What compels people to stand in line for hours on end to be able to buy something strictly because they can save a little money? What compels them to endure the abuse of not only the store managers but the insensitive and aggressive crowds that push and shove and occasionally assail them over a place in line or an item in short supply without their regard to health and safety? Are these the same people that complain about our lousy economy yet buy foreign made products from uncaring retailers that keep American workers from either having jobs or having constantly low paying jobs?
I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to the Black Friday sales and no one in my family would ever shop at a retail chain on the day after Thanksgiving anyway. There are numerous Wal-Mart protests and strikes going on and I’ve read many of those reports. Lots of union involvement in them and that’s a good thing. What strikes me as odd is that the employees of other big box retailers aren’t walking out in sympathy and solidarity for their retail brothers and sisters. Voting and thinking with your wallet is a smart way to be. Let all of these marketing companies (and that is really what they are) know that you’re not going to be manipulated by them any longer.
What changed things for me was Bernie Marcus. Marcus is co-founder and former CEO of The Home Depot, a very successful Home improvement store chain. Back in 2008 Marcus castigated other retailers for not contributing to right wing causes and for not advocating for Republican candidates. Since that time he has been a relentless critic of the Obama administration, much of it unwarranted, and he has been extremely vocal in his opinions. When I was active in the scenic art business I used to buy $30,000.00 to $60,000.00 per year from Home Depot alone. Over a 15 year period that adds up to a tidy sum. Once Marcus opened his mouth I cut them off and have not bought a single item from them since. I found their competitor, Lowes, to be a better store to deal with. Lowes has a better overall quality of product, employees who actually treat you with respect and they display knowledge of product far superior to those at Home Depot, so I would have switched anyway. I’m also using locally owned Ace Hardware and other similar stores that support my local economy.
I wrote Home Depot that I would no longer buy from them because of Marcus’s outrageous statements. They did reply to me that Marcus no longer has anything to do with the management or direction of the company and his opinions are strictly his own. Not good enough I told them. Marcus is still a major stockholder and therefore gets a major share of the company profits. I also told them that as long as he lives I will not be a customer of theirs. He’s now 83 and I hope he lives to be at least 110.
Home Depot is by no means the only merchant that I refuse to do business with. I refuse to make Alice Walton or her ungrateful siblings any richer. I’ll probably never buy another Microsoft product either but only if I can help it. Both Bill Gates and Alice Walton are advocates of charter schools and the voucher system so they’ll never get another penny of mine. Last election season my wife and I contributed lots of money to the Obama campaign and what we got was Arne Duncan and terrible education policies (among others). Result: Obama got no money of ours this time, nor did we campaign for him. Had the margin in Florida been wider I would have voted for Jill Stein in protest. Once I found out that Bain Capital had been responsible for the startup of Staples that was the end for them. I’m reticent about buying anything from Whole Foods. I‘ve stopped buying any product made by the Koch Bros. owned Georgia Pacific. I never have been in Chick-Fil-A and I never will be. Papa John’s is one of the worst pizzas I’ve ever had so why on earth would I want to buy from them at all? Firms like Applebees, Denny’s, and others are mostly franchise operations, and you need to investigate the local franchisees to see whether or not they deserve your business.
The term Black Friday was coined in Philadelphia back in the early sixties as the day that the retail establishments started operating in the black. It was a marketing gimmick then and it is today as well. Since when do supposedly well run businesses operate in the red for ten and a half months? Are they into the banks to front their purchases and payrolls for that kind of money? Why would any board of directors assume that much debt without a guarantee that the final six weeks of the year would be so profitable? In Philadelphia in 1960 there was a huge snowstorm that tied up the city for the better part of two weeks just at peak shopping time. The department stores claimed that they were losing a million dollars a day, yet they all showed profits in their year-end reports. Check out the quarterly reports of these mammoth retail giants. Black Friday may add to their profits but they are still making a pretty penny. It is time for us consumers to become a lot smarter in our shopping strategies. Let’s really think about what we need as opposed to what we want, and let’s think about who to buy from. Any time you can give a locally owned store your business you are helping your local economy as well as your neighbors who own those stores. That’s a good thing.
Photo from bradleygee licensed under Creative Commons