Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pawn Sacrifice

The next time members of the Oshkosh Common Council want to go on a diatribe about big box retailers and other corporations (and then spend 15-minutes at their next meeting backtracking from those comments by saying that phrases like "they are like boa constrictors" and "I would never do business with Time Warner Cable" were "taken out of context") they could add that those evil businesses have treated the poor people of Oshkosh as pawns in a chess game over market share.

I've had several people ask me why Sam's Club would make an announcement that they planned to build a warehouse store in Oshkosh--but then never even submit a site plan to the city before abandoning the project.  Sports Authority went so far as to accept on-line job application before deciding to back out of their agreement to rent space on Koeller Street.  Residents are now left to wonder "Why wasn't Oshkosh good enough" for these retailers?

When it comes to Sam's Club, I doubt there were ever any plans to build a store in Oshkosh.  The announcement from WalMart came right around the time Costco started snooping around Grand Chute for one of their stores.  Sam's Club knows how many of its members come from Oshkosh--and they can probably figure out how many of those they would lose to the much-better shopping experience at Costco--and how many people in Oshkosh would never buy a Sam's Club membership (like me) but would be more than happy to shop at Costco if it was close enough (again, like me).  So they decided to bluff--with the Oshkosh market being the chips they pushed into the pot.  Fortunately for consumers, Costco called Sam's bluff and WalMart folded.  They may have cut their losses some by suckering some of those Oshkosh area members to renew their memberships for another year on the hope that they would have a much shorter trip to a local store.

As for Sports Authority, it was likely all a matter of timing.  Somewhere there is a market study that found Oshkosh was underserved when it came to sporting goods stores.  That study likely ended up in the hands of executives at both Dick's and Sports Authority and both sets of executives decided to meet that demand by bringing one of their stores to Oshkosh.  But that same study likely found Oshkosh was only going to be able to support one such big box sporting goods store--not two.  It just so happened that Dick's ended up with the better location (right on an Interstate 41 interchange--and next to two of the most popular stores in town)--and they were in the ground with a brand-spanking-new building as well.  Sports Authority was going to end up in a re-purposed building that would require shoppers to backtrack some from the interchange--making it a less desirable location.  Facing the likelihood of being the second choice of shoppers, they decided to drop Oshkosh.

So my tip to Oshkosh consumers is that you probably shouldn't start working on your shopping lists until the doors actually open.

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