Worried about Walmart?

There’s been a debate about Walmart floating through the community of Cochrane for some time now. It would be the first “really big” box store to make its way into the community, and it’s not without some controversy. The closest thing we’ve got so far is a Canadian Tire (which recently expanded by a couple thousand square feet…like bulking up before the big fight).

One of the problems facing the community is attracting businesses to even out the tax base. Currently Cochrane has a very uneven tax base. Only 18.6% of the revenue collected in the form of municipal taxes comes from the commercial sector, with the remaining 81.4% being collected from residential (report here). This is a far cry from the 40/60 split envisioned in the Cochrane Sustainability Plan, a guiding document for development in the community.

So…what to think? On the one hand, increased retail options, particularly on the more affordable (read cheap) end of the spectrum should stop some of the leakage of buyers to the big box stores in Calgary. Of course, Walmart isn’t exactly known as being the king of keeping dollars in a community either (although this fellow would argue the statement that “Walmart destroys communities”. He’s very much pro-consumers choice). I’m not going to weigh in at this point about the pros and cons of big box stores in Cochrane, except to say that they’re inevitable. If we don’t allow them, Rockyview County certainly will (as evidenced by Cross Iron Mills). Tax revenue is tax revenue, and cleaning up the Domtar site certainly wasn’t cheap.

Here are some thoughts for local retailers and those interested in supporting a vibrant local economy.

  1. You’re not going to beat Walmart at its game. Don’t even bother trying to offer lower prices or a bigger selection. You’ll be out of business in no time.
  2. Cochrane is a loyal community, full of loyal and community minded folks. They will support you, if you support the community. Get involved. Help organize events. Be awesome like Karrie Peace and Poor David’s. Donate some time and money to local efforts.
  3. Because #1 is true, you should instead focus on your relationship with me, the consumer. Unlike the 16 year old kid at the auto parts shop today (I bought 10$ worth of headlights), I value GOOD customer service. If I want someone to not make eye-contact, mumble, and generally seem disinterested in me and my needs…I will shop at Walmart! At least it would have been 8$ instead of 10$….
  4. Stop advertising with a business card sized ad in the back of the local weekly papers. NO ONE that I know finds services by looking there. Do you? Build your online presence. Build a website. Get on Twitter. Engage with your customers at every opportunity, in every venue possible. Beat Walmart (and the other big box stores) by engaging with me.
  5. Become a Champion of Sustainability.

OK…time for some irony. I snapped this picture the other day, finding it ironic that the vacation and “activewear” store was being replaced by “Payless Smokes and Cigars”. Even more ironic, I had the Wildrose Brewery 12-pack sampler tucked under my arm…more on the links between addiction and consumerism to come!

Your thoughts welcome! Warm, cold or indifferent to the idea of big box stores in Cochrane?