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Thread: "Good" vs "bad" retail companies

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    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    "Good" vs "bad" retail companies

    Some observations after articles I’ve read and hearing from folks at work, that I wonder about...

    The standard notion with the general public is that when you think of “bad” retail companies from aspects such as employee wages and benefits, business practices and quality of merchandise, the name that generally pops up is Wal-Mart and its bulk-buy cousin Sam's Club. When you think of “good” retail companies as a contrast to Wal-Mart/Sam’s, names like Costco and (to some) Ikea are mentioned.

    I find this interesting then when hearing from people in and around the office (the higher-ups) who often deal directly with these retailers, as well as news articles I’ve been finding. For instance, the word around the street is that Costco is interested in coming into the region, but they want to go to a community that will offer up the incentive of waiving all impact fees. Then there’s the info that the Ikea that will be built in south Denver is receiving financial incentives that may amount to $18 million. Ikea initially looked at another community in Denver but walked away over needing to meet their sign code.

    In contrast, hearing from someone working for the state DOT. She’s found in her DOT dealings that Wal-Mart/Sam's has been one of the easier companies to deal with in terms of addressing impacts. The state wants Wal-Mart to build a traffic signal a half mile away? No problem. I’m also hearing more and more of Wal-Mart’s being built to conform to the architectural standards of a community instead of their cookie-cutter proto-types.

    Obviously my sample size is flawed and again I’ve had no direct work dealings with the retailers mentioned above, but is there perhaps any validity to the thought that the media darlings of the retail world are at times, the most difficult to deal with from a municipality perspective in wanting concessions, incentives, and waivers? While in contrast the “bad” retailers are the ones who conform and address their impacts?

    This isn’t meant to sing the praises of the “bad” retailers by any means; I suspect their willingness to comply is due to the negative PR their companies have and not wanting to perpetuate this. Similarly, the "good" retailers realize their demand by the public will allow them to name their price to a certain degree. Still I wonder if the concessions that are offered to the “good” ones are part of the equation as to why they are able to continue the business practices the general public finds as being “good".

    In your experience, have you found your dealings with retailers are sometimes contrary to how they're perceived by the general public?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
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    From a planner/urbanist point of view I don't really see a bad vs. good dichotomy in national retailers. They all want to build to a brand standard that meets their pro-forma. Some may seem easier to deal with because their developer did the proper due diligence and knew that they would have to conform to local design standards if they wanted to build in a certain location, and included that design increase into their budget. It's all about how much return they can get per square foot vs. how much additional meeting design standards will cost. A "good" retailer will have done those calculations before coming to table.

    From a personal standpoint I view good versus bad by how well they treat their employees. Some retailers definitely do a better job than others and those are the one's that gets money from teh biscuit family.
    Last edited by biscuit; 07 Oct 2010 at 11:48 AM.

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    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    Unfortunately, as cities and counties get more aggressive with impact fees and design requirements, the only businesses that can afford to open new stores are the mega-chains. Not only that- but jurisdictions are waiving requiremnents and fees (and in many cases contributing taxpayer money) to the mega-chains - essentially driving the final nail in mom and pop's.
    Children in the back seat can cause accidents - and vice versa.

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    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    UrbaneSprawler, you bring up some very good points. You're absolutely right that Wal-Mart typically gets a bad rap while companies like CostCo get a good rap. But you're correct about Wal-Mart being a lot more cooperative. Wal-Mart has been a very good neighbor at their locations around where I live including in the community I used to work for. They go out of their way to pay for traffic signals, road improvements, landscaping, bike paths, water retention, and designing their stores to fit with the community's architectural and environmental standards. They also have a huge reputation as being one of the most charitable donaters and one of the most active participant in community events. Meanwhile, the CostCo around here basically walked all over the community it located in, because the community wanted it so badly. I think impact fees and whatnot may have been waived and some incentives may had even been doled out. And CostCo doesn't really seem to be one of those places that gives a lot in time and money to the community. It seems like most of their money probably goes back to Issaquah, WA than in the local area. So, why is it that Wal-Mart is always shunned and CostCo is the liberals' favorite? I don't know.
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    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by illinoisplanner View post
    UrbaneSprawler, you bring up some very good points. You're absolutely right that Wal-Mart typically gets a bad rap while companies like CostCo get a good rap. But you're correct about Wal-Mart being a lot more cooperative. They go out of their way to pay for traffic signals, road improvements, landscaping, bike paths, water retention, and designing their stores to fit with the community's architectural and environmental standards.
    More often than not they have no choice but to make these improvements. State DOTs will likely not issue highway occupancy permits and allow for new curb cuts without improvements to the intersections that will be impacted by the increased traffic count. Same with the water retention. I know a certain Cyburbian that would bristle at the idea of putting in a lot of impervious surfaces without run-off mitigation. Landscaping, bike trails, design, etc... That's for the local municipality to determine.

    And CostCo doesn't really seem to be one of those places that gives a lot in time and money to the community. It seems like most of their money probably goes back to Issaquah, WA than in the local area. So, why is it that Wal-Mart is always shunned and CostCo is the liberals' favorite? I don't know.
    Seems to me that a company that on-average pays employees 42% more and offers good benefits is doing quite a bit to keep money in the local community.

  6. #6
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    In the past, I think we discussed how the reaction of the public can be much different for similar retail uses that really have the same impact. Wal-Mart is bad, Target is good. Walgreens and Rite Aid are bad, CVS is good. Generic supermarket is bad, Wegmans and Whole Foods are good. McDonald's is bad, Tim Hortons is good. And so on, and so on.

    In the past, I found that Wal-Mart is fairly easy to work with when it comes to architecture, site planing, landscaping, signage and the like, if you have the regulations in place to back it up. Even if regulations are weak, Wal-Mart will still make some concessions; maybe an earth-tone structure with some superficial architectural detail on three sides rather than a featureless battleship gray cinderblock box. They know time is money, and they know they might run into a lot of citizen opposition, depending on area demographics. If they have to spend a few hundred thousand extra dollars in improvements, they'll do it if it means their plans will be approved sooner.

    Why do communities lust after Costco? There's usually only one or two in a mid-sized metropolitan area, unlike Wal-Mart or Target with locations in the double digits, so it will be a regional retail destination. (Buffalo and Rochester still don't have Costco stores.) Costco pays very high wages for retail, a big plus if a city or town has its own income tax, not to mention the multiplier effect versus minimum-wage retail workers. There's the perception of quality; Costco's Kirkland-branded products have a cult following, similar to the store brands at Trader Joe's and Wegmans. Also, the demographics of Costco customers is much different than those at Wal-Mart; probably one of the main reasons why Target also seems to get a pass.

    Why the love of IKEA? Their stores are regional tourist destinations in many markets; my ex and I occasionally drove from Cleveland to Pittsburgh to visit IKEA, and we often stayed the night, spending even more money in the region. Their shoppers know their products aren't high-end, but they also know they're priced very favorably and, in their opinion, more fashionable than .... oh, the equivalent Mainstays and Canopy products at Wal-Mart. You can also spend the entire day at IKEA. It's not the kind of store you can run in and out of with a short shopping list.

    I think I've got a name for the retailers that communities fight took-over-nail for; rare boxes. Costco, IKEA, Bass Pro, Cabela's, Crate & Barrel, Whole Foods and Wegmans (outside of Upstate New York) are the biggies that come to mind.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  7. #7
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by biscuit View post
    More often than not they have no choice but to make these improvements. State DOTs will likely not issue highway occupancy permits and allow for new curb cuts without improvements to the intersections that will be impacted by the increased traffic count. Same with the water retention. I know a certain Cyburbian that would bristle at the idea of putting in a lot of impervious surfaces without run-off mitigation. Landscaping, bike trails, design, etc... That's for the local municipality to determine.
    I'm not talking about state road improvements, I'm talking about improvements to municipal roads. At two local Wal-Marts, Wal-Mart made substantial improvements to municipal feeder roads that fed out to a county or state highway, including signals at the intersection of a municipal road and the Wal-Mart parking lot. Wal-Mart could have easily said no or gone to another community that didn't make them require it, but Wal-Mart cooperated. Same goes for the landscaping, bike trails, and design. Even naturalized water retention. They're not like CostCo...going to whichever community where they can build the cheapest, ugliest store and not have to pay for any quality improvments the municipality desires.

    Quote Originally posted by biscuit
    Seems to me that a company that on-average pays employees 42% more and offers good benefits is doing quite a bit to keep money in the local community.
    Yeah, but Wal-Mart does more because they employ more people. Sure the employees may get paid less, but a job is a job and Wal-Mart creates more of them. On top of that, Wal-Mart gives more in charitable donations to community programs and services. Probably more than any other business around here. Like I said, this is what it's like in my local area. Things may differ in your neck of the woods.
    "Life's a journey, not a destination"
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    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    I dealt with both companies and Wally World was much more willing than C-co to bend to the communities design standards. In fact the C-co rep tauted that their building was so austere (a metal warehouse basically) that it could be LEED certified. I checked around and none of their stores are LEED certified.

    As the difference between 'good' and 'bad' retailers I think that is mostly a community perception and PR issue. I'm not sure that Targe' is any better than Wally World when it comes to employee pay and benefits, but people seem to think Targe' is better (please prove me wrong if I am).
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    I've dealt directly with Wal-Mart (mostly through their consulting team) and can vouch for them as being coopertative and accomodating when it came to addressing planning concerns. They were firm about the design they wanted but were willing to mitigate their impacts, generally without complaint. I think their site selection sometimes leaves more to be desired, but in fairness there's not too many places you can build a 200k s.f. supercenter without creating issues.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Rygor's avatar
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    We dealt with both Walmart and Meijer (midwest big box retailer - slighly higher end than Walmart) in my community and both were very accomodating and easy to work with. Walmart constructed a requested bike path, used monument signs, constructed a collector streeton the side of their lot, and designed their building to a higher architectural/urban design standard upon the communities request. They asked for no special incentives, though they automatically qualified for some state Enterprise Zone incentives based on where they decided to build. Of course there were plenty of NIMBYists and naysayers, but a lot of them were quelled when they collected their donation checks at their grand opening. Walmart also is the main sponsor of our big annual festival each year.

    Meijer was also pretty easy to work with, although we did have issue with some noise barrier fencing near where their loading area backs up to adjacent housing. That project took a lot longer, but they did some very nice landscaping, berming, signage, and architectural design for that building as well. Not being Walmart, there was also a lot less opposition by the community at large.
    "When life gives you lemons, just say 'No thanks'." - Henry Rollins

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    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    In the past, I think we discussed how the reaction of the public can be much different for similar retail uses that really have the same impact. Wal-Mart is bad, Target is good. Walgreens and Rite Aid are bad, CVS is good. Generic supermarket is ba, Wegmans and Whole Foods are good. McDonald's is bad, Tim Hortons is good. And so on, and so on.

    .
    Wal-mart is the only one I know of that has an actual policy of undercutting local businesses until they go out of business - then jacking prices back up to where they should be.
    Children in the back seat can cause accidents - and vice versa.

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    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I have expressed my adhesion to Walmart many times on here, but honestly, when dealing with them professionally, they were pretty good. They went above and beyond in terms of our wetland mitigation requirements, put money into the road improvements, and even gave our fire department a little money.

    I can't say the same for department stores, or other big boxes. They have more "options" when it comes to design as well. I have found that many boxes are not flexible at all in their design, because that would require them to pay for architectural services again. Walmart has enough designs that they can bend. I think we got a much better product after negotiation that we would have with another unnamed big box store.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Wow I learned a ton of stuff from reading this thread thank you to all who contributed.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by beach_bum View post
    I dealt with both companies and Wally World was much more willing than C-co to bend to the communities design standards. In fact the C-co rep tauted that their building was so austere (a metal warehouse basically) that it could be LEED certified. I checked around and none of their stores are LEED certified.
    ).
    In dealings with costco we found them fairly willing to adapt to our design requirements. Weve been told we have the nicest looking costco ever. All kids of modulation, faux windows (I hate faux windows- but oh well), sloping roof projections, cornice detailing, etc.
    Children in the back seat can cause accidents - and vice versa.

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    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    I've dealt directly with Wal-Mart (mostly through their consulting team) and can vouch for them as being coopertative and accomodating when it came to addressing planning concerns. They were firm about the design they wanted but were willing to mitigate their impacts, generally without complaint. I think their site selection sometimes leaves more to be desired, but in fairness there's not too many places you can build a 200k s.f. supercenter without creating issues.
    I wonder how/if these issues and characteristics will change with Wal-Mart's new aggressive push for smaller stores...

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    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by imaplanner View post
    In dealings with costco we found them fairly willing to adapt to our design requirements. Weve been told we have the nicest looking costco ever. All kids of modulation, faux windows (I hate faux windows- but oh well), sloping roof projections, cornice detailing, etc.
    Hmmm...I think I might have found a picture of that Costco in California? and showed it to the guy...he laughed and said no way I have a love/hate relationship with faux windows, but sometimes its all you can do.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

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    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by imaplanner View post
    Unfortunately, as cities and counties get more aggressive with impact fees and design requirements, the only businesses that can afford to open new stores are the mega-chains. Not only that- but jurisdictions are waiving requiremnents and fees (and in many cases contributing taxpayer money) to the mega-chains - essentially driving the final nail in mom and pop's.
    That's a whole thought certainly worthy of discussion on its own. Waving requirements and fees for "brand" retailers is certainly at the expense of the mom and pop's. Other incentives, like implementing a PIF on retail purchases to recoup costs expended to bring the "brand" retailers in the first place, doesn't seem unreasonable to me given that the amount of impact needed to be mitigated by a "brand" retailer is likely always greater than the impact a mom and pop would create. I can't think of a mom and pop that would constitute a "big-box" operating anywhere, except a hardware store in Boulder, CO, McGuckin's that's still "only" 55K SF.

  18. #18
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Walgreens and Rite Aid are bad, CVS is good.
    What is funny is if people would research CVS's practices in running-out local pharmacies compared to Walgreens, they might feel differently. CVS is a nasty company to deal with from a regulatory side as well.

    I think a lot of people judge the business through their bias about their typical clientele. For example, they don't want Walmart because then the poor people will come to our neighborhood (or in a worse case, minorities will come to our neighborhood).

    I've always found Walmart easy to deal with. Actually, the people I dreaded most were local custom home builders.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

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    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Thanks for the responses thus far, hearing other folks' experiences is quite interesting. Most responses would seem to imply that Wal-Mart is easier to deal with than Costco from a planning perspective. Obviously these are all generalizations but this again has me pondering if concessions made or denied in the planning realm somehow influence the end product?

    If a Costco doesn't want to (and ends up not paying) several million dollars in impact fees, perhaps the end result is better wages and health care for their employees? Maybe Sam's Club would compensate their employees more if municipalities gave them all the same concessions municipalities gives Costco? I have a tendency to oversimplify things, obviously.

  20. #20
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by UrbaneSprawler View post
    I can't think of a mom and pop that would constitute a "big-box" operating anywhere, except a hardware store in Boulder, CO, McGuckin's that's still "only" 55K SF.
    Large local/independent furniture stores, the biggest being Nebraska Furniture Mart, come to mind. Also, independent Asian/ethnic supermarkets in some cities.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  21. #21
    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Large local/independent furniture stores, the biggest being Nebraska Furniture Mart, come to mind.
    Interesting, I guess I wouldn't have considered them to be a "mom and pop" with their multiple stores in different states. If they're a mom and pop, then Jake Jabs with American Furniture Warehouse in Colorado could perhaps fit that definition as well? At what point did Ikea change from a mom and pop given that the company is still private?

  22. #22
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    I think a lot of people judge the business through their bias about their typical clientele.
    So so so true! I hate to sound discriminatory, but this is one main reason I hate shopping in big box stores. I find that the part of the general public I encounter in big box stores to be below average in several categories, including intelligence, ability to move their fannies from point A to point B in less than 100 years, ability to breathe without getting their bodily fluids on me, ability to park their giant cars in a single parking space, and manners (as in ability to say excuse me when they ram their cart into me).

    I know we all have to shop in one at some point in time, but seriously... is it just me or do you feel like you walked into dumb- slow- rude-ville every time you walk into one of these places? Maybe it is just because they are always so crowded but WOW.

    Anyway, I tend to judge a retailer as "good" or "bad" by their actions in a global context as well. Where is their merchandise coming from? How was it packaged and shipped? What kind of ownership structure do they have? Are they donating tax dollars to political entities that I am comfortable supporting? Do they donate any portion of their profits to local social or environmental groups, and if so, which ones?

    When you frame your good and bad comparison into a perspective that allows you to identify how they are making the world a better/worse place, it is much easier to decide where to spend your hard earned dollars.

  23. #23
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TerraSapient View post
    Where is their merchandise coming from? How was it packaged and shipped?
    Wal-Mart, Target, and the like will claim that the majority of their SKUs are domestic. That may be true but it includes items such as books, food, pharmaceuticals, commodity items, motor oil, paint, and the like. The vast majority of clothing, electronics, small appliances, and the like will still be from China or another developing nation.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  24. #24
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    There are a couple of big box retailers that employ their own stylized corporate architecture and are 100% insistent on using their own prototypes and nothing else. When these businesses go under, you're left with a giant white elephant that no one else wants because the building's design will forever evoke the business that originally built the structure. The best example of this is Circuit City - hundreds of their now-empty red box buildings litter highway strips from coast to coast and no one will touch them with a ten foot pole. Demo costs for such a structure would be prohibitively huge and unless it's a prime location, would sink any potential project on the site. What's the solution?

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    I have to echo the sentiment of others, Wal-Mart was a pleasure dealing with. Target on the other hand would not budge on their architectural materials and "required sea of parking." Although Target did a much better job of landscaping to reduce the visual affects of their finished building material and parking lot. McDonalds is another hard corporation to deal with, they want to seek every possible variance because their market research determines what it takes for a store to be successful. Wendy's was/is much easier to work with as well as Yum! brands KFC and Taco Bell.

    I won't get into "good" vs. "bad"

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