Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Sunday, April 23, 2006

More on the Wal-Mart Media Conference

ABC World News Tonight Business producer Charles Herman was with me on the tours of the Wal-Mart Home Office and Distribution Center. I found his entry on The WorldNewser blog detailing his first day experinces in Bentonville very interesting, and very similar to my experiences.

The day started early with a tour of the “Home Office.” Perhaps you’ve heard that it is barebones with no fancy furniture like the stores themselves. True. Perhaps you’ve heard about the row of 44 plain rooms where suppliers present their wares to Wal-Mart buyers hoping the retailer will buy them. True. Perhaps you’ve heard that the executives have small, sparse offices instead of enormous corner suites that you might expect at the world’s biggest retailer. True again.

And finally, you might wonder if the home of that smiling yellow face that promises low prices has a friendly face to greet you and say hello when you enter, just like at store. You bet it does. His name is Paul.

Wal-Mart HQ is a no frills, barebones, low cost operation. It’s like a warehouse with platform ceilings, low cubicle walls, and signs throughout the complex with quotes from the man himself, Sam Walton – “Listen to your associates, they’re our best idea generators.” Wisdom, indeed. One wall is lined in plaques and awards, while another is dedicated to employees who went beyond the call of duty. Oh, and here and there you’ll see an electronic time clock.

What really impresses, though, is the distribution center. The DC, as it is called, is enormous, reaching a height of 35 feet at the center. Rows and rows of products are stacked to the rafters. More than 200 trucks arrive daily dropping off merchandise, while another 150 trucks pick up those same items for the stores. Wal-Mart maintains a private trucking fleet of 8,000 drivers who logged over 910 million miles last year.
The picture at right above is of the conveyor system that runs along the top of the distribution center. The conveyors take items from the loading docks or storage shelf area to he loading dock at about 7 miles an hour, where cameras hooked to computers scan the items to determine which store they are bound for. Metal arms then swing out to divert the item to be loaded on the proper truck. Very efficient and very impressive.

Sean Hackbarth at American Mind compares the picture my fellow blogger Rob took of the Wal-Mart Home Office (see above) with the proposed headquarters building of the New York Times and wonders which company you would rather invest in.

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