The Man Who Said “No” to Wal-Mart

From Fast  Jim Wier is the former CEO of Simplicity Lawn Mowers.  His goal in life at Simplicity was to produce high-quality American-made lawn care equipment.  Yet, his company sold mowers through Wal-Mart under the Snapper brand.  But Jim had the foresight to recognize that he had to make a choice.  High-quality, American-made and Wal-Mart just don't go together.

The article describes Jim's trip to Bentonville, AR including some of the details of the buying-office environment.  You travel to the Arkansas Ozarks which is a feat in itself.  Then you face an interview with a buyer in a space that's designed to intimidate.  Frankly, the whole thing is on a par with getting a root canal without the free toothbrush at the end.

Jim traveled to Bentonville with the intention of breaking off the relationship.  Even though Wal-Mart represented 20% of his business, he had to cut the chain loose to protect the other 80%.  To make his job just that much more difficult, the marketing VP Jim met with didn't just want to continue the relationship, he wanted to expand it, making Snapper the centerpiece of his law equipment program.

When Jim pointed out that his mowers were just too high-priced for the discount store chain, and that he was already losing money on the program, the buyer suggested that he build a cheaper line in the Orient with the Snapper label.  Others have tried that strategy with less than stellar results.  Jim knew that a bad experience with a Snapper mower purchased at Wal-Mart would reflect badly on his company, not so much on the discount chain.

So Jim fired Wal-Mart as a customer, a decision he still questions.  But a reality of manufacturing life is that a long-term relationship with the largest retailer in the world is always stacked in favor of the retailer and more than one manufacturer has closed its doors when it just didn't have anything left to give.


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