Walmart vs Girl Scouts: South Carolina Walmart Store bans Fundraisers

by cv harquail on September 26, 2009

When I got an email last month from a reader who wanted me to know that some Wal-marts in Arizona had forbidden ceased to allow Girls Scout Troops to set up cookie selling booths in front of their stores, I didn’t believe it.

“What a dumb move,” I thought. “There’s no way this could be true. After all, in their very own press release Walmart claims that they support the Girl Scouts. They claim that nothing about their plans to sell knock-off Girl Scout Cookies should hurt the troops themselves. Plus, letting the Girl Scouts sell cookies in front of their stores is the very proof they offer when they claim that they support the Girl Scouts.

Am I naive, or what?  It turns out that this is no rumor.

Jason Foster in the Charlotte Observer (Check out Jason Foster in the Charlotte Observer Jason Foster in the Charlotte Observerfor all the details.)

Walmarts’ decision demonstrates that Walmart only supports the Girl Scouts when it’s convenient. Walmart’s claimed “support” of the Girl Scouts and other community groups is limited, tenuous and provisional.

Girl Scouts are now forbidden to sell their cookies in front of (at least one) Walmart.

It is certainly possible that the ‘real‘ reason for banning these non-profit fundraisers is that some groups haven’t followed Walmart’s rules. It’s also likely that Walmart’s rules and guidelines are largely sensible. The guidelines probably address safety concerns (e.g., setting the booths up in the right places) and encourage a welcoming sales style (e.g., not yelling at or accosting shoppers as they enter and exit the Walmart). However, the outcome of this decision is that several Girl Scout Troops are now unable to sell cookies in front of their local Wal-mart– the same Wal-mart that (by the way) recently launched generic versions of Girl Scout Cookie classics.

Is this ban on fundraisers targeted at the Girls Scouts per se? Is it in any way related to ThinMinty Gate and the Cookie War?

It doesn’t seem so, and yet…. as reported by Jason Foster in the Charlotte Observer:

Girl Scout troops in Fort Mill and Tega Cay have set up outside the store to raise money before, but it wasn’t immediately clear how much they would lose in sales if the Wal-Mart ban continues, said Katherine Lambert, executive vice president for the Hornets’ Nest Girl Scouts Council in Charlotte, which oversees Fort Mill and Tega Cay troops.

The policy appears to not be limited to the Tega Cay Wal-Mart store. Troops across the country are reporting recent difficulty in soliciting outside Wal-Mart, Lambert said.

“Through the grapevine, nationwide, there are some (troops) that are having success and some that are not,” Lambert said.

Regardless of the reason, regardless of the unilateral ban — what does this look like? It looks like Walmart is punishing the Girl Scouts. In the media as in larger life, perception is realityWal-mart is punishing the Girl Scouts.

Bad for Walmart’s Image

This action is going to hurt Walmart’s image. People use specific incidents to construe their understanding of an organization’s image, “who” an organization is. When people use this particular decision as data for considering Walmart’s corporate characteristics, to define “who” Walmart is, they will quite likely construe that Walmart’s first response is to punish those who don’t go along with it.

They will quite likely also construe that Walmart punishes unfairly, hurting both those who behaved well and those who behaved ‘badly’.

gscookies.jpgIn addition, they will quite likely construe that Walmart is not a “partner”of any community group. Rather, they will believe that any relationship that Walmart has with other organizations must be on Walmart’s terms, only.

Thus, these observers, stakeholders and customers many wonder:

Whatever happened to Walmart’s effort to be a Good Corporate Citizen?

A good corporate citizen would have worked proactively and enthusiastically to help the non-profits who weren’t following the rules.

Instead, Walmart has decided to punish not only the groups that broke their rules, but also the groups that followed the rules. As any kid will tell you, it’s not fair for all the other kids if you take the crayons away from everyone just because one kid left a few crayons on the floor. It’s not fair; it’s mean.

Bad for Walmart’s larger community

This decision by the Tega Cay Walmart management is bad for Walmart and even worse for community groups.

Girl Scouts, The Lions Club, the high school band, and any other community group that previously held fundraisers in the Walmart parking lot and is now banned will have to find another place to set up. These other places are limited, and few have the same kind of foot traffic as a Walmart on a Saturday.

For the Girl Scouts and others, being banned from Walmart means finding a less busy location. Less busy locations mean fewer sales. Fewer sales mean less revenue. Less revenue means less support for programs. By banning the Girl Scouts and other groups, Walmart has had a negative – not positive – impact on these groups’ ability to raise money. Walmart’s decision takes support away from these groups and their missions. Oops, looks like Walmart is contradicting its own claim to support the Girl Scouts.

Bad for Walmart’s Reputation

Based on my previous experiences writing about Walmart, Girl Scouts and “ThinMinty Gate”, I can confidently predict that this move by one store will get blown out of proportion in the “media” if/when it is picked up. The way this story gets shared will likely damage Walmart’s reputation.

Consider just the example of the headline of this post. I personally exercised some restraint when I wrote it. If I wanted to generate traffic to this blog or get the post picked up by folks who track Walmart, I’d have written something more dramatic, like “Walmart Bans Girl Scout Cookie Sales” or “Walmart Punishes Girl Scouts”. These headlines are ‘true’, even though they leave out the details that it’s a single store, that more than the Girl Scouts were banned, and that the ban is assumed to be temporary. None of those details will be in the first paragraph as this story travels. Nobody really cares about those details.

This single action confirms what many people already believe about Walmart.

Nobody wants to know the specifics, because the general impression confirms people’s predictions and fears: Walmart will retaliate against the Girls Scouts, treating the Girl Scouts as they treat every other competitor– as just another competitor to be “beaten” in “the marketplace”.

So much for Wal-mart’s effort to change its image and reputation. Actions seem to speak more loudly.

Sure, this is a dumb move by the Tega Cay Walmart management.  These Walmart managers may be competent, they may be well meaning, but they sure aren’t supporting their claims with their actions.

So now, what has a stronger impact on your feelings about Walmart? Walmart’s claims of good citizenship? Walmart’s old-fashioned press release? Or Walmart’s “everyday” behavior?


{ 4 comments }

Joseph Logan September 28, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Seems to me the most positive step would be for Wal-Mart to designate an area with whatever safety precautions they might need and allow community groups (Girl Scouts, Salvation Army Santa, Susan Komen Foundation) need it to set up there. Shows support for the community and addresses safety concerns.

Two possible problems with this plan: 1) If the concern is cannibalizing cookie sales inside the stores (and I’m not convinced it is), Wal-Mart could find just about any reason it needed to forbid storefront fundraising; and 2) If a group like the KKK wants to set up shop in front of the store, Wal-Mart has a problem. Same for political candidates, teabaggers, and the Reverend Fred Phelps.

That said, perhaps you should have titled this post “Wal-Mart Beats Up Little Girls”.
.-= Joseph Logan´s last blog ..Dumb but widely used American management practices =-.

cv September 28, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Joseph,
I don’t think the issue is actually with the Girl Scouts and cookie competition– the ‘not following the guidelines’ plus ‘everyone gets punished’ explanations seem sufficient. The problem is more with perception…we live in a country where talking to a counselor about end-of-life planning equals facing a ‘death panel’, so no one can be surprised if/when Walmarts’ decision is interpreted as anti-Girl Scout. (But they were anti-Girl Scout already anyway…)

Your question about ‘which’ community groups get to set up at Walmarts/get supported by Walmart is interesting….I wonder what their policy is (they must have one, no?). cv

Louise February 25, 2010 at 12:22 pm

This is just totally un-American!!!! If they can not sell their cookies outside the store,then I think they should not be allowed to let the Salvation Army ring their bell and collect money!!!!!! YOU ARE EITHER TOTALLY WITH A CHARITY 100% OR YOU ARE NOT WITH THAT CHARITY AT ALL!!!!!! I for one am rethinking my shopping habits with Wal-mart,K-mart is looking better and better every second!!!!!

Sol Huffmaster July 30, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Do you think that is going to work?

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