The Man who said ‘no’ to Wal-Mart

31 December 2008

“What struck Jim Wier first, as he entered the Wal-Mart vice president’s office, was the seating area for visitors. “It was just some lawn chairs that some other peddler had left behind as samples.” The vice president’s office was furnished with a folding lawn chair and a chaise lounge.”

This is a great story beautifully written by Charles Fishman sharing the experience of Jim Wier, CEO of US premium lawn mower manufacturer ‘Snapper’, who came to the conclusion that selling to Wal-Mart was not only serving his brand poorly, but ultimately in the long term, could well be the end of the company and had the courage to say ‘no’.

The story reminds me of a similar encounter I had with Harvey Norman at Domotex, the world’s largest flooring trade show in January 2001. At the time I had only recently taken over as Commercial Director of the Australian distribution arm of German laminate flooring manufacturer, HDM.

As the only manufacturer of a 90% gloss laminate floor, Harvey’s buyers were keenly interested though I’d already appraised the Australian market and come to the conclusion that selling to the big boxes was a rapid route to obscurity so politely informed them that we already had our retail strategy set and at that time didn’t see ourselves going the big box route.

Not happy and incorrectly assuming I was an independent agent they informed me that they would ‘go direct’. I invited them to do just that and pointed them in the direction of Hr Dammers, HDM’s founder and Chairman. The look of surprise and embarrassment on their faces as they approached him only to be pointed back in my direction will never leave me.

When I left HDM Australia to start my own business three years later, without dealing with any of the major national chains, we had turned the company around to the number 2 slot in the country and retained a healthy profit margin.

My experience and that (albeit on an epically larger scale) of Jim Wier’s is a timely reminder that volume isn’t everything and that old-skool quality and service, delivered through the right hands, holds value for some, even today…

» Read Charles Fishman’s fantastic account of ‘The Man who said no to Wal-Mart

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