Competition, Mom and Pop Store, Big Box Store, Cooperative, Internet Sales, POS System, Inventory Control System and Wal-Mart

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 3rd, 2012

History 101

Big Box Stores offered More Choice and Lower Prices putting Mom and Pop Stores our of Business

Competition makes everything better for consumers.  Consumers love competition.  Because it gives them so much to choose from.  And choice is good.  Especially when that choice lowers prices.  And raises quality.  Which is why we love competition.  But it’s not very popular with businesses.  Especially the older ones.  Used to doing things the old way.  Who got into a comfortable rut.  Doing things the way they always did them.  Enjoying their comfortable incomes.  Until something arrived that shattered their world. 

America became the innovative capital of the world.  Thanks to their entrepreneurs.  In the land of liberty they were free to do great things.  Invent great things.  And go into business.  In cities and small towns everywhere moms and pops opened up shops.  Mom and pop stores.  Family affairs.  Serving their communities with quality goods and services.  At reasonable prices.  At least what people thought were reasonable prices.  Often times there was little competition for these mom and pop stores.  Apart from other mom and pop stores.

Mom and pop stores don’t have large sales.  Or large purchasing power.  So their prices are higher than a competitor who has large sales and large purchasing power.  Mom and pop office supply stores learned this lesson quickly when Office Max opened in town.  And Office Depot.  And Staples.  Big box stores that offered more choice and lower prices.  And no matter how much we loved our mom and pop stores when we had a chance to get more for less we chose to get more for less.  And these big box office supply stores put the mom and pop office supply stores out of business.

Advanced POS and Inventory Control Systems allow a Large Variety of Items at Low Prices

The mom and pop hardware stores suffered the same fate.  When the big box home improvement stores moved in.  Builders Square.  Home Quarters.  Home Depot.  Lowes.  Who served both consumers and contractors.  Giving them huge economies of scale.  Moving such a wide variety of material at low prices the small mom and pop hardware stores could never match.  Some survived.  Offering services like they did in the old days (like fixing a broken window).  And joining a cooperative (such as True Value or ACE Hardware) to match the purchasing power of the big box stores.  To get some economies of scale.  But more have gone out of business than stayed in business.

During the Eighties a lot of computer stores opened as the personal computer industry took off.  A lot of small stores custom built PCs.  Sold dot-matrix printers.  Fanfold printer paper.  Printer ribbons.  Floppy disks.  Cables.  External storage devices.  With the advent of the Internet they added dial-up modems.  As the industry grew the big box stores came in.  CompUSA.  Computer City.  The big box office supply stores.  Best Buy.  And Circuit City.  Put the small computer stores out of business.  By providing a huge variety at low prices.  They added software.  Games.  Uninterruptible power supplies.  And other electronic devices (PDAs, digital cameras, game boxes, game controllers, etc.).  Then Internet sales took off putting pressure on the big box stores.  Putting some of them out of business.

A big driver in the move away from the mom and pop stores to the big box stores is technology.  In particular inventory control systems.  Tied into their point of sale (POS) systems.  Buying a lot of goods and storing them in large warehouses is costly.  Because inventory doesn’t earn any revenue.  It costs to warehouse items.  And it takes cash to place things into inventory.  Businesses buy these things to sell them later.  If they buy too much of the wrong things they may sit in those warehouses.  Becoming less valuable as people’s interests change.  Requiring deep discounting to move these unwanted items out of inventory.  On the other hand, if you don’t carry a large inventory there is a chance you may run out of something that is popular and is selling.  This is where technology comes in.  When a cashier completes a sales transaction a lot of things happen automatically.   As people receive their change from the cashier the POS system automatically interfaces with the inventory control system.  It updates the system to show the reduction in inventory.  And the inventory control system places an automatic order to replenish the inventory.  The successful big box stores carry smaller inventories of each individual item.  Allowing them to carry a larger variety of items.  Which is how they can offer a larger variety at lower prices.

Stores like Wal-Mart are the People’s Hedge against Bad Fiscal and Monetary Policy 

The king of retail, Wall-Mart, got to be king with technology.  The ultimate big box store that sells just about everything under the sun (groceries, clothes, hardware, gardening supplies, electronics, prescription drugs, you name it).  They have taken inventory control systems to an art.  They combine economies of scale and efficiency that few can match.  They sell so much that they get to buy at the best prices.  And their sophisticated POS and inventory control systems keep the shelves stocked with the things people want to buy while keeping their inventories lean.  Few stores please consumers more by their wide variety and low prices.  Allowing them to fill their shopping carts without having to sacrifice other family needs.

Competition created Wal-Mart.  Because people wanted more choice and lower prices.  And Wal-Mart figured out how to do that.  Something the mom and pop stores just couldn’t do.  Which is why Wal-Mart stores are opening everywhere.  The people love them.  And the people want them.  Or they want the store that puts Wal-Mart out of business by offering even more choice at even lower prices.

Of course this begs the question why do people want more choice at lower prices?  Are they greedy?  Materialistic?  No.  They’re just not rich.  More and more of their income is taxed away at the local, state and federal level.  And prices keep rising thanks to Keynesian monetary policy.  Which continuously expands the money supply to ‘stimulate’ the economy.  Higher taxes and permanent inflation is why two-income households have become the norm and not the exception today.  And why shoppers love stores like Wal-Mart.  Because stores like Wal-Mart are the people’s hedge against bad fiscal and monetary policy.  Which is the true destroyer of mom and pop stores everywhere.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Labor Costs, Standard of Living, Artisans, Gunsmiths, Specifications, Interchangeability of Parts, Machine Tools and the Assembly Line

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 15th, 2012

Technology 101

Since the Dawn of Civilization we’ve Waged a War against High Labor Costs

Technology determines our standard of living.  The greater we develop technology the higher our standard of living.  Because the things that make our lives easier and more enjoyable come down in price as technology advances.  So that the great conveniences and comforts of life are available to all.  And not just for the amusements of a wealthy upper class.  For example, who owned and enjoyed the first automobiles?  It was the wealthy upper class.  Exclusively.  Until Henry Ford used all the technology of the day to reduce the price of a car so that a working man could afford and enjoy one.  Changing America forever.

Labor.  The cost of people making things.  This is the cost that holds back the standard of living.  The thing that made the comforts of life affordable only to the rich.  Since the dawn of civilization we’ve waged a war against high labor costs.  To find ways to allow people to create more for less.  The division of labor allowed specialization and a middle class.  Where artisans made things they could trade for other things.  But artisans were artists.  Each thing they made was one of a kind.  And it took time.  A single artisan could not operate at an economies of scale to bring unit prices down.  Which tended to keep their more labor-intensive works more costly and available only to the wealthy class.  And rulers of their civilization.

Great talent was going to waste.  And a great number of people were not living anywhere near as well as the few well-to-do.  To unleash this human capital, to make a better life available to anyone, they had to reduce these labor costs.  Figure out a way to make more for less.  And we took a giant step forward in this direction thanks to war.  One of the great drivers of technology.

Precision Machine Tools allowed the Interchangeability of Parts

Some of our first firearms were works of art.  Built by highly skilled artisans.  Gunsmiths.  Who carefully and painstakingly shaped, fitted and gently filed parts he created and assembled together into a working firearm.  Changed the way we fought wars forever.  They were expensive.  And not all that plentiful at first.  Because it took such a long time for a gunsmith to build one from scratch.  Who was always busy building new guns.  Or carefully and painstakingly repairing old ones damaged in battle.  Shaping, fitting and filing a replacement part into the old firearm and restoring it to working order.

Then someone got a bright idea.  Actually, a few had the same bright idea at various points in time.  If we could standardize these parts by building them to a set of specifications we could mass-produce these parts.  Building the same part over and over again, one after another, following a set of specifications as closely as possible.  And then take these uniform parts and assemble firearms out of them.  Because the parts were uniform they were interchangeable.  Any part could go into any gun.  A worker could just grab these interchangeable parts from piles of identical parts and slap them together into a finished firearm.  Furthermore, we could keep spare parts in our armories.  So we can easily repair parts damaged or broken in combat by simply replacing the broken part with a new part.  Without sending the firearm back to the manufacturer.

Of course, the interchangeability of parts was not possible without the precision machine tools provided.  At first artisans guided their hand tools with a trained eye.  Often securing the piece he was working in a vise and working the tool around the piece.  Machine tools allowed us to spin our work and used a constrained tool to shape it.  Or to constrain our work and apply a spinning tool to drill, cut or shape it.  Using machines to constrain our work allowed us to apply greater forces on our work.  Which advanced metal working.  And allowed us to manufacture things with complex shapes and demanding specifications.  Creating the many thousands of pieces that we ultimately assemble into a finished good.  Allowing us to build more for less.

Computer Controlled Machine Tools and Robots increased the Speed and Precision of Assembling Automobiles

The interchangeability of parts and machine tools led to the assembly line.  Where we assembled things in mass quantities.  From piles of interchangeable parts.  Then Henry Ford made the assembly line move.  Taking mass production to a new level.  Reducing the costs for one of the wealthy class’ most expensive toys.  The automobile.  Bringing labor costs down so far that the final selling price was inexpensive enough for the working man to afford.

Computer controlled machine tools increased the speed and precision at which we made these interchangeable parts.  And robots on the assembly line increased the speed and precision of assembling automobiles.  Which should have reduced the price of cars even further.  But they seem to be more expensive than they need be.  Making many cars today too expensive for the working man.  Making them toys for the rich and well-to-do again.  For technology has reduced costs everywhere in the assembly pipeline but one.  The final assembly labor costs.  Which should have plummeted in the advance of all this technology.  But they haven’t.  Because unions have removed these costs from market forces.  Keeping labor costs higher than market costs.  And in turn pushing the selling price of their cars higher than market prices.  Opening the door to Japanese competition in the Seventies.  And the Japanese stepped in.  Sold a lot of cars.  So many that they would one day even sell more than GM.  Where we come full circle.  One of the countries (the other being Nazi Germany) that changed American manufacturing by pulling it out of the Great Depression changed it once again.

During the war years of the Great Depression FDR set a wage ceiling.  He didn’t want employers paying workers too much.  A bit of a problem when you’re trying to hire the best workers.  So employers got creative.  And, instead, started offering benefits to get around that wage ceiling to attract the best workers.  Following World War II the wage ceiling was gone.  But the benefits lived on.  And are some of the most contentious issues discussed at contract negotiations with the United Automobile Workers (UAW).  Ultimately leading to the great legacy costs that led the Big Three (GM, Chrysler and Ford) to bankruptcy and government bailouts. 

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,