Wal-Mart jobs: Ever wonder what it's like to work there?

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Getting a peek inside a major retailer can yield some pretty revealing information about their business and culture. It's not an easy thing to arrange -- there are hoops to jump through, media relations representatives to juggle and a vetting process. But in the end, a reporter can walk away with a pretty great story.

If only that were true of a recent New York Timesarticle, "My Initiation at Store 5476." Reporter Stephanie Rosenbloom worked for one day at a Walmart store in New Jersey and came away with a nice "reporter's notebook" piece, but did little to shed light on the inner workings of the retailer. Instead, she relates a sanitized experience and a pretty unoriginal one at that.

Yes, Wal-Mart employees start each day with a cheer. Shouting "gimme a squiggly!" is a rite of passage and even the top level executives do the shimmy at meetings. As Rosenbloom points out, motivating the troops isn't unique to Wal-Mart, but this particular retailer does it with more gusto than most. (Although Best Buy comes pretty close, store openings can be deafening.)

Working in a warehouse or stock room is a fascinating experience. Wal-Mart pioneered turning the process into a science and the company configures absolutely everything for efficiency and speed. Trucks are loaded at the distribution center with the most needed items to the rear so they can be quickly unloaded and taken directly to the store floor. Pallets are packed with boxes like a jigsaw puzzle, so they fit together perfectly. No air flows between them and not an inch of space is wasted. This means fewer trips from the truck to shelves and less physical space to allocate to stored items.

All this just scratches the surface and these practices are no longer unique to Wal-Mart. Most major retailers have implemented similar practices and achieved a high level of efficiency. Price comparisons with other discount stores show competitors like Target and Kroger getting better at matching Wal-Mart's. Simply muscling suppliers to lower prices won't do that alone. Becoming more efficient, eliminating waste and utilizing technology plays a role too. Finding out more about how Wal-Mart is refining this process to stay ahead of the competition would have been new information.

But that's not this story. This one was engineered by Wal-Mart corporate PR, possibly to demonstrate the company's culture remains intact in spite of its size (there are more than two million employees worldwide). And it certainly paints a more humane picture of Wal-Mart than the general public typically sees.

Heck, these folks even get a good daily workout, walking about five miles over the course of a day, according to a pedometer worn by an assistant manager. I imagine that's not unusual for most people working somewhere other than behind a desk. When I waited tables in my '20s, we'd clock more than that in a night.

Rosenbloom wasn't undercover here. No one is going to lock employees in a store, bring in undocumented workers or hold a meeting about reduced benefits with a New York Times reporter present. This was a stunt. I just wish it had been more interesting.
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