In 1757, in "The Way to Wealth," Benjamin Franklin said, "Dost thou love life, then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of."
A few weeks ago in this column we talked about a couple of new policies that have come down from corporate management to our local Wal-Mart store. One of them requires everyone -- even me, 74 old years and counting, with gray hair and gray beard and various other all-too-obvious signs of wear and tear -- to show ID to buy a bottle of anything alcoholic. The thought of creating such an irritating, time-wasting policy absolutely boggles the mind. It reminds me of the policies I saw in other large chain stores as they began to slip, slowly losing their share of the retail market as they made the long slide down into the trash bin of corporate history. Why, I ask you, would someone irritate good customers to the point where they go elsewhere to do their shopping?
I hope you know the answer to that question because I don't, and probably never will.
I said it in that column, and I'll say it again now: It would be a shame if Wal-Mart were to end up the same way that GEMCO, and WOOLCO, and Montgomery Ward, and the A&P Supermarket, and so many, many other retail giants have ended up -- gone. Admittedly, such an event seems almost inconceivable at the moment, but so did the possibility that giants like the A&P or Montgomery Ward would go under. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?
The reason I bring all this up again is not because I'm still gnawing away at the same knotty question, but because I received a copy of an e-mail, passed along to me by Autumn Phillips, editor of the Roundup. It tells a tale which you have just got to hear.
The author of the e-mail asked that his name be withheld and I will, of course, honor that request. I think I should, however, tell you just a little about him so that you will realize that he knows, or certainly ought to know, what he is talking about. He spent more than 40 years in retail sales, and was employed in management for 25 years in the very same chain which owned both GEMCO and Lucky Stores.
In my original column, I happened to mention that one reason I personally quit going to GEMCO was because they so often had just two or three registers open out of a bank of more than 20. It was maddening. You could get into GEMCO and find great merchandise at even greater prices, but you just couldn't get back out again. Now I'm a very patient person, but I just finally gave up on GEMCO because standing in their checkout lines reminded me of a classic old Australian joke, one which goes like this:
A train conductor on a hot, smoke-filled, steam-driven train slowly inching its way mile-by-endless-mile across the vast, sun-baked outback of southern Australia noticed the obvious discomfort of a VERY heavily pregnant young woman. "Good Lord, lady," he asked her, "whatever prevailed upon you to get on this train in your condition?"
"When I got on this train," she responded, "I wasn't in this condition."
Along those lines, here in a nutshell is what was in that e-mail I knew you would just love reading:
According to the author of the e-mail, an irate customer wrote to GEMCO corporate headquarters complaining that she had stood in line for more than 20 minutes with her shopping cart, all the time watching the clock on the wall. The response to her angry letter? At considerable expense, they took down the clocks in all the GEMCOs.
Have you ever noticed? There's no wall clock in Wal-Mart. Maybe the GEMCO folks sent their resumes to Wal-Mart after GEMCO went belly up.
Editor's note: The clock at Wal-Mart is high on the east wall by the customer service area.