Walmart Rivals Secretly Fund Campaigns to Derail Retail Giant's Expansion

Consultant group works as
Consultant group works as

Saint Consulting Group helps Walmart (WMT) rivals, large and small, stop the expansion of the world's largest retailer, according to The Wall Street Journal. Among many other efforts, the consultants try to stall the building of Walmart stores and sometimes help to stop construction altogether. Founder P. Michael Saint jokingly refers to his staff as "Walmart killers."

Just last week, Walmart detailed its expansion plans at its annual meeting. Part of the program includes moving into urban areas and building smaller stores -- and it is clear that Saint means to stop some of those initiatives. Among his clients are supermarket chains like Supervalu, Safeway and Giant Food whose businesses are threatened by Walmart's grocery operations.

Saint uses local unions and activists to delay Walmart construction projects. Saint employees will sometimes use fake names to spearhead opposition activities. At times, they will bombard politicians with phone calls using different phone numbers in order to make it look like the calls are coming from various people, the Journal reported. The Noerr-Pennington doctrine, which says that if a group has a reasonable chance of stopping a project in court then it has not acted illegally, provides some support for Saint's activities.

What the Journal article does not say is what Walmart's reaction to the news will be. With $400 billion in sales a year, the retailer has several options and may try them all now that the Saint information is public.

Walmart could use its considerable size to send attorneys to all the locations that Saint is trying to block. The retailer could make the case that Saint and its clients have no intention of winning court battles but are simply using delaying tactics without spending time in front of a judge. Walmart lawyers could argue that Saint's actions are no more than obstructions of its business.

Walmart's more powerful argument, however, may not be legal at all, but could be based on common sense. Walmart is the largest employer in some towns. The company offers a ready creation of new jobs, both in its stores and in construction, during a period when jobs for blue collar workers are scarce. The retailer could also argue that its presence will drive down prices on goods and groceries at a time when struggling Americans need to save as much money as they can on necessities.

And Walmart, a company that rarely receives public sympathy, could say the attempts to block its progress are often not entirely legitimate. In other words, Walmart expansion projects might even get the benefit of the doubt.