It’s a David versus Goliath story played out in small towns and mega-metropolitan cities: anti-Wal-Mart groups seek to bar the retailer from opening new locations.

Wal-Mart opponents employ deception

Chris Koger
News Editor

In many cases, it’s a grassroots effort involving neighborhood groups against increased traffic or zoning changes, civic organizations seeking to maintain a historic-area designation, or consumers who are inherently opposed to any encroachment by the retailer on their turf.

Then come the lawyers, of which Wal-Mart has plenty.

In my town, Lawrence, Kan., “progressives” on the City Council, supported by some neighborhood residents and hometown boosters, fought a development that included a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

The city filed a lawsuit, Wal-Mart filed a lawsuit … and 5 ½ years and several hundred thousands of taxpayer dollars later, the city has another Wal-Mart, albeit half the size of the originally proposed 200,000-square-foot store.

A recent Wall Street Journal article calls into question just who’s opposing Wal-Mart’s development plans.

According to the Journal, one man has masterminded many of these efforts, with the backing of Wal-Mart competitors, including Supervalu Inc., Safeway Inc. and Ahold.

P. Michael Saint, founder of Saint Consulting Group, has made a name for delaying and derailing Wal-Mart plans across the country on behalf of competing grocery chains.

Fair enough, but the tactics used in some cases would impress Richard Nixon’s dirty tricks operatives; Saint employs what he calls “black arts.”

According to the Journal, Saint Consulting routinely sent employees — dubbed “Wal-Mart killers” — into communities to support opposition efforts or establish a group to lead those efforts.

These Saint Consulting managers use assumed names, and take pains to keep their company’s involvement a secret — even from the local attorneys Saint Consulting pays to fight the developments.

In August 2007, according to the Journal, most of the 53 Saint Consulting projects in Pennsylvania were against Wal-Mart, with Ahold’s Giant Food Stores footing the bill.

As an editor at The Packer, I get paid to be somewhat cynical, to seek out biases.

After reading the Journal article, it’s hard not to draw parallels from many of the cases covered in the story to what happened in my hometown.

There’s no Safeway, Giant Foods or Supervalu banner Jewel-Osco, but a Dillons, owned by second-only-to-Wal-Mart Kroger Co., is within sight of the new Wal-Mart Supercenter …

This proves nothing, of course, but how many consumers will follow that line of thought? Retailers, especially with a troubled economy, can’t afford to turn public opinion against them.

Strong companies battle in the marketplace. Weak ones hire anonymous companies to fight for them.

E-mail ckoger@thepacker.com

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