Photo by Richard Zowie
Is Walmart responsible for the demise of Mom and Pop stores in America?
It depends on whom you ask.
A few years ago, I went to downtown Clio and asked various businesses their opinion of Walmart. Most were willing to talk. Two businesses, both long-time fixtures in Clio, refused to do so. One told me they had nothing to say while the second initially agreed to be interviewed. They spent about 15 minutes answering my questions and when I called to clarify some comments, they told me they were withdrawing and didn’t wish their comments to be publicized.
The second-thoughts owner, whom I will not identify, had said that Walmart with its cheaper merchandise made it more difficult for the owner to do business.
Other downtown businesses told me, yes, Walmart made it tougher for them to do business, but they didn’t see the department store supergiant as culpable for businesses struggling or closing.
Read and judge for yourself.
Wal-Mart: the culprit for the demise of Mom and Pop in Clio?
Part 2 of 4: Downtown businesses compete with Wal-Mart’s ‘always low’ prices
By Richard Zowie
Businesses generally try to acquire a product at the lowest possible prices; the cheaper a product can be acquired and the higher a price it can be sold at, the more profit a business can make. Taylor does find it difficult to compete with Wal-Mart’s low prices, especially when it comes to purchasing flower stock.
“Wal-Mart, along with grocery stores, buys [flowers] for less than what I can buy them for,” she said. “If I were to try to compete with [Wal-Mart’s] prices, I’d be out of business. I’ve even tried to contact the plant grower who sells to Wal-Mart, since they have such a good price on plants, and they told me that they specifically sell only to Wal-Mart. They said they couldn’t supply enough to Wal-Mart as it was, let alone to a small business.
“You see the prices of everything go up, but on flowers people are used to them being at set prices and don’t accept the change. My flowers cost the same that they did for my customers eight years ago. We haven’t raised our prices on them. It’s hard to compete with the grocery stores and everybody that carries them,” she added.
But Taylor also added that when flower shops struggle to stay open, they can’t just blame big-box department stores.
“One thing I see that typically happens is that people say, ‘Oh, a flower business, how cute. I’d really like to own a flower shop and work with flowers.’ But they don’t know anything about the flower business,” she explained. “They’ve never worked in a flower shop. They don’t know how difficult it is, and they’re not floral designers, or they don’t know how to make an arrangement. Word travels when people aren’t satisfied with the work they do…Flowers only last for so long. You have to know how many to buy, what you can sell and move and what the people are looking for. You end up throwing a lot away if you don’t know what you’re doing. With that you get a lot of loss and lose a lot of money.”
Paul Lee, who owns Clio Computers on West Vienna Street at the corner of Mill Street across from National City Bank, said that though Wal-Mart’s prices can be a challenge, knowing your business and your customers can make a big difference. He usually buys five to 10 computers at a time while Wal-Mart might purchase a thousand at discounted prices. While Wal-Mart might be able to buy a higher volume of computers cheaper and sell them at cheaper prices, Lee said there’s much more to buying a computer than just considering its price.
“It’s sad that people look at the bottom line,” said Lee, who’s been in business for six years and has lived in Clio for more than a decade. “I charge you a buck and they charge you 50 cents or I charge you 10 bucks and they charge you eight bucks, that’s what people see initially. I understand people don’t have a lot of money, but they don’t see the service behind it. They don’t see that they can call me at any time. These guys are selling $300, $400, $600 systems, and I don’t even want to compete because their service is in India where they’re being paid $20 per day instead of $20 per hour.”
Lee said that he’s not too worried about Wal-Mart since his philosophy is to offer quality service. This means doing a good job of building computers, repairing them and being available for service calls when needed. In other words, continue doing what he’s been doing.
While the computer store owner is flexible and has a plan for his business, he also sees how other businesses are anxious about their own futures.
“VG’s is here, and then Wal-Mart walks in and everyone flocks there because they’re cheaper. VG’s has been here 20 years and has been helping you, and you forget about that,” Lee said. “There goes your community; you’ve just walked out on your community. That’s what happens to your little Mom and Pop hardware stores.”