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Walmart Leveraging Voice of Small Business

It seems 2010 is turning out to be the year of the small business. First President Obama spent much of the summer shopping his small business agenda.  Then American Express got behind mom and pop shops with its Small Business Saturday campaign. And, now, even Walmart has found a way to leverage small business’ big moment in the spotlight to its own advantage.

That’s right, Walmart.

After years of having its advances spurned by New York City, the giant Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer contends that small businesses support its move into the city.

According to a recent poll conducted on behalf of Walmart, small businesses have had a change of heart and are now set to welcome the retail giant into the five boroughs with open arms.  Two previous attempts to romance the city were rejected.

The survey, conducted for Walmart by pollster Doug Schoen, is seen as being a preemptive strike in advance of a New York City Council meeting in January to discuss the company’s plans to open a store somewhere within city limits. That meeting is expected to be loaded with Walmart opponents.

The poll randomly sampled 400 New York City small businesses with 50 employees or less to see if they wanted to have Walmart open its doors in their city. Overall, the poll greenlighted Walmart’s entry into the city by a two-to-one margin, with 62 percent approving and 27 percent casting a nay vote.

Support was weakest among small retailers, with 55 percent in favor versus 36 percent against. Commercial businesses were the strongest cheerleaders, with 75 percent in favor and 19 percent opposed. Service oriented businesses fell in between, favoring Walmart by 65 percent to 25 percent.

The poll overturned the conventional wisdom that small businesses would fight Walmart tooth-and-nail because of fears the giant retailer would put them out of business, said Schoen, who has been a pollster for 35 years and has worked for boldface name politicians such as Bill Clinton and Michael Bloomberg.

“What Walmart said to me was, ‘do an objective assessment of what small business thinks and let the chips fall as they may,’” he told Crain’s New York. “It’s pretty clear that small business wants Walmart and believes it will stimulate the economy.”

The belief that Walmart would create jobs was the main reason that respondents favored Walmart. The other top benefit was that it would provide consumers with more choices and low-cost products.

The ability of small retailers to come to terms with the Walmart presence and even welcome its entrance into their marketplace doesn’t surprise Scott Krugman, VP of industry public relations with the National Retail Federation.

“Main Street is alive and well,” Krugman told BusinessNewsDaily. “Good retailers thrive on competition. More and more, we realize that retail is the industry that is driving the growth of jobs and the economy. What we often don’t think of is that 95 percent of retailers are independent retailers, not big-box stores. The road to recovery is running through retail. Many small retailers do a very good job in terms of differentiating themselves from larger retailers. They’re able to leverage their community ties, which the larger retailers aren’t able to do.”

Walmart naysayers remained unconvinced, however, pointing to the fact that Walmart felt the need to conduct a poll to curry favor with City Council in advance of its meeting. Opponents of putting out the welcome mat for Walmart have urged City Council to mandate an economic impact study before big-box stores such as Walmart are allowed to pitch their tent anywhere in New York City.  Such a law was passed earlier this year in San Diego, in spite of an impassioned Walmart campaign against the legislation.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.