Friday, September 22, 2006

The Carnival of Bad History #9

Who does not know that the first law of historical writing is the truth?
Cicero

God alone knows the future, but only a historian can alter the past.
Ambrose Bierce

Welcome to the Carnival of Bad History #9! I am Miland Brown of the World History Blog and I am pleased to host this edition of the only carnival on the Web which seeks to expose bad history on a regular basis. My thanks to Jonathan Dresner for allowing me to host this carnival.

And here we go...

The War on Terror

Over at Divided We Stand, United We Fall, MW argued in Iraq ,Vietnam, McNamara, Powell, McCain, Warner, Graham that sometimes historical comparisons between the Iraq War and the Vietnam War are appropriate. MW asks, "To whom will history hand the dubious honor of reprising the role of Robert McNamara in the Vietnam tragedy, for the current Republican production staged in Iraq? "

Anonymous Mike of Zonitics in Islamic Fascism wrote that the use of the term "Islamic Fascism" was an incorrect historical use of the word fascism.

How medieval are Osama and the other Jihadists? Carl Pyrdum of Got Medieval in History on Top, Crazy on the Bottom argues that using medieval analogies for modern terrorism is not good history.

9/11

Did a recent TV movie about 9/11 unfairly portray both President Clinton and President Bush? Jon Swift argued this in Conservatives Should Hate Disney's Path to 911, Too. I also am also relieved that Disney did not have "Scrooge McDuck play Osama Bin Laden."

Swift was not alone in questioning the historical value of this movie. Edward Cline in Pathetic 911 wrote, "That essentially describes The Path to 9/11: a shrunken, myopic lens focused on moment-by-moment actions and incidents, examining endless minutiae adding up to non-judgmental conclusions."

Joerg Wolf of Atlantic Review argued that German passenger Christian Adams was portrayed poorly in German 9/11 Victim Defamed in "United 93" Movie. How could anyone know how he acted during the doomed flight?

Other American History

Curzon of Coming Anarchy in First Contact disputed the Disney version of European-Native American first contact as depicted in Pocahontas. He also cites Jared Diamond from Collapse to explore the issue. Some of the people who commented on the post questioned his citation of the Japanese encounter with Commodore Perry as an example of a first contact.

Over at Hell's Handmaiden, themaiden attempted to refute those who claim that the United States of America was founded as a Christian nation in The American View: It is fun to use history for Evil. I do hope that the use of the word evil in the title is satirical though.

Brian Dirck of A. Lincoln Blog took issue with the current President Bush comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln in Dubbya's Abe (again). Are references to Christianity less appropriate for a president today than they were in the 19th century?

Qtex at QueerTexan.com refuted a blogger who was spreading around questionable historical facts about Texas in America Without Texas (and, Why the Lone Star is Necessary).

Jennie W. at Jennie's Rambles was angered to find a problematic history site on the web in Bad (Racist) History Rears Its Ugly Head. She was particular annoyed by attempts to make the Voting Rights Act of 1965 seem unreasonable.

Art work can sometimes pass around bad history. Tim Abbott of Walking the Berkshires in Can You Spot the Anachronism? argued that Don Troiani added an invasive species (Japanese Barberry) in a painting of the Battle of Gettysburg that did not appear in Pennsylvania until later.

Was John Hanson the first president of the United States? The answer is no but Michael Lorenzen at the American Presidents Blog provides coverage to The One and Only Presidential Museum which presents exhibits suggesting otherwise.

Historical Deniers and Revisionists

Sergey Romanov of Holocaust Controversies took on a holocaust denial analysis of the testimonies of Abraham Bomba, Eli Rosenberg, Adolf Berman, Kurt Gerstein, Franz Suchomel and Adolf Eichmann in An Ugly Analysis.

Sayaka of Sayaka Chatani writes of the historical documentary Ari no Heitai. The film deals with Japanese revisionism about the war in China, particularly the post-1945 anti-Communist movement.

Other Topics

Another Damned Medievalist wrote Here be Dinosaurs. It looks like some Christian homeschoolers are teaching that Beowulf features dinosaurs that survived the Noahic flood.

Phil Harland of Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean reminded us that the ancient Christians had no New Testament. This is quite a shock to some I imagine.

To the Future...

When can the tale of a supposed time traveller be consider bad history? It is when the first falsifiable prediction of the man proves to be untrue as I noted in John Titor, Fake Time Traveller. How come the American Civil War of 2004-2008 is not happening? Some commenters to the post argued that Titor did not mean war in the same sense historians (and almost everyone else) use the word.

And with that look to the future, I end this carnival and I thank you for visiting. My thanks also to the many people who submitted posts for consideration. I added every one of them except for the cleverly disguised medical splog post. Submit your blog article to the next edition of the Carnival of Bad History using the carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on the blog carnival index page.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

How Did Wal-Mart Attain a Cost-Leadership Position?

Recently, I wrote a post about The Penney Idea and Wal-Mart. Continuing in this direction, I am posting today on some reasons I think Wal-Mart achieved success. This post is heavy on business ideas and deals with a contemporary issue. However, my post here is looking at recent history which I think will be studied extensively in the future by historians.

Wal-Mart has pursued many strategies over the decades to achieve and then maintain a cost-leadership position. Some have failed but the majority have been successful. Of these, six are of note. These include 1. an innovative warehousing system, 2. an emphasis on everyday low prices, 3. basing store design on consumer studies, 4. effective use of superstores, 5. using size to negotiate for the best price on brand-name items, and 6. an industry leading inventory control system.

One of the biggest innovations that Wal-Mart has introduced was in having a flexible regional warehouse system. Most Wal-Mart stores are within a six hour drive of a Wal-Mart warehouse. Wrote Camerius (2004), "Wal-Mart built the distribution center first and then spotted stores around it, pooling advertising and distribution overhead" (p. C377).

The use of new distribution centers continues to be a part of Wal-Mart growth. Scheraga (2005) wrote, "The locations of the facilities indicate Wal-Mart's expansion plans. They also illustrate an ongoing challenge the retailer faces in choosing DC locations: Wal-Mart is adding stores at such a pace that new DCs must be planned five years in advance of the store expansion they are designed to support. The first step in the DC site-selection process is identifying the centroid or the point most central to the locations the DC is meant to support" (p. 68)

This has been a sound policy for Wal-Mart. All stores need to be restocked frequently. As such, warehouses are a necessity. To make the most money, the business should have the fewest number of warehouses supporting the most number of stores for efficiency. Further, to be responsive to store needs, each warehouse should be as close as possible to the actual stores. Getting the contrast between a lower number of warehouses coupled with short distances can be hard. However, Wal-Mart solved this problem early on and continues to benefit from it. The warehouse system reduces overhead for Wal-Mart significantly reducing production costs. This then has been translated into lower prices for consumers.

A second strategy that Wal-Mart has pursued has been everyday low costs for customers. While many businesses have attempted to make this claim, few have delivered like Wal-Mart. Rather than have a few loss leaders on sale every week, Wal-Mart attempts to keep all items in the store cheaper than competitors. This then allows Wal-Mart to avoid costly weekly advertising in newspapers. Customers know that all Wal-Mart items are always on sale.

Anonymous (1995) wrote of the Wal-Mart approach, "There are only two ways to lower prices: Lower the cost of goods sold through improved supplier relationships while holding gross margin percentage constant, or, lower the retail prices. Increasing the range of merchandise requires either: increasing merchandise intensity per square foot, or, increasing store size. Wal-Mart has been pushing both these initiatives relentlessly over the past 10 years. By lowering gross margins and reducing costs of goods sold, Wal-Mart has been able to strengthen its price and value image" (p. 46).

Clearly, this has been an effective strategy for Wal-Mart. Consumers think of Wal-Mart as a low cost product provider. This is central to Wal-Mart's image. The smiley face dancing around slashing prices on TV commercials resonates with the public. This has a drawback with a backlash by some social activists who deride the low costs as harmful to society. However, in the American capitalistic society, it has been almost uniformly positive for the Wal-Mart business plan.

A third area that Wal-Mart has used to maintain a cost leadership has been designing stores based on consumer studies. Looking at consumer research, Wal-Mart has built stores with wide aisles, warm colored carpeting, and smiley faced store displays. The stores are known for having friendly greeters. Further, Wal-Mart uses brown papers bags rather than plastic bags in some instances. All of these store designs have resulted from Wal-Mart heeding consumer studies.

This is important as these store features have been identified with Wal-Mart by customers. This has translated into higher sales. Hence, the good use of research has helped Wal-Mart attain and keep their cost leadership position. As Camerius (2004) noted, "Consumer studies determined that the chain was particularly adept at striking the delicate balance needed to convince costumers its prices were low without making people feel that its stores were too cheap" (p. C377).

A fourth strategy that Wal-Mart has pursued has been building superstores. Wal-Mart is not alone in this approach (K-Mart, Home Depot for example) but has been successful in doing it. The large 100,000 to 300,000 square feet buildings merge the general merchandise sales approach with a warehouse model. This allows for a reduction in operating expenses which then translates into further price reductions for consumers. It also has allowed Wal-Mart to branch into the grocery business.

This model closely matches first the strategy of warehouses discussed earlier. This in many strengthens the warehouse approach. In addition to having warehouses close to store, many stores also now have a larger inventory of goods to sell on hand. As Wal-Mart knows what items sell in large quantities, they can have them at hand reducing transportation costs and making more sales if there is a run on an item. At the same time, there is a warehouse close by if they need to have additional merchandise delivered.

This appears to have been a successful model for Wal-Mart. Customers seem to appreciate having a large number of items on one place. This includes having low cost grocery items. Many customers can buy new clothes, pick up a new appliance, and buy their groceries in one shopping trip. This has been a winning idea and has broadened the number and types of items that Wal-Mart can offer consumers.

The fifth strategy that this post will discuss is perhaps Wal-Mart's most controversial way of maintaining a cost-leadership position. Wal-Mart has used both its large size and geographical diversity to directly bargain with brand-name product producers. This saving could be passed on to Wal-Mart customers. Camerius (2004) wrote, "As the nation's largest retailer and in many geographic areas the dominant distributor, it exerted considerable influence in negotiation for the best price. Delivery terms, promotion allowances, and continuity of supply. Many of these benefits could be passed on to consumers" (p. C382).

Few retail chains have the ability to negotiate the same low prices that Wal-Mart has been able to do. This has been a huge advantage for Wal-Mart. It makes it virtually impossible for retailers to compete with Wal-Mart on many items. The public realizes this and patronizes Wal-Mart. However, it has also created a backlash from consumer advocates claiming that Wal-Mart drives smaller competitors out of business with predatory pricing. This has not impacted the success of Wal-Mart as a cost-leader. However, it has created a PR backlash which may threaten its future.

As such, the ability to negotiate with the power of size and regional distribution capability has been a huge winner for Wal-Mart. The company has become synonymous with low prices. Customers appreciate this. This has been a successful strategy. However, it has also planted the seeds for what could be an eventual downfall politically or economically if the public turns against this concept and blames Wal-Mart as one of the primary boogie man of the working class.

The final strategy this post will examine is the Wal-Mart inventory system. A computer network connects all of the stores to Wal-Mart headquarters. Every product is recorded as it is scanned when purchased. When a particular product is selling well, Wal-Mart headquarters can send a message to a warehouse to immediately ship the product to a store. In this way, Wal-Mart never runs out of a product which is selling well. Wal-Mart can respond to consumer demand almost immediately. How can most local businesses and even other national chains compete with this? In most cases, they can not and Wal-Mart has benefited.

An anonymously written Chain Store Age article from 1999 reported an interesting quote from a small business owner (Charles Weinacker) who worked with Wal-Mart.

"There is no excuse for being out of stock if you are a vendor with Wal-Mart using Retail Link. I know where I am every day with Wal-Mart," Weinacker says. "That's where they are kicking butt. They are never out of stock. Their biggest concern today is people aren't using the system," Weinacker says (p. 92).

Is this a good strategy for maintaining cost-leadership? As other retailers are rushing to copy this system, the answer would seem to be yes. This is a good strategy. Many recent news items have not only acknowledged this but addressed how Wal-Mart is pushing this further by introducing RFIDs for every item that a producer ships to Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart has more than six strategies for how it achieved and is maintaining a cost-leadership position. Thee could be strategies that have not been reported here which could even be more important than these six. However, this is a representational sampling of the ideas which have lead to the success of Wal-Mart.

References

Anonymous. (1995). The profit wedge: Key to successful retailing. Chain store with executive with shopping center age, 71 (January), 46-48.

Anonymous. (1999). Vendor challenge: Vendors armed with data to meet the future. Chain store age, 75(13), 92, 93.

Berman, R. (2006). Behind the Wal-Mart bill. Chain store age, 82(3), 48.

Camerius, J.W. (2004). Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.: Strategies for dominance in the new millennium. In C. Hill & G. Jones (Eds.), Strategic management: An integrated approach (C374-C385). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Scheraga, D. (2005). Wal-Mart's muscle. Chain store age, 81(6), 64-66.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Final Call for the Carnival of Bad History

I will be hosting the Carnival of Bad History at this blog on Friday, September 22nd. That means time is running out to submit a blog post that deals with bad history in the many ways that it often is manifested. Feel free to nominate one of your own posts or to nominate the posts of someone else. Sometimes non-history blogs will have decent posts dealing with bad history so feel free to nominate any of those you may find as well.

If you want to submit, send an e-mail either to “miland[at]usa2014[dot]com” or "badhistory[at]aol.com." I look forward to seeing your submission(s).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

History of Haiti

History of Haiti. This is a brief history of the Caribbean nation of Haiti. The slave revolt of the late 18th century and early 19th century that lead to freedom is inspiring. The lose of that freedom to dictatorial regimes is not.

The Encyclopædia Britannica notes, "Country of the Caribbean Sea that includes the western third of the island of Hispaniola and such smaller islands as Gonâve, Tortue (Tortuga), Grande Caye, and Vache. Its land area is 10,714 square miles (27,750 square km)—roughly threefold larger than Puerto Rico. The capital is Port-au-Prince."

From the site:

The Spaniards used the island of Hispaniola (of which Haiti is the western part and the Dominican Republic the eastern) as a launching point from which to explore the rest of the Western Hemisphere. French buccaneers later used the western third of the island as a point from which to harass English and Spanish ships. In 1697, Spain ceded the western third of Hispaniola to France. As piracy was gradually suppressed, some French adventurers became planters, making Saint Domingue, as the French portion of the island was known, the "pearl of the Antilles"--one of the richest colonies in the 18th century French empire.

During this period, African slaves were brought to work on sugarcane and coffee plantations. In 1791, the slave population revolted--led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe--and gained control of the northern part of the French colony, waging a war of attrition against the French.

By January 1804, local forces defeated an army sent by Napoleon Bonaparte, established independence from France, and renamed the area Haiti. The impending defeat of the French in Haiti is widely credited with contributing to Napoleon's decision to sell the Louisiana territory to the United States in 1803. Haiti is the world's oldest black republic and the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States. Although Haiti actively assisted the independence movements of many Latin American countries, the independent nation of former slaves was excluded from the hemisphere's first regional meeting of independent nations, in Panama in 1826, and did not receive U.S. diplomatic recognition until 1862.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Teachers speak out of turn

Teachers speak out of turn. I encourage everybody to check out this article in today's USA Today. It features K-12 teachers who actively blog. Several history bloggers are included. In fact, the most prominently featured blogger is elementaryhistoryteacher of History is Elementary and American Presidents Blog fame. As she has a post featured in almost every History Carnival, she is probably familiar to many readers.

This article also reveals elementaryhistoryteacher's real identity. She is shown to be:

"Lisa Cooper, 44, a teacher in Atlanta who blogs under 'elementaryhistoryteacher,' says her blog helps her gather her thoughts and speak for herself."

Lisa is a a fourth-grade teacher at Villa Rica (Ga.) Elementary. My congratulations to Lisa for getting such excellent exposure. I hope it brings her lots of new readers who keep coming back.

Several other history teachers/bloggers are also covered. This includes an example of what not to do when blogging. Note this bad example:

"They may make good reading, but do blogs make schools better? The blogosphere split over that question last spring, when the anonymous teacher-blogger at Chicago's Fenger High posted a series of rambling, caustic narratives titled Fast Times at Regnef (Fenger spelled backward). He painted a picture of a dangerous, chaotic school where students showed up stoned, skipped class to sell drugs, trashed teachers' cars and had sex in the hallways. As it turned out, the blogger, who quit after students learned his identity, was a history teacher who had helped a group of students make it to the county finals of a mock trial competition."

It is always a bad idea to be negative about your employer in a blog. Using a pseudonym is always a good idea if you value your privacy and still want to blog. But eventually, every pseudonym gets revealed. I encourage all history bloggers to use common sense when blogging about work!

This is a great article and I hope it brings even more K-12 history bloggers into the history blogosphere. My thanks to Greg Toppo for writing it.