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The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart

Hemos posted more than 8 years ago | from the he's-the-man-who-never-returned dept.

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 www.walmarteffectbook.com 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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And??? (1, Funny)

eno2001 (527078) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019687)

And???

Re:And??? (2, Funny)

ShaniaTwain (197446) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019902)

..and they all lived happily ever after.

Re:And??? (4, Funny)

MarkGriz (520778) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019973)

"...has recently published a book entitled The Man Who Said No To Wal-mart."

Re:And???

Apparently you've never seen a slashvertisement before.

I said No too (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15019699)

At their customer service. I thought it was about me.

Obvious. (5, Insightful)

tpgp (48001) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019702)

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. (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019758)

The 50 cent vending machine coffee is $1.00, and it grinds fresh beans and brews very consistently.

Re:Obvious. (3, Insightful)

sammeal (859766) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019796)

"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.

Re:Obvious. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15019817)

I guess my rootkitted CD isn't crap, huh?

Re:Obvious. (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019833)

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. (1)

stupidfoo (836212) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019895)

yeah, I bought a PS2. Seems fine to me.

Re:Obvious. (4, Insightful)

homer_ca (144738) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020057)

Yeah,and that PS2 cost $149.99, the same as any other store that sells PS2s. The only difference is you had that great Walmart shopping experience.

Re:Obvious. (5, Interesting)

sqlrob (173498) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Clueless idiot (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15019970)

You're really clueless.

Sony stuff is garbage. It uses a bunch of crappy proprietary formats (like ATRAC or Memory Stick) that usually die (like BetaMax). It's usually overpriced too - you're paying for the name. Last I bought a [standard definition] TV theirs had one of the worst looking picture out there (and I'm not blind; I do AV editing daily). I'm now shopping for a HDTV, adn trust me, there isn't a chance in hell it'll be a sony. The picture quality of the ones I've seen was laughable (RCA is the only one I've seen with a worse picture). And Sony means DRM and rootkits, don't remember? If you think Sony's garbage is worth anything you're clueless...

And Apple's stuff isn't much better. Overpriced commodity hardware that comes with an OS I don't want as it runs none of the stuff I need. Or ugly overpriced mp3 players that are meant to work with a DRM'ed single-source vendor/monopoly in online music, which doesn't interoperate with anything - they don't license their DRM/technologies, instead, they sue those who try (like Real), unlike other companies (yes, even those Redmond folks we like to bash here) who license theirs so anyone can have an online store, and multiple devices from different vendors can play the content. If I've seen something that was 100% worthless before, that's it! (However, here there's so much people drinking Apple Koolaid and mac fanboys... *WAY* overhyped junk!)

There are LOTS of quality stuff out there worth buying, but if I had to name 2 that aren't, it's Sony and Apple!

Re:Obvious. (2, Insightful)

Orangejesus (898961) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020108)

The last 5 things I've bought from sony have been junk that have either not worked right or broken within a year. Sony once may have produced quality products but today they produce cheap junk that sells on the sony name.

Re:Obvious. (5, Insightful)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019812)

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. (1, Funny)

Tweekster (949766) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019879)

Ever consider that mom and pop stores suck? "If my parents had a store, I wouldnt shop there" --Seinfeld

Re:Obvious. (5, Insightful)

StarvingSE (875139) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020026)

Mom and pop stores don't suck, they just have to sell at prices higher than walmart. They don't have 3000 stores or the push-around power that walmart has due to its market share.

What I do get at the ma and pa store is a friendly face and great service. They usually are very knowledgable about the product they sell, and many times are willing to go the extra length if I have any problems at all with my purchase.

The last time I went into a walmart (with a friend, I never buy there and avoid it like the plague), the place was dirty, shelves were disorganized, and no one was willing to help other than to point down an isle. Price isn't always more important, although I believe that through advertising the american public is being brainwashed into thinking it is.

Beside, on many items, the reduced price at walmart isn't all that much lower than at other retailers. And as previous posts and TFA points out, a lot of it is brand-named junk anyway.

Re:Obvious. (2, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019966)

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. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15020008)

Counterpoint:

Why th'FUCK should it be mine?

Re:Obvious. (5, Insightful)

StarvingSE (875139) | more than 8 years ago | (#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. (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020111)

Oh, and how many mom-and-pops do you know that have health insurance for their employees? I've worked for many small businesses, and none of them have ever had any benefits for their employees. Corporations are the only ones who have enough money for things like benefits.

Re:Obvious. (1)

vishbar (862440) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019876)

I think you're overlooking one of the "undiscovered" functions of Wal Mart: as a solution to the homelessness problem [ksdk.com] in the USA.

Re:Obvious. (2, Interesting)

everphilski (877346) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019955)

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 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...

Re:Obvious. (0, Offtopic)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020115)

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

Judging from the prevalence of Starbucks and people willing to pay $4 for their latte, I'd say many people seem ot disagree with you!

Personally, I'd say Starbucks coffee isn't crap, it's just priced about 2-3x too high. I can get an equally good cup of coffee at a donut or bagel shop for $1.25-$1.75. And not deal with the lines, faux ambience, and yuppies I want to beat the shit out of. Oh, and also the fake Italian-sounding words they give to their sizes.

On the few occasions I can't find anything *but* a Starbucks, I take great pleasure in asking for a large coffee. "Do you mean a (whatever it's called, Voopi or something)", they say? "No," I say, "I want a ***ing 'Large.'" Then we have the "What kind of coffee?" question. "Regular." Great fun.

Dying for attention... (-1, Offtopic)

TriZz (941893) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019714)

I, for one, welcome our new retail overlords.

Sometimes Less is More (4, Insightful)

RunFatBoy.net (960072) | more than 8 years ago | (#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 http://www.runfatboy.net/ [runfatboy.net]

Re:Sometimes Less is More (3, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019917)

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.

Who modded this moron insightfull? (0, Flamebait)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020070)

Metamoderators take away their mod points for ever.

There needs to be a moderation catagory 'Fucking idiot' for posts like the parents.

The book title is wrong. (5, Informative)

Hamster Lover (558288) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019750)

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.

FYI

Re:The book title is wrong. (2, Funny)

Wootzor von Leetenha (938602) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019798)

The post says he read it too :p

Re:The book title is wrong. (1)

rblum (211213) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019893)

Forms the basis? If my memory serves me right, this is more or less a verbatim copy of the article.

is this an ad or what? (3, Insightful)

Suppafly (179830) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019753)

I usually enjoy the book reviews here, but this isn't that, this just appears to be an ad.

Re:is this an ad or what? (1)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019809)

Indeed, this excerpt has been published before on other websites.

Worked, too. (2, Funny)

tgd (2822) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019905)

I need to buy a lawn mower this weekend. I had no idea Wal Mart sold them.

That'll save me some money!

Re:Worked, too. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15020038)

That'll save me some money!

Not only save money - your family will get your full 50,000 life insurace sum when you get tangled up in the cable and the mower runs over you several times.

Re:is this an ad or what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15019967)

I read the same text in a the printed edition of the Washington Post a while back.

but you can say YES to San Antonio Shoes (-1, Offtopic)

stanwirth (621074) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019759)

SAS Shoes [sasshoes.com] -- Buy Local, or Buy Nothing [adbusters.org] at all.

Re:but you can say YES to San Antonio Shoes (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019889)

SAS Shoes

Yeah, but unless you get the Advanced Shoes, your feet disappear when you tie the laces. And they don't work with Unix.

Re:but you can say YES to San Antonio Shoes (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019899)

> SAS Shoes -- Buy Local, or Buy Nothing at all.

Gee, I don't live in San Antonio, so I guess I can't buy them.

Chris Mattern

Re:but you can say YES to San Antonio Shoes (1)

sleighb0y (141660) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020062)

Ahh, you too know the joy of SAS. I happened upon them becuase it is hard to find US size 15. They are nice shoes indeed, very comfortable.

What the fuck? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15019769)

What the fuck is this doing on slashdot? Honestly, can someone tell me how this is news for nerds?

Re:What the fuck? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15020027)

"Honestly, can someone tell me how this is news for nerds?"

Yeah, as if we care what our mom's lawn looks like from the basement

Wow (4, Insightful)

donutello (88309) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019780)

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.

Re:Wow (1)

doughrama (172715) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019926)

"Sounds more like a publicity stunt for Snapper and the book author than anything else. "

Boy is the submitter of the article a dummy. Doesn't he know that grass typically grows outside!!!

Similar story in Dutch supermarket (4, Interesting)

plankrwf (929870) | more than 8 years ago | (#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!)

Roel

* Peijnenburg was the 'cake'-maker;
** Albert Hein was the supermarket store.
Link in dutch:
http://www.rtl.nl/(/financien/rtlz/nieuws/)/compon ents/financien/rtlz/2005/02_februari/02-peijnenbur g_albert_heijn_supermarktoorlog_koek_uit_schap.xml [www.rtl.nl]

Re:Similar story in Dutch supermarket (2, Interesting)

corbettw (214229) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019855)

...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.

Re:Similar story in Dutch supermarket (2, Informative)

plankrwf (929870) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020122)

To be completely accurate; the supermarket-chain (Albert Hein) subpoena'ed the 'cake'-maker after the latter declined to deliver its 'cakes' to the former.

 
How the law is in particular I don't know (IANAL); in this case the two had done business with each other for many years; there might have been an ongoing contract for delivery.
(To get an idea what it was all about: the 'cake' in question was part of a commonly used "basket" used for comparison of prices
in different supermarket-chains. In this case, the 'cake'-maker felt that the supermarket-chain sold their product for a price
under the cost price (and placed the product at a "low visibility" place) so that it...
didn't cost too much while seeming to be cheaper at the "basket" comparison...)

Out of business (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15019787)

>>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.

And that isn't enough to boycott them right there?

I also say "no" to Wal-Mart (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15019795)

What's the big deal?...I know a bunch of people who do this.

I wish all personal boycott targets were as east as this.
Try buying a pair of sneakers from somewhere OTHER than China
(a country with a horrible human rights record...so I boycott it)

I'm trying very hard to not buy stuff from the USA also (I'm in
Canada) and it's tough to do.

Re:I also say "no" to Wal-Mart (1)

Phreakiture (547094) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020098)

I'm trying very hard to not buy stuff from the USA also (I'm in Canada) and it's tough to do.

Really? We still make stuff? I had no idea!

This article is... (0, Redundant)

kangpeh (875381) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019799)

This article seems, to me, almost like a Shameless Plug for the Snapper lawn supplies. It makes the company look good, look smart, look loyal to its customers, and so forth. I don't know about you, but that's how I interpreted it, at least.

Re:This article is... (3, Insightful)

east coast (590680) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019842)

It makes the company look good, look smart, look loyal to its customers, and so forth.

And that's a problem how? In the age where most companies are willing to hamstring their customers for the WalMart fast buck it's good to know that there is somewhere that does play like that.

And this guy said... (2, Interesting)

garcia (6573) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019801)

And this [google.com] guy said "YES!" to Walmart. Well, for 41 hours at least.

Kind of pointless (5, Informative)

RedHatLinux (453603) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019802)

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 [blogspot.com]

Also, check out this links.

Hel-Mart [hel-mart.com]

Sprawl Busters [sprawl-busters.com]

PBS Store Wars- Facts About Wal-Mart [pbs.org]

Wal-Mart Blows.com [walmart-blows.com]

Wal-Mart Litigation Project [wal-martlitigation.com]

Wal-Mart Movie [walmartmovie.com]

Wal-Mart Sucks.org [walmartsucks.org]

Wal-Mart Watch [walmartwatch.com]

Wal-Mart vs Women [walmartvswomen.com]

Re:Kind of pointless (1)

digThisXL (252109) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019839)

Wow, all that hate and frustration.

Why not funnel that energy into something more constructive like...say...competition? By the nature of all the anti-WalMart sites you reference, it's obvious there is a HUGE opportunity there for a competitor.

There is competition (1)

RedHatLinux (453603) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019883)

not by me, though I do my best by boycotting them as much as possible and getting others to do so as well.

Re:There is competition (4, Insightful)

oirtemed (849229) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019969)

I've boycotted them 100% now...its not hard and it really isn't a $$ issue. Anyone with half a brain will realize that the stuff at Walmart isnt inexpensive, it is just cheap. There are few things in their stores that I could not get somewhere else for cheaper, often much cheaper, or a better product for a comparable prices. The only thing walmart had was its convenience...having all that shit in one place can save trips, though I found you just ended up buying stuff you didn't need.

Re:Kind of pointless (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020012)

Why not funnel that energy into something more constructive like...say...competition?

You mean like Target?

Re:Kind of pointless (1)

digThisXL (252109) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020052)

Exactly! It seems to me that the original poster would rather litigate than compete.

He's not a very good businessman... (1)

Rombuu (22914) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019807)

...so 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.

Re:He's not a very good businessman... (5, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019837)

...so 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.

Re:He's not a very good businessman... (2, Interesting)

Secrity (742221) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019930)

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.

Wal-Mart intendes to run the brand into the ground (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020019)

That's how they work. They find a brand that represents quality. Sell crap under the brand name untill the brand is worthless. Switch brands. Repeat.

Oh and Profit.

Wal-Mart is a parasite (5, Interesting)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Wal-Mart is a parasite (1)

johnny cashed (590023) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019984)

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..."

Re:Wal-Mart is a parasite (1)

slughead (592713) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019988)

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 90's, our trade deficit was high and the MFGer's were going oversees then.. I didn't hear many complain about that.

Of course, you can't calculate it in terms of jobs, either. As productivity increases, it requires fewer people to yield the same amount of product. Even Marxists agree with that.

Re:Wal-Mart is a parasite (5, Insightful)

cant_get_a_good_nick (172131) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

MOD PARENT INSIGHTFUL! (1)

Eli Gottlieb (917758) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020036)

Because we all know what happens to economies that don't actually make anything, right? They collapse, don't they?

Re:Wal-Mart is a parasite (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020071)

I don't think that it will take the suppliers to revolt. Wal-Mart knows that it has gone too far into the cheap area. I rarely shop at Wal-mart not because I think they are evil but because I think they are a poor value.
Clothes. The stuff I buy at Wal-mart never lasts very long.
Food. The quality of the fresh food isn't as good as Publix.
Garden stuff. Lowes and Home Depo have a better selection.
About the ONLY thing I get at Wal-Mart are plastic storage bins and totes. Add in that they are not convent to where I live and the lines are nightmarish I just don't shop there.
What I find so funny is everyone talks about the "mom and pop" stores that Wal-Mart is running out of business. I only heard about this when they started to run good sized grocery stores out of business. What a lot of people also forget is they ran a lot of overpriced low quality small town grocery stores of business. In some places Wal-Mart was the only national store that would come to a small town. As the story said Wal-Mart knows that it needs to be more like Target and to move up market. The scary thing is they just don't seem to understand that it takes more than a name to do it. A piece of junk with a good name on it just ruins the piece of junk.

Re:Wal-Mart is a parasite (5, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020076)

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.

Re:Wal-Mart is a parasite (1)

jotok (728554) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020077)

I don't think they make their $7B on sales. They make it by being a distribution engine. That's what the producers for whom Wal-Mart fronts are "paying" for (in the form of reduced margins)--less overhead. As long as Wal-Mart can provide that, I don't think the suppliers will pull out.

Free Markets Prevail! (1)

digThisXL (252109) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019815)

So the myth is not true: Wal-Mart is NOT invincible and free markets WILL win out.

Free Markets are like Communism (1, Insightful)

RedHatLinux (453603) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019847)

in that, despite the cult like devotion of their followers, they're are merely human inventions, that can and will fail.

Re:Free Markets are like Communism (1)

digThisXL (252109) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019868)

Yeah, just look at the miserable failure of ebay. :-)

Free markets have known problems (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020002)

Externalitys come immediatly to mind.

They just consistantly work better then anything else that has been tried.

In that sense they are nothing like communism. Which has only worked in opt in voluteer communitees (e.g. works for religous orders but generally not in hippy communes, participants need to be mental adults).

Not really earth-shattering (3, Insightful)

Erwos (553607) | more than 8 years ago | (#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

-Erwos

wow (4, Funny)

donnyspi (701349) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019836)

Wow, thanks for the "brief" "summary." I don't think I need to read the book now...

My favorite part of the book was... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15020095)

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 www.walmarteffectbook.com 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.

One word: Robots (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019871)

While I admire Jim Wier for his commitment to quality, my walk-behind mower sits unused because I paid ~$350 for a robot on eBay to do the work for me. Sure a new robot will set you back $1100 - $1700, but it will mow the lawn by itself on a schedule and find the docking station. $1700 is still less than high end riding mowers.

How big is your lawn? (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019963)

You realize they don't recommend riding mowers untill you are mowing at least a half acre.

My back yard would laugh at your robotic mower. We might never find it again.

Re:One word: Robots (1)

cowscows (103644) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020069)

I bought a push reel mower for $100. My yard is pretty small, and it takes me about a half an hour to cut the grass, from the time I walk to the garage to grab the mower until the end when I clean and put it away. But that's ok because I enjoy cutting the grass. It's a half hour where I can be outside, turn half my brain off, and relax a little, while still being mildly productive and making my yard look better. A bonus for the push reel mower, it's better for the grass, it doesn't require fuel, and it doesn't have a noisy motor, so I end up finding it all pretty relaxing.

I guess my main point is, if you don't like cutting the grass, then you shouldn't have spent so much on your walk-behind mower. You aren't the market that Jim Wier is targeting. He believes that there are enough people who want to cut their own grass and enjoy it that he can make money just serving them.

My second point is that if you've got a small enough yard to make it feasible, push reel mowers are quite nice.

Now read about the man who said YES to Wal-Mart (3, Interesting)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019894)

http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/03/29/walmat.spring.bre ak.ap/index.html [cnn.com]
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?

question (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019903)

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...

Re:question (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019965)

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.

In Soviet Russia... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15019908)

...the Wal-Mart tells you NO.

Re:In Soviet Russia... (1)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020040)

...the Wal-Mart tells you NO.

Sorry, you've got it backwards, Russia tells Wal-Mart NO! There are none in Russia.

Walmart-free since 1998 (1)

gentimjs (930934) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019919)

Number of dollars spent at walmart since 1998: $0
Additional-Cost of access to online retailers vs the rest of the net: $0
Being able to sleep at night: Priceless

Re:Walmart-free since 1998 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15019983)

I just spent $30 on a humidifier at Wal-Mart, so I am also now able to sleep at night.

Chinese manufacturing exaggerated? (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019924)

Last time I shopped at WAL-MART I made a point to check the country of
origin of the things I bought. I was surprised: An oil filter made in
Israel, printer ink cartridges made in Ireland, printer paper made in
Canada, a utility shelf made in the USA, a box of DVD-R's made in
Taiwan, scissors made in the USA, a shirt made in Vietnam, a coffee mug
made in Thailand, two different kinds of shampoo made in the USA,
several house cleaning products made in the USA, some bath towels made
in the USA, and a coffee grinder made in France.

Not one single item I bought that day was made in China (I don't care
to enter the argument about Taiwan). I wasn't trying to avoid China.
I was quite surprised by this. I think more people should actually
pay attention, before they spout off about how all products are made in
China now.

For what it's worth... (2, Informative)

syrion (744778) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Not the whole story... (3, Informative)

shrapnull (780217) | more than 8 years ago | (#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. (2, Insightful)

hal2814 (725639) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Phishing scam (0, Troll)

SilentChris (452960) | more than 8 years ago | (#15019982)

"It's an excellent book (Yes, I've read it)"

I think I've been duped by a phishing scam. I mean, clearly it says "slashdot.org" on the top address bar, but that can't be right. Damn it, they said if I upgraded to Firefox I'd be safe from this crap!

I can confirm one thing (2, Interesting)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Article summary for the lazy (1)

booyabazooka (833351) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020009)

Snapper. Is. Awesome.

"More Target-like?" (2, Funny)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020033)

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??

Cliff notes? (1)

MrDoh1 (906953) | more than 8 years ago | (#15020042)

When I started reading the review I thought I might enjoy reading the book, but by the time I got to the end of the review I felt like I had just read the book!

Briggs and Stratton (2, Insightful)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.
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