As I write, a familiar battle rages here in the community of Lake County (50,000 residents, 7 stoplights and one Starbucks). The battle is between small-town America and the dreaded (or loved, depending on whom you ask) Walmart Super Center.
Supporters of the blue folks from Arkansas say the big-box retailer supports the local economy by creating jobs and increasing sales tax dollars available for local government. Opponents say that Walmart kills local business, doesn’t actually create new jobs, and is a leading cause of small-town America’s decline to insignificance.
I propose a different viewpoint: I don’t think there has to be a battle at all.
Of course, if I’m running a generic grocery store next to the proposed Walmart, I’m facing a challenge. In that case I am selling the same products, but with poorer selection and at higher prices. But who says I have to do that? What if I instead focused on specialty products, local farm suppliers and great customer service? Then, suddenly, Walmart is of no concern to me. Then I’m in a different line of business, one where Walmart can’t compete at all.
Here are a few things Walmart CAN’T do:
-Provide a customer experience.
-Build customer relationships.
-Give advice on purchasing a home appliance, lawn tractor or power tool.
-Service a decent bicycle. (They can only sell you another cheap one.)
-Introduce you to a farmer.
-Repair a tire rated for a sports car, even if it’s installed on a Volvo station wagon. (Believe me, I tried. “It’s against policy.”)
-Let your children pick a pumpkin straight from the pumpkin patch, or a Christmas tree straight from the stump.
-Advise anyone on tomato plants or fruit trees.
Those things, and many others, are impervious to Walmart impact. But those things are way more fun, more important and more representative of what small-town America should be.
If, in the meantime, Walmart wants to sell me a cheaper box of Corn Flakes, I don’t have a big problem with that.