GWU Issues Management

A blog established for the George Washington University School of Political Management's Issues Management course.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Yeah Wal-Mart!

As I mentioned in the last class, ten years in this business has taught me that no company is all good or all bad. Companies are run by human beings, with all their flaws and foibles. But most human beings believe they, themselves, are fundamentally good and are able to convince themselves that their employer is fundamentally good. Wal-Mart, its executives and employees are no different.

Our assigned reading for this class, The Wal-Mart Effect, while balanced, does end up being, at best, skeptical of Wal-Mart, as a positive force. The Frontline piece we will see this Thursday is decidedly negative toward Wal-Mart. So, I think we need to give attention to the pro-Wal-Mart perspective. One way to start is to give a fair hearing to their public affairs website, Wal-Mart Facts. Look over this site as though you'd just been hired to conduct a speaking tour on behalf of Wal-Mart. What do you find persuasive about the site? What facts surprised you favorably? Leave your innate cynicism at the door. Be a believer.

On Thursday, we're going divide ourselves into pro and anti Wal-Mart groups, randomly assigned. So, be prepared to argue either side. But for now, for purposes of commenting on this post, be pro-Wal-Mart, either by commenting on their website or by bringing in other relevant facts or issues.

23 Comments:

Blogger Alison said...

There is no doubt that Wal-Mart as a business has its negatives. Like any business or corporation, it's bound to run into nay-sayers. But the fact is, Wal-Mart's objective isn't retail or profits; rather, they're in the business of customer service - and with that, they are ahead of the game.

Wal-Mart serves its customers by offering them quality merchandise at an affordable and comepetitive price. It is because of this that they remain so popular among its consumers. beyond selling them merchandise, though, Wal-Mart engages in many other initiatives to serve its customers - more than just as a retail provider: they promote environmentally friendly lightbulbs at a discounted price to help reduce global warming; they provide thousands of new jobs, economic benefits and tax revenues with the opening of every new store; they engage communities by selling locally grown produce in their stores; they employ and offer benefits to a diverse work force, including people of all ages, races, gender, backgrounds, economic status, mental ability, etc.

These are just a few examples of Wal-Mart's commitment to serving its customers and its employees. Wal-Mart is certainly not immune from cirticism, but those it does face are not unique to Wal-Mart - they are part and parcel to any large, successful company. Therefore, in designing the speaking tour for Wal-Mart execs, I would structure it around Wal-Mart's superior customer service orientation.

Excuse me, I have to go find my "I Heart Wal-Mart" t-shirt now...

11:06 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

It is obvious that Wal-Mart has been taking note of criticisms of the company. It has been listening to its customers and making changes to make shopping a better experience. Wal-Mart is taking huge steps toward sustainability with its Sustainability 360 plan. The company was not forced to take such drastic steps, but it wants to adapt to and lead the 21st century.

Wal-Mart continues to give back to the communities in which it has stores through local community giving, allowing other groups to have fundraisers at store locations, and through creating a great deal of sales tax revenue, which goes back to the communities.

Wal-Mart is becoming a much more open company as well. On the website you can easily obtain information about the number and types of stores in a state, the average wage for employees in the state, sales taxes made and taxes paid, amount of money given to local charities and raised by other groups in the stores, and the state's teacher of the year.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

Walmart, while dealing with the negative press, has also done many good things. These things, they should work on promoting more. Their charitable giving is impressive…giving over $6 per second. While that may not sound like a lot, when taken over the entire year amounts to millions. And gave a quarter of a million to those affected by the storms this year.

Also they have worked hard to help local citrus growers who have been affected by adverse weather. And is working in partnership for better healthcare.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

With all of the criticism Wal-Mart receives, it is only fair to take a closer look at the positive outreach Wal-Mart provides, and they should be applauded for the good they attribute to America’s communities through their charitable givings.

Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club have committed $250,000 to the American Red Cross to those affected by recent severe winter storms, continue to provide grants to educators, and since the devastation and destruction that hit the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina, they have provided over $18 million in cash donations to assist in emergency efforts.

In addition, their “Operation Christmas” helped to ensure that military families too, had the opportunity to celebrate Christmas through donating furniture, toys, and even electronics, for families celebrating the season. The operation contributed roughly $500,000 through gift cards and merchandise.

It is because of Wal-Marts continued financial success that they are able to give back to consumers and receive due recognition for their charitable efforts.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Elan said...

The Wal-mart Effect, the text we’ve been reading for class, talks about the overarching effect of Wal-mart: the way it has changed the economy, the nation, and society on the whole. For better or for worse, though, such macro-analyses do not normally weigh heavily on the minds of consumers; because of its hugeness, most folks are unable to grasp the full concept of the so-called “Wal-mart Effect.” What strikes most people, what weigh heavily on the minds of most, are the more easily grasped aspects of Wal-marts activities.

In any quantifiable manner, Wal-mart has yet to need to do PR battle against the “Wal-mart Effect,” because people haven’t been stirred up by it; instead, they’ve had to deal with issues like indirectly employing illegal labor in their cleaning crews, locking employees in stores overnight to finish restocking, and, most recently, with claims of sexual discrimination. Taking a proactive approach this time around, Wal-mart is dealing with a situation whereby almost one-hundred-thousand employees were underpaid over the last five years.

According to Wal-mart’s public affairs website, walmartfacts.com, the mistake was discovered not by a watchdog organization, a whistleblower within the company, or the government – but by the organization itself during an internal review (http://www.walmartfacts.com/articles/4778.aspx). Wal-mart then voluntary reported the mistake to the federal government and will now be repaying the unpaid wages. Furthermore, in order to facilitate this process, Wal-mart has set up a website (http://www.dol.settlement.wal-mart.com) where employees can find out whether they are eligible for repayment of wages. For all the criticism the organization receives, these actions make Wal-mart seem anything but overly secretive and closed to outsiders.

10:22 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

The primary thing Wal-Mart is known for is their low prices. It has become fairly common knowledge in America that by shopping at Wal-Mart one can save money. On their website, Wal-Mart specifically tells us how much: an average of $2,300 per family per year. That is no small amount of money. This is indicative of the real Wal-Mart, as opposed to the monster often portrayed by its critics and the media. Wal-Mart is helping millions of people live better lives by helping them to afford more things, often basic necessities like food and clothing, than they'd otherwise be able to afford by shopping at other retail establishments.

It's also important to keep in mind that while Wal-Mart's first objective is to serve their customers by keeping prices low, they are still a business. In fact, despite a year filled with anti-Wal-Mart sentiment, they still continue to increase their profitability. Wal-Mart's 3rd quarter earnings were $83.543 billion, a 12% increase compared to the same quarter the previous year. Wal-Mart continues to make money, and at the same time they give a lot of money back, donating $245 million to charity in 2005.

It's great that we have a company like Wal-Mart that has found a way to save us money while at the same time earning increasing profits. That is just the sort of company that we want and need in the United States of America.

7:08 AM  
Blogger Brian C. said...

Wal-Mart most definitely has a disadvantage being the largest retailer in the world. Having that distinction is undoubtedly going to put you under the microscope for every thing you do. While we tend to focus on the negatives, especially in the media, Wal-Mart is not the ultimate “evil empire” as portrayed.

I think that it is especially important to focus on the health care initiative that they are proposing. Having Wal-Mart on board with this will not only give it more credibility, but will show both politicians and the public how important and serious these businesses are about making it happen. Having Wal-Mart throw their weight and influence behind this idea will force people to take a closer look at the initiative, which will improve the lives drastically for working class Americans. Their charitable donations should not go unnoticed, especially with their dedication to Katrina victims. Lastly, their vision for “greener” stores and environmentally friendly buildings will be a huge step in changing the ways corporate America views their role in protecting the environment.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

The Wal-Mart Facts page is an obvious attempt by the company to counteract the issues for which they are regularly lambasted. By providing positive examples of their efforts in issues such as sustainability and employment diversity, they can control and spin the image that is presented of Wal-Mart. Most specifically, in re: to employment, they discuss how "proud" they are of their company-wide diversity and how it is something they cherish. This is an obvious reaction to the negative publicity that they have received from their unfair hiring practices and sweat-shop style use of illegal immigrants to clean their stores. However, on its face, this does appear to position Wal-Mart as a diverse and friendly employer (with no mention of the negative charges leveled against them.) That being said, Wal-Mart is not all evil in their motives and I shouldn't attribute heinous motives to them at all times, therefore I'm willing to concede that, perhaps, the company is actually a significant addition to the economy by reaching out to small and diverse suppliers, by hiring 1.8 million diverse employees and by providing a diverse subsection of the population with low cost products.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Brandt said...

I think the fact that they can say 90% of their employees are covered by health insurance speaks volumes to opposition from labor. They can also say that less than 6% of employees have coverage through a government program. This goes against a main attack on the company that the public sector is making up for the companies lack of coverage. Having pictures of the CEO with some members of the SEIU that worked with Walmart to launch the “Better Health Care Together” campaign. Walmart is also one of largest private-sector provider of health care. These would give people a much more positive perception of how their company treated their employees. Combined with a discussion about how much money they give to the local communities they are a part of. I would try and use the tour to demonstrate how Walmart cares about the community through health care, donations, and the environmental efforts that the company is making. I would use the tour to make Walmart feel like a part of community rather than a drain as many opponents view the company.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Its easy to run Wal-Mart down, their size makes them an easy target for nearly everyone. However, the principal reason that people dislike Wal-Mart is also because of the principal reason that people love Wal-Mart and the reason for their success: Always Low Prices. Wal-Mart is not kidding about their commitment to always bring customers the lowest price. They have helped millions of Americans in so doing. One thing that often gets forgotten when talking about Wal-Mart's impact on smaller communities is the fact that often times when they come in they bring consumers an array of goods that they did not have access to prior to Wal-Mart's arrival.

Yet for all it does, it has a serious image problem. Wal-Mart has made moves to change this, but such moves are often met with criticism and cynicism. Their Acres of America program is a stunning example of corporate commitment to protecting the environment, and a one of a kind program. You don't find other retailers pledgeing to preserve an acre for every acre they develop. Their sustanability 360 program is certainly a bold initative and it is hard to imagine any other company making such a pledge. Wal-Mart knows that to continue in it success, it has to please its customers. As the "Wal-Mart effect" is recognized by more consumers for its negative impacts, it is also being more fully understood by the corporation itself. CEO Scott recognizes that such impacts are not what Wal-Mart wants to be known for and is trying to create a new image and role for Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart needs to be given the chance to succeed. At least they're trying to make a better world, can the same be said for Exxon-Mobile?

10:43 AM  
Blogger Danny said...

The one thing I have to say in Wal-Mart's favour is that they at least try to do good things. It's easy to just say that Wal-Mart only does this stuff for good PR, but I'm sure that they actually care about helping others. Their charity work and the aid they gave after natural disasters all came from a genuine desire to help. The same goes for the support they give to military families. There's no question that Wal-Mart benefits from the publicity around this charitable work, but I believe they would do it anyways, just to give back to the community.

10:45 AM  
Blogger ChrisG. said...

I’d be the first to admit that Wal-Mart isn’t that big in the San Francisco Bay Area where I come from and called home all my life until recently. Then again, most big box stores are not exactly viewed favorably there. The website highlighted a lot for me. There’s just so much there. I was interested in all the store openings that they highlight and the fact that so many people apply for their jobs. With the anti-Walmart environment we are fed from time to time, how is it possible that their stores just keep popping up in cities right next door to each other (as is starting to happen in SF Bay Area). As ‘bad’ as we want Walmart to be, they deserve a lot of credit.

12:06 PM  
Blogger lindsay a said...

In looking over the Wal-Mart facts, I think its clear that Wal-Mart thinks it is, and is trying, to make a difference in the world. They honestly believe that they improve the economies of cities they enter, and have began the Sustainability 360 campaign, which is a very large project for such a big company. In addition, the opening of he first energy-efficient store will set the standard for new building projects for other companies in the future. Wal-mart, in all their efforts are trying to make good their "superpower" status.

1:46 PM  
Blogger phillip cory said...

Someone once said "you can't make all the people happy all the time". But, you have to try and public affairs reaffirms this everyday. Just like any big company, Wal-Mart knows that it must return itself to the community that sustains it. Through numerous efforts they do this. It is a never ending battle that must be fought my all large organizations (look at our government), but Wal-Mart does it better than most. If they did not, they would not survive and they know this.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Melinda R said...

While I tend to think of Wal-Mart negatively, there is one positive image that I will forever associate with the company: when the government failed to deliever supplies to Katrina victims, Wal-Mart's trucks brought in food, water, and diapers. Even the most cynical of us have to agree that single action was a positive contribution to a group who needed it the most.

Wal-Mart has created efficiencies in transportation and production that other companies do not have the opportunity to do, just by the sheer volume of its business. Look at how they encouraged suppliers to stop putting deodorant in boxes -- that single act probably saved a forest. As Wal-Mart tries to make a more positive impression on the country, hopefully they will turn to these kind of conservationalist practices that can encourage other companies and organizations follow their lead.

2:10 PM  
Blogger Caitlin said...

Just like we have read in the Wal-Mart Effect the company has always been true to its primary goal of "always low prices", which makes it one of the most honest corporations in America. I think it's important that Wal-Mart play to this strength. The public affairs website does a great job and emphasizing Wal-Mart's economic benefits and describing action taken against major criticisms.

For one, Wal-Mart's potential to leave a large environmental footprint on the world is something that environmentalists seem to fear. I was surprised to see that Wal-Mart has big plans to become sustainable in the coming decades. The speech giving by Wal-Mart's CEO to the Business College in Whales should be very encouraging to environmentalists around the world. The CEO outlines some goals for suppliers as well which gets at the heart of the salmon industry problem in Chile, for example. He points out that small amounts of the reduction in waste from each of their 60,000 suppliers will have a big impact.

There is also a section for employee healthcare on the website. The first bullet talks about their participation in a health care coalition that happens to be supported by people such as Hillary Clinton. They also state that Wal-Mart employees can recieve health care for as little as $23 a week.

Given Wal-Mart's integrity in the past it is easy to convince consumers that they will follow through to the fullest on all of their statements. I think the website does a great job of drawing your eyes to the center of the page where they have positioned these wonderful statements about what they are doing to be a good "global citizen".

2:28 PM  
Blogger Caitlin said...

Just like we have read in the Wal-Mart Effect the company has always been true to its primary goal of "always low prices", which makes it one of the most honest corporations in America. I think it's important that Wal-Mart play to this strength. The public affairs website does a great job and emphasizing Wal-Mart's economic benefits and describing action taken against major criticisms.

For one, Wal-Mart's potential to leave a large environmental footprint on the world is something that environmentalists seem to fear. I was surprised to see that Wal-Mart has big plans to become sustainable in the coming decades. The speech giving by Wal-Mart's CEO to the Business College in Whales should be very encouraging to environmentalists around the world. The CEO outlines some goals for suppliers as well which gets at the heart of the salmon industry problem in Chile, for example. He points out that small amounts of the reduction in waste from each of their 60,000 suppliers will have a big impact.

There is also a section for employee healthcare on the website. The first bullet talks about their participation in a health care coalition that happens to be supported by people such as Hillary Clinton. They also state that Wal-Mart employees can recieve health care for as little as $23 a week.

Given Wal-Mart's integrity in the past it is easy to convince consumers that they will follow through to the fullest on all of their statements. I think the website does a great job of drawing your eyes to the center of the page where they have positioned these wonderful statements about what they are doing to be a good "global citizen".

2:29 PM  
Blogger Will said...

One thing Wal-Mart does very well on the Wal-Mart Facts website is the state-by-state economic impact reports. The reports go beyond just the number of stores and employees, they also go into detail on the impact of Wal-Mart on the state’s suppliers, the taxes paid to the state, and the community involvement in each state. If I was to go on a speaking tour for Wal-Mart, these facts would be of the utmost importance when making the case for Wal-Mart.

2:41 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16992313/

speaking of...

2:52 PM  
Blogger Justin P said...

I would stress not only the economic arguments made by Wal-Mart, which sometimes deal with issues complex enough to confuse persons with only a casual interest in Wal-Mart, but also the straight-forward examples of charitable donations made by the company.

Depending on the audience, I might be able to use an example of a specific charity that deals with an issue directly affecting that audience, or at least one that the audience would be sympathetic to. The ability of customers to nominate schools for charitable donations, as an example, also personalizes the process on a level that may leave a lasting impression of the company on its customers.

Economic arguments are important, but this is also one of the strongest areas of criticism from critics of Wal-Mart. It is vital to engage in the economic debate, and to frame all of the economic issues properly, but it is not enough only to react to critics. It is beneficial to highlight some facts, like notable charity programs, that are beyond rebuke. While one could claim that the motive behind these donations is possibly disingenuous, such an argument seems unlikely to completely mitigate the impact of diversified and intelligently-designed philanthropy.

Note: I apologize for posting this late. I can explain if necessary.

3:47 PM  
Blogger rach a said...

Wal-Mart is great because it provides All Americans with the opportunity to stay in touch with the tech-savvy modern age. Now, kids in Middlesburg, Indiana, a town of no more than 13,000, have the opportunity to call their parents in case of emergency on their cellphones they bought at Wal-Mart, and see the latest trends at affordable prices. Todays kids can stay connected to their peers and share experiences with kids from all over the country without feeling that they have less, know less, and sometimes even feel less.

We need to remember that employee of Wal-Mart is helping Americans stay in touch, and we need to help Wal-Mart continue building that community within our borders.

3:35 PM  
Blogger Bethany said...

So, I'm not a Walmart fan, but I must acknowledge that they have a massive impact. By targeting small towns, they have provided jobs in many communities that need them. Their ability to put pressure on suppliers has made many items more environmentally friendly (such as eliminating deodorant boxes). Like most things in life, the Walmart issue is not strictly black and white. There are many shades of gray among US businesses, and Walmart falls somewhere in the middle.

6:53 AM  
Blogger John said...

Wal-Mart provides jobs for thousands, offers affordable products to those who would otherwise be paying higher prices at Mom and Pop stores, promotes community involvement with store-specific programs, and prompts disciplined business practices from its venders. What more can you ask for from a com

12:52 PM  

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