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Calculated account


A Tulsa ad exec documents his ultimately futile attempt to do business with Walmart. The corporation called the account atypical.

C.G. Niebank July 20th, 2011

Retail giant Walmart may tout “everyday low prices” and have ubiquitous friendly yellow smiley faces in its marketing, but a retired Tulsa advertising executive’s account of his experience with the company paints a picture that’s anything but friendly.

In his self-published book “Walmart’s Egonomics: The Greed Behind the Smiley Face,” Charles H. Hood documented his unsuccessful struggle to provide Walmart customers with calculators and advertising mounted on the handles of Walmart shopping carts. Hood, who retired from the ad agency business in 1990, once served as chairman of Ackerman, Hood and McQueen.

In the course of the seven-year saga, which stretched from 1991 to 1998, Hood sued Walmart for $40 million for breach of contract. After just nine months, he received a settlement of $23.6 million, but in the end was still forced to sell the shell of his company, ADDvantage Media Group Inc. (AMG), in order to cover outstanding debts. In addition to his narrative of his experience, Hood’s book includes numerous documents that buttress his account.

“If you have ever dreamed of having your products placed in Walmart stores, be careful what you wish for,” Hood wrote in a press release and subsequently reiterated in an interview. “I spent seven years of my life listening to these guys berate me, my equipment, and everything else, but then saying, ‘Give me more money.’” In 1990, Hood purchased a patent for the “Shoppers’ Calculator,” a number cruncher installed on the shopping carts’ handle. He soon formed AMG to provide the calculators to grocery and mass-merchant chain stores. AMG made its money, he said, from advertising placed on a panel next to the calculator.

After spending $1 million on consumer testing, and sales of the calculators to several national supermarket chains, Hood said he then approached Walmart, armed with data that showed sales increased both generally and on the specific items advertised next to the calculators.

“We found that if you go into a grocery store and have $50 to spend, if you’re going to buy something for $1.50, you round it up to $2, mentally,” Hood said. “You might buy something else for $1.75, and you’re actually up to $3.25, as opposed to the $4 you’ve rounded it off to. So you’re going to check out having spent $42 or $43 on a $50 opportunity. So the retailer lost that extra margin of sales.

“We did a survey with customers, asking, ‘On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate this service — the value of it?’ We got an 8.6. We presented that to Walmart,” he said, claiming that the company conducted its own survey that got an 8.5.

Hood said that from the start, Walmart corporate buyers felt threatened by the AMG advertising on the calculator panels, and probably hadn’t been informed that Walmart was to receive 60 percent of the revenue generated.

“The buyers found out that some of these vendors were committing dollars to promote their products on the calculators,” he said.

“Their standard response was, ‘You give me those dollars. I don’t want you giving anybody those dollars but me.’” Hood claimed he also learned from telephone conversations with advertisers that Walmart buyers were actively discouraging them from buying space on the AMG calculator panels.

“We had about three or four of those calls, and I thought, ‘Let’s go out and get a bunch of tape recorders and put them on all the phones, and we did,” he said. “We ended up with between 40 and 50 taped phone calls from vendors — advertisers that had already committed to our program — saying ‘Gosh, Walmart told us not to do that. We can’t do that. They’ll kick us out of the stores if we do something they don’t want us to do.’” In response to an email seeking comment, a Walmart spokesman said he was unfamiliar with “Walmart’s Egonomics,” but that Hood’s account was not typical of the company’s treatment of its vendors.

“We have mutually beneficial relationships with thousands of suppliers. Mr. Hood has his own opinion of his experience,” said Lorenzo Lopez, a Walmart public relations representative.

Tulsa attorney Gary L. Richardson, who wrote the foreword of “Walmart’s Egonomics,” and has successfully represented several clients in suits against Walmart, said Hood’s unpleasant experience is by no means unusual.

In a final twist, attorney Tom Mars, who represented AMG in their suit, is now executive vice president and general counsel at Walmart.

“Walmart’s Egonomics” is available at Amazon.com.

 
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