Who is Mom and Pop? Some of you may think of that old painting of the farmer standing next to his dreary looking wife with a pitchfork in hand. I used to picture this image, but not anymore.
When I was very young, Walmart was spreading like a delicious yet delightfully inexpensive butter all over America. By 1991 there were Walmarts from Maine to Florida, and California to New Jersey. The country was being consumed by “everyday low prices” due to state of the art inventory tracking, and ingenious pricing strategies that effectively stretched the experience curve to new lengths and potentials. I actually worked for Walmart in 1998, and I have never been apart of an organization that made you feel more like a Queen rather than worker bee (I preach these same techniques in my employee motivational seminars). Case in point, Walmart is a big hairy lovable beast that has exploited the strength of being large to a science. Lower prices means less competition, and less competition means we will see less and less of Mom and Pop. Right? Wrong.
I see a shifting in the tides. I see a future where value and experience will trump price and variety. I see a world where we have seen all there is to see, but yet, we yearn for something more. I see a bully who is using his size to dominate others, but those others are adding up, and soon size will only make the bully a larger target with much more to lose.
I was in Walmart last week and it just wasn’t fun. I walked in, bought a few jars of Rogaine, the newest edition of Men’s Health and a delicious pint of skim milk, and I walked out. The teller didn’t know me. The people looked deflated and depressed. My money went into a drawer that will no doubt lead to the pockets of American aristocrats who will no doubt lobby to raise minimum wage simply to further impair Mom and Pop. Walmart is monopolizing the retail industry. However, one thing any historical buff will tell you is fine temples always find a way to fall and even the best of things become the worst of things eventually. It happened with dictatorships, disco, debt and dinosaurs (I know you’ve seen Jurassic Park), and it will happen to Walmart.
Here are the reasons Mom and Pop will eventually turn Walmart’s strengths into their largest weaknesses:
Mom and Pop don’t grow up on farms anymore, they don’t only read the Reader’s Digest and they don’t have sex only once a year. They probably went to college, know what the accelerant curve is, have a website and are always looking to give their customer a better experience than a larger and less intimate chain.
Guess who started Walmart? Exactly, a Mom and Pop. Sam Walton was an American legend who built an empire with hard work and sleepless nights. However, much fatter and more elitist rulers have recently taken his throne, and their greed knows no bounds. Mom and Pop take their profit and put their kid in Catholic school. Walmart CEO’s take their profit and buy another $20 million dollar home.
Mom and Pop are not trying to dismantle capitalism. Rather, they understand a lower price does not always equal more value. Would I pay an extra dollar here and there to have the teller ask about my family or suggest a film I might like? You’re darn right I would, and eventually you will too.
Mom and Pop understand that while people are paying less money and given more variety, we will always yearn for a simpler time when quality trumped quantity. What is the quality of Mom and Pop? They will deliver medicine to your house when you are sick. They will put an item on your tab when you are out of work. They will give you advice that you trust because their recommendations have been accurate in the past. They will be your friend, your advocate and your key to a kingdom where people value long-term relationships over $1 toothbrushes. This is the retro world we will one day yearn for again.
Mom and Pop have found the great equalizer by going online. Here size and budget bow to valuable entertainment, information and socialization. Currently we are making our client’s bar website a way for shy people to learn if that patron last night was really checking them out or not. We’ve already facilitated 5 relationships and countless hook-ups with people who may have been too shy to originally meet. These are now loyal customers and avid promoters.
In one of the most celebrated books of our time, The Long Tale, Chris Anderson writes about how “hits” have been replaced by several hundred, sometimes thousands of tiny niches that people are more and more gravitating toward. Where *NSYNC once dominated sales; today, 75% of those people would be off buying underground ska, Max Roach’s lost B-side tracks and downloading Antonie Dodson rapping about a rapist trying to attack his sister. The bottom line is people are yearning for more variety than Walmart will ever be able to one day provide. However, 40 local Mom and Pop stores, online or brick and mortar, could accommodate this need just fine.
Mom and Pop can move faster to adapt to trends, and collect less damage when aligning themselves with bubbles. Committees, teams, and lawyers are like the 100 pound rucksack slowing down an American soldier. Mom and Pop don’t wear bureaucratic nonsense, and therefore can adapt to the evolving landscape of the collective business terrain much easier.
Let’s not forget the motivations as to why the general public will continue to buy from, and support small business. When you buy from a small ‘mom and pop’ business, you are not helping a CEO buy a third vacation home. You are helping a little girl get dance lessons, a little boy get his team jersey, a mom or dad put food on the table, a family pay a mortgage, or a student pay for college. You’re damn right!
Do you really believe corporations like Google and Walmart will rule forever? Rome was an empire that was crushed by several hundred smaller competitors. Bob Dylan said, “times, they’re a changing.” Rest assured Mom and Pop never died, they just got younger, and smarter.