Right off the bat, let me say this: I love Wal-Mart. I love the wide aisles and the reasonable prices and the large selection. I love the senior citizens that greet you at the door. I love the plastic bags they put your stuff in that have 1,001 uses afterwards. I love that I can get orange juice, a new television set, a throw blanket and a cute pair of flip flops all in the same place. It's a great place to shop, Wal-Mart.
Once a year, my generally positive attitude towards Wal Mart is replaced with extreme annoyance. The first week of June, approximately 1.5 million (okay, it's really closer to 15,000, but when it goes past a few thousand accuracy is no longer important) WM employees and shareholders converge in Northwest Arkansas for the annual shareholder's convention. Not just Northwest Arkansas, but the U of A campus--where I go to work every day.
Before I expound on why this is such a source of contention, I will acknowledge a few of the benefits of this occurrence:
- They always have 2 or 3 free concerts in the stadium--among this year's performers are Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Taylor Swift and Journey. Years past have seen Jimmy Buffett and the Eagles, and among many others.
- The attendees get to see (and spend money in) our beautiful campus and town.
- During shareholder's week, every Wal Mart in NWA is in tip-top condition. Everything is in stock, the floors are shiny, every cash register line is open, and there are free samples everywhere.
Now, the other side.
- These people are EVERYWHERE. Lots of them come on giant buses--there are dozens and dozens and dozens of buses crawling all over campus. Traffic is miserable.
- On the meeting day, forget going to any restaurants, or even being able to move your car from its parking spot--the buses simply park in every row of every lot to wait for the meeting to be over, so most cars are blocked in until early afternoon.
- If you happen to work in the section of campus that I do, your building is very near two huge residence halls, each of which house hundreds of WM employees from all over the world for the week. They move mostly in herds, and can block huge sections of sidewalk at a time--either that or they're lost and in constant need of directions.
- If you happen to work for the Sam M. Walton College of Business, as I also do, then as far as most of these people are concerned you work in a revered space, because it has HIS name on it. I lose count of how many people I see pose for pictures in front of this building. No big deal unless you want to walk by--don't dare get in the frame!
The thing you have to understand is that these people defy all boundaries normally associated with company loyalty. They LOVE Wal Mart. This is like a trip to the Holy Land for them. For those of us not similarly entranced, it is bewildering and eventually irritating.
I think that next year, since I will no longer have to worry about being fired from a job as a possible consequence of my actions, I'm going to have a little fun during shareholder's week. I will come to campus, casually join a large group of over-excited attendees, and scream "Oh my gosh, look! It's the CEO!" Or I'll offer personalized "Walton tours" of campus so they can see the precious name everywhere that it's engraved, hung or written. Or I'll hang out at the airport and try to convince arriving celebrities that I'm their driver. Bizarre? Maybe. But if you can't beat them, you might as well join them in Weirdville.