Tampa We spent the day speculating and probing, trying to figure out the weaknesses — the chinks in the armor — in Wal-Mart’s vaunted distribution network. Our crack team of WARN Tampa based research team of Colin, Hillary, and Skylar kibitzed and griped with Rick Smith and me until light gradually started to emerge from the heat generated by lots of talk and a broken air conditioner in the office. Engaging the company in Merced, California made us interested in trying to figure out the where, what, and how of the rest of the system to see what might turn up.
China sourced $21 Billion worth of product for Wal-Mart. India was soon going to be another $2-4 Billion and rising, if the carrot could leverage the stick on FDI. There might be another $10 Billion crossing the Pacific for the company to arrive at the big three ports in Seattle-Tacoma, Oakland, and Long Beach and then travel by rail and truck to be broken out around the country through the distribution network just-in-time to thousands of stores. It was like looking at a giant puzzle. Each distribution center could handle a radius of around 250 miles and support 50 or more stores. Merced was essential because if the company was going to expand, they had to forge the links in the chain to supply another bushel full of stores in the expanding sea of Supercenters.
The strength of the portside unions and the size of the company had even led to discussions of Wal-Mart supporting the construction of a giant new port in Baja below Tijuana in Mexico and moving product into Mexico and the US from that entry point. One blanched at the thought.
North of Merced was Red Bluff. South was what? There was something the team had heard about in Barstow. Where was that now? Could we catch up? What was elsewhere? The team as an experiment each took a staff. Within 15 minutes Colin walked back in. Something was happening near Kingman, Arizona. Unclear how far it had gone? I pulled up the map on my computer. One could draw the line from Barstow to Kingman and see Las Vegas in sight in one direction, Flagstaff going east, and Phoenix to the south. What might be near Flagstaff? How long did it take to drive across northern Nevada from Reno to Utah? Skyler walked after another call. We now knew there were three distribution centers in Utah, and they were all different types and that Wal-Mart had six different kinds of distribution centers.
Something was out there, and we knew it was important, if we could put the puzzle together. Increasingly with a full-court press we felt we could beat the company’s as they tried to “site” new stores, so the question of whether or not we could go upstream and squeeze them harder there seemed natural.
An afternoon in Tampa with thunder clapping in the background and sweat under the collars reminded all of us how organizing really starts and takes shape on big campaigns with a lot at stake.
September 6, 2006