7/17/2013 5:15 PM ET|
Why are Wal-Mart stores a mess?
The retailer has grown beyond the imagination of its founders. In the process, those pioneers' fundamental values may have been forsaken.
Over the years I have visited many Wal-Mart locales and have seen some very disorderly stores. But I found a store in total disarray during my visit earlier this month to the outlet in Pittsfield, Mass. (store No. 2228)
It was disturbing.
Everywhere I looked -- whether it was the men's, women's or juniors departments -- merchandise was not well assorted by style, size or color. There was no fashion message. And the presentation was poor; goods hung loose on separate racks in a most unattractive way. In the women's intimate-apparel department there were many bras on the floor -- an unappealing, not to mention unsanitary, condition.
And it wasn't just apparel -- the rest of the store was also disorganized and out-of-stock.
For example, in the pharmacy area there were many empty spaces on the vitamin shelves, as well as in other product categories. In the vacuum cleaner department, there were some machines on display, but not back-up stock to purchase; some styles were in boxes but not on display.
There were other departments in similar conditions. And -- no surprise in such a poorly kept store, the both bathrooms were filthy and in serious need of management's attention.
To me, this shows the disregard management has for customers and employees -- not a good message. (I have reached out to the company for comment).
What has happened to this standard-setting retailer?
I have walked through Wal-Mart stores with "Mr. Sam" many times. He cared deeply about people; he knew associates' names and often recognized loyal customers.
Sam has been dead for more than 21 years and, unfortunately, as the company has grown beyond his wildest dreams it has become a bureaucracy.
The year Sam Walton died (1992), Wal-Mart recorded sales of $43.9 billion. In fiscal 2012, sales reached an astounding $444 billion. Wal-Mart stores achieved $264.2 billion in sales in the United States, where it operates more than4,000 stores, and $125.9 billion internationally, where it has some 6,100 locations.
It seems size is now working against Wal-Mart in many ways, especially where it comes to holding the organization accountable for the customer experience.
I believe that the company is dependent on strong supervisors throughout the company. They must spot weak stores -- to me, the Pittsfield, Mass. store is a weak operation. Too many times it appears there is no supervision in the store, and the sales associates seem to be afraid to step up and straighten visible flaws.
In an effort to be profitable, I believe management has cut into operating staff and eliminated vital levels of management. This is visible in many Wal-Mart stores, where there are fewer sales associates, less management and longer lines at the check-out registers. However, no store I've seen has been as much of a disaster as store No. 2228.
Over the long run, if Wal-Mart wants to remain a discount-store leader, with low prices and a reputation for serving customers with dignity and respect, it must pay attention to the appearance of the stores, the genuine value of the merchandise it sells and show appreciation for every customer.
My recent visit to the Pittsfield store was an insult to customers and a violation of the spirit of Sam Walton, suggesting bureaucracy is an issue. Customers do notice, and so do competitors in the dog-eat-dog world of discount retailing.
Loeb covers the retail sector as a Forbes.com contributor.
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Why should it come as a surprise that Wal-Mart stores are in such a mess? It's no secret that Wal-Mart views lower level store employees as mere commodities to be used and disposed as they see fit. Why would those employees show any initiative or loyalty?
After 35 years in manufacturing management (automotive) I know first hand how greedy out of control unions can destroy a company. Wal-Mart is the complete opposite, a prime example of what greedy out of control corporate management can do to its own company.
Want to save your company Wal-Mart? Treat your customers as your most valuable asset, and your employees as your 2nd most valuable asset. Don't need unions or minimum wage standards to accomplish that, just good management skills. If Sam was still around do you think he'd have customers checking out their own purchases? Would he separate employees into a caste system, limiting hours worked in order to avoid paying company benefits?
This is a company which buys jeans for $2 in Vietnam and sells them here for $29.97. They can't afford a few extra cashiers or a little extra for employee benefits? Come on.
Every WalMart I have visited recently has been disorganized and the stock very low. It's not even worth the trip anymore!
I'm in total agreement. Over the past few months I have been to several WalMart's and have noticed the same conditions. Several times I've left and purchased the item I was looking for at Target. I paid a little more but the store was clean, organized and well stocked. WalMart needs to evaluate store management and start getting back to the basic principles that made it so successful if it is to continue being a retail industry leader. A good example would be KMart.
Not to mention how the employees feel. It's getting harder to get people to do that work for a wage they can't begin to support themselves with.
Blaming it all via a top-down look where management comes into focus first is not looking deep enough. There are things you can expect from willing slaves and things you simply cannot expect.
Caring is expecting too much.
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