Hope For Hometown Hardware

Fast Company: Every year, thousands of executives venture to Bentonville, Arkansas, hoping to get their products onto the shelves of the world’s biggest retailer. But Jim Wier wanted Wal-Mart to stop selling his Snapper mowers.
Tens of thousands of executives make the pilgrimage to northwest Arkansas every year to woo Wal-Mart, marshaling whatever arguments, data, samples, and pure persuasive power they have in the hope of an order for their products, or an increase in their current order. Almost no matter what you’re selling, the gravitational force of Wal-Mart’s 3,811 U.S. “doorways” is irresistible. Very few people fly into Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport thinking about telling Wal-Mart no, or no more.
Selling Snapper lawn mowers at Wal-Mart wasn’t just incompatible with Snapper’s future–Wier thought it was hazardous to Snapper’s health. Snapper is known in the outdoor-equipment business not for huge volume but for quality, reliability, durability. A well-maintained Snapper lawn mower will last decades; many customers buy the mowers as adults because their fathers used them when they were kids. But Snapper lawn mowers are not cheap, any more than a Viking range is cheap. The value isn’t in the price, it’s in the performance and the longevity.
Wier doesn’t really think that a $99 lawn mower from Wal-Mart and Snapper’s lawn mowers are the same product any more than a cup of 50-cent vending-machine coffee is the same as a Starbucks nonfat venti latte. “We’re not obsessed with volume,” says Wier. “We’re obsessed with having differentiated, high-end, quality products.” Wier wants them sold–he thinks they must be sold–at a store where the staff is eager to explain the virtues of various models, where they understand the equipment, can teach customers how to use a mower, can service it when something goes wrong.
And so in October 2002, with a colleague, Wier kept an appointment with a merchandise vice president for Wal-Mart’s outdoor-product category. “I felt I owed them a visit to tell them why we weren’t going to continue to sell to them.”
“The whole visit to Wal-Mart headquarters is a great experience,” says Wier. It really is a pilgrimage to the center of the retail universe. “It’s so crowded, you have to drive around, waiting for a parking space, you have to follow someone who is leaving, walking back to their car, and get their spot. Then you go inside this building, you register for your appointment, they give you a badge, and then you wait in the pews with the rest of the peddlers, the guy with the bras draped over his shoulder.”

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Maybe he’d read the Vlasic pickle story…