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Friday, November 04, 2005

When Big Isn't Bad

There are many, including some in the Catholic blogosphere who fancy themselves in a Chestertonian light, for whom "evil corporation" is redundant. I am not one of them. Wal-Mart is one company that is often a target of such scorners, and one thing about Wal-Mart that they often neglect is the corporate culture that exists there and what good can come of it. To wit, there is my experience during the recent urban flood visited upon the Clan last month.

We had received about 6" of rain in a little more than 12 hours and more was expected because it was still pouring. The large amount of water coming off the neighbor's yard and the grading of our yard was such that we had several inches of standing water against the foundation outside the boys' room, a half-level below ground level. This was particularly bad because we had observed occasional dampness in their room after large rains, so we could expect water in their room, which there was and in a big way. Unable to keep the foundation clear by bailing/sweeping/shoveling, I went out at 9:30 PM in search of sand bags.

I went first to Home Depot. The store had just closed and there were about a half-dozen employees standing outside watching the storm. As I pulled up, they all ran into the store, where they scattered, except for one who stood at the door with it just open enough for his face.

Employee: Store's closed.

Me: I really need some sand bags, man. Can you help me out?

Employee: Nope. Store's closed.

Me: My house is flooding, I really need some sand bags now.

Employee: I can't let you in.
And with that, he closed the door on me and walked into the store.

Beginning to feel frantic, I went to a 24/7 Wal-Mart and headed straight for the garden/patio section.

Me: Do you have any sand bags? My house is flooding and I really need some.

Employee A: No, we are all out.

Me: How about dirt? Do you have bags of dirt?

Employee A: We have potting soil on the patio, but we just closed the patio and the registers on this end of...
Now looking at me, she continues,
Employee A (to me): You don't care, do you? Your house is flooding. How many bags do you need?

Me: I don't know, maybe about 20 of the big bags.

Employee A (to Employee B, who had been standing there): Go ask the manager to come back and re-open this register and see if we can have Employees C, D, and E punch back in. I'm going to go get a flat bed cart.

At Wal-Mart, instead of shutting the door in my face, they re-opened a register just for me and paid three employees overtime, two of whom went out to the patio with me, getting completely soaked in the pouring rain. They loaded almost a $100 worth of potting soil onto two flat bed carts, took them out, and loaded them into the truck for me.

I have long noticed a more helpful attitude from Wal-Mart employees in both Minnesota and Oklahoma. For example, it is typical that if I am looking for something, rather than being told to go to aisle such and such, as is the case at other retail stores, an employee will stop what he or she is doing (including coming down a ladder one time) to walk me to where the product is and verifying that it was what I needed. Nevertheless, this time I think they went above and beyond the call with the kind of service many equate with a small business, like a mom-and-pop store. And they responded not as people serving customers because it's good for business, but to a person who needed some help.

BTW, where were the Moms and Pops that night? Closed.

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