Why I Buy Japanese and Where is Wal-Mart When you Need It?

© Charles E. Corry 1992


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Woods Hole is one of nine villages that comprise the Town of Falmouth on Cape Cod. I worked at the Oceanographic there a couple of times during my career. As the town has been around for over 400 years, things are in a bit of a rut, not to say reactionary, and change is resisted with passion. Thus, my frustration, as expressed here:


Talk of building a Wal-Mart in our neck of the woods has led to considerable debate among the local tourist gougers who fear the competition. However, there are fundamental reasons for Japan's and Wal-Mart's success.

Like for instance last week the shower curtain ripped out a couple of the little holes that attach it to the curtain rings and, besides that, it was getting moldy anyway.

So I jump in my little Japanese car and mosey on over to the mall where they have this big store that sells such things. Way back in the far corner I find shower curtains.

Now what I need is your basic shower curtain, you know the white plastic drape that keeps the water in the shower with the 12 little holes along the top where you hook it to the rings.

So I'm a little taken aback by the $12.99 price tag, but it does say "Made in America." Now I don't need a pink Chantilly lace curtain but, what the hell, I'm your basic nuke 'em first and ask questions of the survivors former Marine. So what if I thought $2 max ought to cover the price of what I needed, it's American made and the price won't cut too deeply into my bar tab. Besides it has this nice plastic sign sitting on top of it that says "All shower curtains 25% off."

So I bounce over to the checkout with the new curtain and what comes up but $12.99. "Hey, the sign says 25% off." So the clerk calls the department and, "Oh no, that kind of shower curtain isn't on sale."

I don't quite see the situation as justifying a nuclear attack but when I have to move the sale sign off the box to get my shower curtain I figure it means the one I picked up is on sale even on the Cape side of the bridge.

Now I don't recall having these kinds of problems when I shop Wal-Mart.

So I argue, and the people in line behind me find another register. Finally, higher management agrees that these shower curtains are indeed on sale and after some laborious calculations and consulting some arcane charts I pay the clerk the 75% plus enormous taxes and go.

Back home, reliable little Japanese car, I put up my new shower curtain. Old moldy thing into the trash. Hey, new one looks great! But next morning I make the mistake of taking a shower (besides, it's Saturday).

Step out of the shower into a lake.

So I repeat the experiment and flood control measures become necessary in the basement. Cheesecloth holds water better than that shower curtain did!

Now we're not talking high tech here, what we have is your basic plastic sheet with some holes punched in it. If we were talking cars there might be some room for debate.

Back in 1982 I helped bail Chrysler out by buying a new Plymouth Reliant. A few years later, after an American style divorce, you know the kind where the male gets to keep what falls off the truck as she drives away, you can guess who got the Plymouth.

So I bought a little 1981 Datsun, used, 80,000 miles on it, but it was what I could afford. Well, that Reliant died of old age and was buried a couple of years ago. (In 1992) The Datsun needs the odd bit of TLC but is mostly still going strong and the smog readings are almost off the bottom of the gauge with 151,000 miles on it.

An old saw has it that back in the 1960's when the government began mandating pollution controls on cars the Japanese went out and hired 400 more engineers. Detroit went out and hired 400 more lawyers.

Now I'm a former member, and sometime shop steward, of the International Association of Machinists and I would put the American working man and woman up against anyone in the world for pride of workmanship and productivity. However, about the second time management comes down on them for wasting time doing the job right, or invokes some cost-cutting measure that turns the product into a shower curtain that won't hold water, the normal American worker's reaction is rebellion and things go from bad to worse, for which the workers get blamed.

I have also been a research manager for a Fortune 500 company and what I have seen mostly in American industry and retailing is bad management.

Would somebody please tell me how it came to be believed that you could put a boy or girl MBA, who doesn't like to get their dainty hands dirty, in charge of a bunch of people who make their living by dirtying their hands and expect anything but a disaster?

Why does American industry believe you can put an accountant, MBA, or, worse, a lawyer in charge of a manufacturing process about which they know absolutely nothing, and expect to produce a quality product and compete in a global marketplace?

Your boy or girl MBA might be great with leveraged buyouts and junk bonds but if you are going to make or sell something you need some science and engineering behind you. And management who knows the whys and wherefore of every nut and bolt in the device and respects the people doing the dirty work for them.

Then you get shower curtains that hold water.

But you know who goes out the door first?

A recession is where you fire the research and development staff. A depression is where you have to outplace some lawyers, accountants, and MBAs.

In between are the workers and they pay most of the price for the bad management.

The other day I noticed in the stock holdings of a mutual fund I have a little stake in that, within the category of company I used to be a research manager for, of 10 stocks they held in that industry only one company's stock was still worth more than they had paid for it.

Guess which company had kept its R&D group?

Anyway, out of the trash with the old moldy curtain and back up it goes. The Datsun is still going strong and we make it back to the mall and up to the customer service desk. I explain to the woman what seems to me a simple proposition: "This shower curtain, 'Made in America,' does not hold water." The clerk in this big store in the local mall then implies I may have misused the product.

Now I may not be a highfalutin Harvard MBA or lawyer but even down in Texas there at A&M they taught us how to read and engineer well enough to understand a label that says "shower curtain" and install it correctly. I even put it inside the tub while I was showering. Took one of those signs that say to do that from a motel I stayed in one time, out in Missouri I think it was, and put it in the bathroom so I wouldn't forget.

Maybe there is some kinky way to misuse a shower curtain that I'm missing, but everyone else is enjoying, and she gets 50 shower curtains a day returned due to this misuse?

When I shop Wal-Mart they don't imply I'm doing weird things with their merchandise when I bring it back for a refund. They cheerfully refund my money, and say they are sorry I had a problem, like nice people.

However, if there is some kinky way to misuse a shower curtain, like she implied, why it might be interesting to find out the details.

So if they will hurry and get that local Wal-Mart built, why me and my little reliable Datsun will bop right on over there and get us a nice $2 Oriental shower curtain that holds water.

Besides I kind of like that bamboo design you get on some of them and at Wal-Mart they don't insinuate that I'm some kind of weirdo if I have to return something.

Hope they hurry though, cause I don't know how much longer me, the Datsun, and the moldy old shower curtain can last while we get on with this "Buy American Politicians" election (this was the one where Clinton first got to be president).



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Last modified 3/17/16