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INDUSTRY: The ever-growing power of Wal-Mart

There’s been plenty written elsewhere about the influence of Wal-Mart in America’s economy. For instance, this about Wal-Mart and the recording industry and this critical view of its influence on local communities. Somewhat under the radar Wal-Mart has been growing in scale as grocery store and a pharmacy chain. It’s now the number 3 pharmacy chain in the US, behind Walgreens and CVS. Jane Sarasohn Kahn has written an excellent article about Wal-Mart’s influence on the health care business.

One of the best known aspects of Wal-Mart’s presence is what it does to suppliers.  It forces them to cut costs and pays them later than they’d like, so Wal-Mart makes more of the "float" than other retailers.  In fact I was once told that Sam’s Club (its discount "club" store) actually makes zero margin on goods sold but turns over its inventory every 7 days and pays its suppliers in 90, giving it nearly 3 months to collect interest. Donald Johnson at The Business Word has written a fairly complimentary article about Wal-Mart’s employee health benefit program, particularly the emphasis on cost control and catastrophic care insurance, but he neglects to point out that it takes 6 months for an employee to be eligible for health benefits and that Wal-mart has 40% employee turnover a year. So great swathes of Wal-Mart employees are uninsured. (It could be worse–they could offer no health insurance).

One example of Walmart’s power over suppliers happened this morning.  It pulled out of a flu vaccination program is was going to offer with the FluMist product from MedImmune.  MedImmune’s stock price is off over 5%.

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