Value Of Variety

Wal-Mart has finally cracked Chicago. The company's world-domination strategy is now focused on urban areas and the Chicago City Council approved a zoning change in May that will allow the country's largest private employer to open a 150,000-square-foot store in a poor and predominantly minority neighborhood on the West side.

One of my favorite things about Chicago is its "biodiversity." I don't mean the variety of flora and fauna that thrive there; I mean the variety of businesses, neighborhoods, restaurants and cultural experiences that makes it such a stimulating and energizing place to live. And biodiversity is part of the charm of the hot tub and swimming pool industry. There are dozens of different products in every category. There are myriad ways to approach different construction challenges. Our peers are constantly introducing new and improved ideas.

Wal-Mart is a much-maligned presence in our industry and in the United States. It's had a huge impact on many categories of businesses, from the small family-owned drug stores, hardware stores and department stores it's put out of business, to the vendors that it squeezes for increasingly lower (and unprofitable) prices, to the manufacturers who change their entire product lines to suit Wal-Mart's demands.

An argument is easily made that Wal-Mart creates jobs and provides opportunities, but I don't think those low-paying jobs outweigh the businesses that they displace. And in terms of quality of life, would you want to work for $10 an hour wandering aisles wearing a blue vest. Or would you rather be part of — or own — a family business where everything you do has an impact on the success of the company.

To me, though, the most sinister thing about Wal-Mart is that it serves the lowest common denominator, homogenizing everything in its path. Wal-Mart represents a monoculture; in biological terms, a single species with little or no genetic variety. In sociological terms, a monoculture is any sort of system wherein everyone is wearing, doing, seeing, reading, watching and thinking the same thing. There's no room for creativity or innovation or imagination.

Our businesses represent that invaluable variation from the monoculture. The variety that will foster the next great idea. Be proud of it. Promote it. And think about it next time you need to stock up on toothpaste and paper plates.

Buyer's Guide
Find manufacturers and suppliers in the most extensive searchable database in the industry.
Learn More
Buyer's Guide
Content Library
Dig through our best stories from the magazine, all sorted by category for easy surfing.
Read More
Content Library