlike Google).
  4. Wal-Mart is about to go into the banking business.
  5. Wal-Mart is about to tell the music industry that no CD sold to its customers may cost more than $10.
  6. Wal-Mart knows more about consumer tastes, habits, buying preferences, price points, etc. than they know about themselves. Its Mordor eye is always watching, always on.
Wal-Mart has been called an information company masquerading as a retailer. Wal-mart's suppliers "sit naked in front of Wal-Mart" - according to a man interviewed by Hedrick Smith on his Frontline show airing tonight: Is Wal-Mart Good for America? Smith is one of the few thinking journalists around (he also did an interesting piece about Wal-Mart on Marketplace) -- I will try moving around my 13" made-in-China television's rabbit ears in hopes of getting a clear enuf PBS feed to watch it -- but I doubt he'll be telling my hombre loco anything he doesn't already know: To keep seeking to satiate our infinite desire, US manufacturers must go to China. In a few years, when China becomes expensive, Wal-Mart will direct them to Kazakhstan. Or Patagonia. Or Uranus.

But the thing to see is, this is not a departure from the Bush thread recently dominating this blog. Not at all. Nothing here is irrelevant. we are on topic, on point, with one for the money and two in the Bush.


Blogger Jon Husband said...

It's all Wealth Bondage, after all.

11/16/2004 11:59 PM  

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