ARE YOU SEEING WHAT I’M SEEING? « The Burning Platform

Is it just me, or are the signs of consumer collapse as clear as a Lowes parking lot on a Saturday afternoon?

…I pulled into the Lowes parking lot at 11:30 am on a Saturday. Big Box retailers do 50% of their business on the weekend. The busiest time frame is from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm on Saturday. Big box retailers build enough parking spots to handle this peak period. The 120,000 square feet Hatfield Lowes has approximately 1,000 parking spaces. I pulled into the spot closest to the entrance during their supposed peak period. There were about 70 cars in the parking lot, with most probably owned by Lowes workers. It is a pleasure to shop in this store, with wide open aisles, and an employee to customer ratio of four to one. The store has 14 checkout lanes and at peak period on a Saturday, there was ONE checkout lane open, with no lines. This is a corporate profit disaster in the making, but the human tragedy far overrides the declining profits of this mega-retailer.

As you walk around this museum of tools and toilets you notice the looks on the faces of the workers. These aren’t the tattooed, face pierced freaks you find in many retail establishments these days. They are my neighbors. They are the beaten down middle class. They are the middle aged professionals who got cast aside by the mega-corporations in the name of efficiency, outsourcing, right sizing, stock buybacks, and executive stock options. The irony of this situation is lost on those who have gutted the American middle class. When you look into the eyes of these people, you see sadness, confusion and embarrassment. They know they can do more. They want to do more. They know they’ve been screwed, but they aren’t sure who to blame. They were once the very customers propelling Lowes’ growth, buying new kitchens, appliances, and power tools. Now they can’t afford a can of paint on their $10 per hour, no benefit retail careers. As depressing as this portrait appears, it is about to get worse.

This Lowes will be shut down and boarded up within the next two years. The parking lot will become a weed infested eyesore occupied by 14 year old skateboarders. One hundred and fifty already down on their luck neighbors will lose their jobs, the township will have a gaping hole in their tax revenue, and the CEO of Lowes will receive a $50 million bonus for his foresight in announcing the closing of 100 stores that he had opened five years before. This exact scenario will play out across suburbia, as our unsustainable system comes undone. Our future path will parallel the course of the labor participation rate. Just as the 9 million Americans who have “left” the labor force since 2008 did not willfully make that choice, the debt burdened American consumer will be dragged kicking and and screaming into the new reality of a dramatically reduced standard of living.

read the rest at:  the burning platform

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