Tag Archives: wal-mart

Vancouver and Wal-Mart – a missed opportunity

Vancouver is getting a Wal-Mart in a few months. But it isn’t the store we deserve. We could have done better, much better.

Back in 2005/06 Wal-Mart applied to construct a store in Vancouver (along South West Marine drive for those who know the city). The City of Vancouver put all sorts of hurdles in Wal-Mart’s way. In particular it told Wal-Mart that its proposed store was not sufficiently environmentally sensitive and laid out guidelines stricter than any other proposed store would have to adhere to (such as the Canadian Tire being proposed next door).

It didnt have to be this way

It didn't have to be this way

We can debate whether it is fair to force Wal-Mart to live up to a unique set of guidelines. But what is unconscionable is what the city did next. Wal-Mart hired Peter Busby, a local architect who is a world leader on sustainable development, who designed a store that consumed 1/3 the energy of a normal store with windmills generating power and underground wells heating and cooling the building. What did City Council do with the proposal? It said no. It rejected Wal-Mart’s application even though it proposed to build one of the world’s most environmentally sensitive store’s and despite the fact that city planners and staffers recommended endorsing the plan.

Fast forward to today.

Wal-Mart recently bought property on the east side of the city (at 3585 Grandview Highway) that is an old vacated Cosco and is now renovating the site. I’ve heard of no plans for a super energy efficient building, nor for an electricity generating windmill or rainwater catchment system. It’ll just be a normal, run of the mill, Wal-Mart.

What an opportunity lost for Vancouver, and for Wal-Mart.

The challenge of Wal-Mart – the challenge of America

Just finished reading The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman and thoroughly enjoyed it. So much to discuss and share, which I intend to, in a future post. Right now, I’ve just landed in Chicago about 4 1/2 hours later than planned and it’s late so I’m going to head to bed.

The one thought I wanted to throw out there was that this book – which beautifully dissects the strengths and weaknesses of Wal-Mart (hint, they are one and the same) is a fantastic microcosm of the two critical challenge facing America at the start of the 21st century.

The first, centres around if and how America will renew its social contract in the face of globalization and the existence of companies like Wal-Mart that are simply so much larger in scale than anything it has previously experienced. This challenge is made all the more complex by the fact that despite being a retailer, Wal-Mart is, at its core, an information company. The story of Wal-Mart is the story of America’s transition from the industrial to the post-industrial era (I think this is fascinating because of course no one sees Wal-Mart as an information age company but it is a much more accurate reflection of what this change looks like than say, the story of MicroSoft).

The second has to do with how isolated Wal-Mart is from American mainstream culture (and by extension the world’s) and America’s isolation from the world’s culture. Check out these lines from the last few paragraphs of the book:

“No one likes to hear or read an accounting of his or her faults. Most of us would wave off such blunt recital, or avert our eyes. But Wal-Mart needs to continue to try to listen to what Americans are saying about it, and we have a responsibility to continue to insist on accountability.

What Wal-Mart is trying to do, really, is engage the world, understand the world, meet its customers and suppliers in a different setting than shelf price. To do that, Wal-Marters need to travel, to routinely get out and hear what people say about them-in city council meetings, in industry conferences, at public forums. The transformation of Wal-Mart itself must come from the buildings in Bentonville [it’s HQ], yes: but the motivation for change can’t be found in the supplier meeting rooms or the streams of sales data, no matter how cleverly analyzed. The motivation for change will be found in the passion of customers and vendors-the ones who like Wal-Mart, the ones who don’t like Wal-Mart but can’t resist, the ones who define themselves by their refusal to deal with Wal-Mart, the ones who fear Wal-Mart.

For Wal-Mart to really change, it needs to be able to see itself as we see it, it needs to see the world clearly, it needs to look out.”

Substitute Wal-Mart for America and think about this as not the marketplace, but the global stage and you pretty much sum up the challenge of America. The country no longer can see itself the way the rest of the world does – and it needs to, if it is going to play the role we need it to play. America, like Wal-Mart, is neither inherently good or evil, it is simply an increadibly powerful force that needs to figure out how it is going to choose to make its actions felt. And we all have a responsiblity in shaping those choices. Americans’ or not.