It's called a post-mortem in the publishing world, but it's not nearly so morbid as it sounds. Every month, after an issue hits the street, the editorial staff gathers around the conference table to vet the latest edition. Anything and everything is fair game for discussion—from graphics, to story mix to ad placement—as we work to make every issue better than the last.
Last month, as we met to look over our December 2003 issue, we noticed something unusual: a seemingly endless number of references to Wal-Mart. A story on page 1 reported that Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott had received the Council of Logistics Management's annual Distinguished Service Award. A news story on page 11 focused on Wal-Mart's recent meeting with suppliers to brief them on plans for implementing RFID technology over the next year. An item on page 19 noted that Wal-Mart execs would be among the keynote speakers at the 2004 National Retail Federation Convention and Expo. On page 21, Wal-Mart was cited as an example of how a retailer can use effective supply chain management to boost profits. That's four references to the Bentonville, Ark., retailer in the first third of the issue.
And it didn't stop there. References to the Behemoth of Bentonville continued up to the very last page—this column—which focused on the retailer's problems with undocumented workers and the object lesson it provided for logistics professionals responsible for outsourcing services.
That we had inadvertently devoted so much coverage to a single company gave us pause. Was it a bad thing? Was it justified because of the company's size and—presumably—its influence? And how big is Wal-Mart anyway?
As it turns out, very big. Based on 2002 revenue, Wal-Mart is well beyond simply being the biggest retailer on the planet. With sales in excess of $247 billion, it's four times larger than its nearest competitor.
And that's not all. Now that it has opened Wal-Mart "supercenters" (megacenters that include a full grocery market inside a regular discount store) in several regions of the country, the "Mother of all Retailers" has apparently also become the "Mother of all Grocers." Though Wal-Mart itself views its grocery business as an emerging sideline, the company has vaulted over Safeway and Kroger to become the largest food retailer in the United States in the last two years. Not bad for a sideline.
We've established that Wal-Mart is big. Very, very big. The next question is whether our readers care what Wal-Mart does. To find out, we launched a spot survey. On Dec. 29, we sent a 10-question e-mail survey out to 5,000 subscribers. Though the majority of responses we received were those automated "Out of Office" replies—no surprise, given that it was the holiday break for most companies—we did hear from more than 150 readers within 60 minutes.
What we learned amazed us. Not only do you care about what's going on in Bentonville, but you say you need to know. Why? Because the retailer's got clout. Even if you're not one of its direct suppliers, everything Wal-Mart does will affect your business—perhaps not right away, but definitely in the future. For example, our survey found that three out of 10 DC VELOCITY readers are directly affected by Wal-Mart's RFID mandate right now, but more importantly, it showed that nearly 70 percent of those not currently affected fully expected to be drawn into the fray by the end of 2005 (see story on page 11). When you extrapolate those results across DCV's readership of 50,000-plus logistics executives, the findings are nothing short of startling.
So back to our post-mortem question: Does Wal-Mart deserve all the coverage it's getting? It seems the readers of DC VELOCITY already knew the answer was yes. Now we know too. It's not just a matter of size; it's also a matter of clout.