Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Wal-Mart Proud (insert applause here)

June 6, 2008

wal1.jpgUpon entering Wal-Mart Stores annual shareholder meeting, an observer might be forgiven for thinking they had just walked into a lively, national political convention.

Patriotic red and blue buntings covered the 16,000-seat arena at the University of Arkansas, the music hardly stopped and the crowd was treated to a constrant stream of well-tuned public relations bullet points — in this case, sustainability, community relations and saving shoppers money.

Associates — the word the world’s largest retailer uses to describe its 2 million employees – whooped and hollered at every chance, especially whenever an executive uttered the word “proud.”

(An associate later told Reuters that staff had been told to react whenever they heard that word — even when it meant interrupting the speaker, presumably.)

“We’re just having fun!” said Mike Miller of Scott Depot, West Virginia, whose group of fellow Sam’s Club associates donned funny hats with stars and stripes, reminiscent of a patriotic Dr. Seuss character.

Large balloons emblazoned with the company slogan “Save People Money So They Can Live Better” bounced back and forth between the bleachers, and enthusiastic associates waved flags.

Even Master of Ceremonies Queen Latifah seemed moved by the euphoria. After a number in which singers sang “One World” as representatives from different countries took to the stage in a mini-U.N, the performer beamed and sighed: “One world — a Wal-Mart world.”

wal2.jpgThe associates’ enthusiasm waned somewhat during presentations by the companies’ financial mucky-mucks — shares up 26 percent since January, ho hum, etc — but revived somewhat with a performance by Dreamgirls’ Jennifer Hudson (picture at right).

She sang, fittingly, “And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going.”

Just like Wal-Mart. – Reporting by Alexandria Sage

(Reuters photos)

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