As Wal-Mart fights a potential class action suit on equal pay by a whopping 1.5 million current and former female employees with a hearing today before the Supreme Court in Washington, it's fighting smaller battles across the country.
After expanding about as much as it could throughout American suburbs and rural areas, Wal-Mart has been pining for entry into the nation’s biggest cities lately, counting on them for new growth.
In particular, its charm offensive (including spots such as the one above) to win over New York City is being closely watched, as Wal-Mart corporate steps up its campaign there with all the political savvy of a mayoral race.
The Bentonville, Ark.-based chain already has managed to penetrate Chicago with smaller-format stores and a commitment to provide healthier food fare at lower prices than inner-city residents have been able to obtain — a tactic it's using by pitching healthier apples to the Big Apple:
But it’s going to take more than a few cart loads of fruit and vegetables for conservatively minded, union-free Wal-Mart to win over Gotham and its highly resistant phalanx of liberal politicians, union bosses and skeptical residents. It’s been only a few years, after all, since a former Wal-Mart CEO swore off New York City for good.
So chain management has launched the equivalent of a political campaign, as the New York Times notes, to try to obtain the right to set up small-format stores in New York, relying on a variety of tactics ranging from its spotless labor-violations record in New York State to an appeal to residents about having the freedom to shop where they want to.
Wal-Mart has brought in veteran political-campaign consultants and pollsters to help them, while WalmartNYC.com serves as a virtual campaign hub. The chain appears to be playing for keeps against opposition (that may not be as well-funded, but it's certainly as vociferous. Check out a protest last month, below, and one of many op-eds that have been written in community newspapers here.
It's a long way from Bentonville to the Big Apple, but this time around, it seems the retailer is lining its deep pockets with something New Yorkers aren't known for: patience. Whether persistence and political might will bring Wal-Mart’s Everyday Low Prices to NYC any time soon remains to be seen.