Friday, March 28, 2014

Apples and Oranges?

I got a lot of great feedback about Wal-mart vs. Wegmans yesterday. What I learned was:

1. Putting the two head-to-head is a rather specious comparison, and

2. Amongst my circle of Facebook friends, Wegmans is the clear winner.

But, although there were some confirmed lovers of Wegmans, overall the tone was set by people who, like me, loathe Wal-mart. So that was the deciding factor for them. They mentioned poor service, poor shopping experience, objection to Wal-mart policies. So some chose Wegmans as a means of spurning Wal-mart, even though they actually preferred other groceries. (Trader Joe's, MOM's, and Center Park Giant were mentioned)

Remember that this all started with information from the Village Center Market Study, which stated: People will drive 10 miles to get to a Wal-Mart versus 3-6 miles for a Wegmans. So, it is about how far you are willing to drive. Then I started to wonder. Are the people who are driving to Wal-mart the kind of folks who rely more on driving? Are the people who drive to Wegmans the type who are concerned about burning too much fossil fuel?

The larger the store, the more limited the options for where you can put one. The average Wal-Mart supercenter is 200,000+ square foot sitting on 20 to 30 acres of land. The Columbia Wegmans is 135,000 square feet. On the other hand, for comparison, the Long Reach Village Center is listed at 84,000 square feet. (Not sure if this is the whole space, or just available retail space.) The difference in scale is mind-boggling. So, in all likelihood, in order to go to a Wal-mart, you would have to drive farther.

So many variables. So many ways to spin it. So little benefit to humankind to take the time to analyze it.

I remember a game of sorts that we played in high school youth group called "values clarification." The leader put a line down the center of the room, and would call out two choices, starting with simple things like chocolate or vanilla, indicating which side of the room was which. Everyone would run to the side of the room they identified with. It was fun, and quite edifying. As you progressed from ice cream flavors to music styles to personality traits to controversial issues, you looked around to see who was on your side of the room. And who wasn't.

Something about the Wal-mart vs. Wegmans debate reminded me of that. It is obvious that my own circle of friends would be completely useless as a representative cross-section of the general population. It made me realize that most of them were all standing on the same side of the room with me.

There are many ways in which American life is one continuous game of values clarification these days. The topic is called out and we line up on our respective sides. What I learned from this particular discussion is that the reasons people have for making their choices are far more interesting than which side of the line they are standing on.

I hope I can remember that the next time I am trying to communicate with someone on the other side of the room.



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