S4L Book Club – Cheap

I mentioned in the last post that WalMart was selling DMC floss at retail prices below the wholesale price Indie shops and designers had to pay. As a chain store, WalMart has the power to bargain for (or insist on) low prices from manufacturers because they buy in tremendous bulk. This is common practice. I’ve offered deals to shops when they buy greater quantities, and I’ve gotten deals for items I’ve purchased in bulk.

However, when chain stores can sell products at lower prices than non-chain stores that don’t buy in that kind of bulk, non-chain stores can’t compete and often go out of business. In recent months, I watched a small gas station go out of business after a large Fred Meyer gas station was built across the street. I’ve seen many, many Indie needlework shops close their doors.

Believe it or not, I actually thought the chain store issue was a somewhat modern issue. Boy was I wrong!

Chain stores rose to prominence with startling speed after WWI, growing in number from an estimated 50,000 in 1920 to 141,492 in 1929.

Protestors in the 1920s called the chains “privilege-seeking tycoons and would-be dictators.”

Station KWKH owner and operator, William K. “Old Man” Henderson of Shreveport, LA, proud forefather of the modern shock jock, warned listeners of the ruinous and devastating effect of sending the profits of business out of our local communities to a common center: Wall Street.

Were you aware that this chain store controversy has been around for so long?

I shop at some chain stores. I appreciate being able to buy some things in bulk at Costco. I live far from town, and I prefer to shop infrequently. While traveling in South America a couple of years ago, I shopped for food almost daily. One day, I had four items on my list and had to go to three shops to get them. They were all food items. The biggest store in the area was about the size of an average American living room. I confess I prefer one-stop shopping.

But I also appreciate the friendly atmosphere and personal attention I can get from a small locally-owned business. One of the things I liked about that trip to South America was that shop owners got to know me, and I got friendly, personal service. When I was in a hurry, I grabbed my usual loaf of bread at the paneria, showed my $2.00 to the owner, reached over the shelf, and put it on the counter. She smiled, nodded, and waved, continuing to wait on the slow, indecisive customers. Can you see me trying to do that at Costco?

Then there’s the issue of my money supporting the local economy or supporting a large corporation located who-knows-where.

I feel pulled in two directions: I like the low cost and convenience of some chains, but I like the personal service of small local businesses, and I like supporting the local economy.

What’s your position on chain stores? Do you fall in one camp or the other, or are you also divided between the two?

Categories: Reading

4 replies »

  1. Jen, I was fascinated reading the history that this book provided. I had no idea what I see as issues today were considered issues so many years ago. I must admit that I also feel challenged to think we’ll ever find a solution since the issue has been tossed about so many persons wiser than me for so long. So I straddle the fence, shopping chains when it makes my life easier and small local businesses whenever I am able. I draw what lines I can – for example I won’t do the customer self-service checkout. I figure if I need to check myself out then I should get a paycheck from the store. Also by refusing to check myself out I make it necessary for the chain to hire local residents to work. And I make that announcement (louder than possibly necessary) when the chain employee asks if I want to go thru the self-checkout

    Regarding having to shop at multiple stores for products that is becoming more and more necessary in this country today. No store can carry all of the products on the market and consumers now [due to the internet] know what products are available and won’t settle for less than what they want. Small example in the needlework industry: Zweigart must carry 1000 different fabrics. If I don’t have the exact color and count that a customer wants, many won’t substitute something else. They will just find it and order it online – oftentimes from an online shop that shows it on their website though it may not be in inventory. It’s a nightmare to try to stock a shop today. No one has enough money to have even just 1 of everything.

  2. I hate to say it, but, Gayle, I’m glad I’m not the only one surprised to discover these are age-old issues. I guess it’s not common knowledge, but I think it should be.

    Interesting that you eschew self-checkout options. Mike’s sister does, too–she works in retail. I, on the other hand, love them and use them every chance I get. They appeal to my self-sufficiency bent; I pretty much always prefer to do things for myself if I can. I’ve never considered that my preference can translate into fewer jobs. I’m not sure yet what I think of that, but I’m glad to see the new perspective. This is why I want to talk about the book and these issues. How I’d love to hear you explain why, no, you do not care to go through the self-checkout!

    I know all the product options you have for your shop, and I know it’s absurd to think you—or anyone—can carry them all.

    I’m a make-do person. I’m proud of that, actually. I made a mantra of “If we don’t have it, we don’t need it.” Say the first half of that to my nephews or niece, and they’ll finish it for you. I taught it to them because while their mother was always prepared for their every want and need, I was not, and I wanted to assure them we could survive on whatever we had.

    As a needlework designer who lives far from shops, I tend to work with whatever materials I have on hand. I welcome the challenge of finding alternatives for projects. I do the same in the kitchen: there’s no way I’m running out to get a special ingredient, so substitutions are common. I don’t find this a hardship or disappointment at all. It’s interesting. It’s comforting to feel I can get by just fine with whatever is available.

    I suppose I have the same ability as everyone else to get online and order precisely what is called for (provided freezing in the mail is okay), but guess what: I’m too cheap! And impatient, I guess. I’d rather substitute something I have on hand and keep moving than pay for the product plus shipping and then have to wait!

  3. okay Jen, you asked so I’ll answer – but know that once I get started on my soapbox it’s hard to stop me.

    The issue about self-checkout for me is twofold: 1. I feel as a society that we are moving too much in the direction of people not interacting with people so I want to engage sales clerks in knowing that I am grateful that they are there working and that their work benefits me and perhaps by doing that I can bring a feeling of their being appreciated into their life. 2. I want to help keep Americans employed.

    Jen you say that you are a “make-do person and made a mantra of “If we don’t have it, we don’t need it.”. That makes you a survivor much like the early pioneers in our country. I am a goner for sure if I have to grow my own food or make a fire without a match or build a shelter to stay out of the elements. You and others like you are people I would want to have around in the event of a catastrophe that changes our way of life. Of course, I would need you to move south because I would have a hard time deciding between death or the Alaskan winters.

    One other comment you made that I want to address and I quote, “but guess what: I’m too cheap!”

    Don’t think of using the word “cheap” in regard to yourself. When you use those terms to describe yourself you are putting yourself down. Say instead, “I’m not willing to spend my monies on that” Now you have described yourself as being aware of what you value and what you’re willing to pay for that value. If you aren’t willing to pay money for something, it simply means that you value something else more than what the money will purchase – and values are always worth more than money – in my most humble opinion.

  4. I think those are good reasons to not use self-checkout options, and I also think it’s good to relate those reasons when asked.

    I doubt it will change my behavior, though. While I’m all for keeping Americans employed (this leads to another question which I’ll post another time), I admit I don’t value very highly my interactions with cashiers I don’t know. I am not a very social person, and while I value deeper relationships with people, I prefer to do without incidental, one-time-only interactions. I’d go so far as to say I don’t like them, and thus I seek to avoid them. That makes me sound awful, I know.

    But here’s a contradictory tidbit: There’s a guy at Costco whose job it is to look over your receipt and make sure it matches the contents of your cart before you exit the store. I don’t personally know him, but I’ve grown to enjoy my brief interactions with him because he’s a friendly, funny oddball.

    Of course, if I hadn’t been forced to interact with him, I would never have come to enjoy the experience. Even so, this bonus does not motivate me to interact with unknown cashiers just because I might come to appreciate another such interaction. Did that make sense?

    Ha! I wondered if you would bust me on the “cheap” comment.

    I really don’t consider myself cheap in the more-precise sense of the word, but I am frugal, thrifty, and deliberate in how I choose to spend my money.