- The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment by Jesse LeCavalier
The Walmart museum occupies a carefully restored three-story brick building directly across from the beautifully recreated town square in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas. It is an act of place-making that is as good as anything Walt Disney created in his own make-believe towns. Outside a reimagined soda fountain, street-side tables rest neatly on wide brick sidewalks, red-and-white awnings protect continuous storefront windows, ample on-street parking adds color and motion, and tasteful signage harkens back to a simpler time. These elements all work together to paint a picture of the idyllic American small town. But behind the façade is a rapacious corporation whose logistical practices have led to the decline of real small towns scattered across the American landscape. The irony is unmistakable.
In his remarkable book, The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment, Jesse LeCavalier, currently an assistant professor of architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, introduces readers to the logistical systems used by the corporation largely hidden behind the attractive streetscape of Bentonville's historic downtown. He begins the story in Las Vegas, another make-believe place, far away from Walmart's headquarters in Bentonville. The setting is a retail real estate convention organized by the International Council of Shopping Centers, the industry's main trade group. The topics range from how to market a municipality's advantages to site locators for major retailers to what to do with abandoned buildings left behind when those same retailers move on to more profitable (or perhaps more heavily subsidized) pastures. Walmart's booth at the convention was, appropriately, one of the largest.
How has a company with such humble beginnings—the Walton five-and-ten opened in 1950 on Bentonville's town square and the first Wal-Mart opened in 1962 in Rogers, Arkansas—amassed an unmatched retail empire? The answer to this question lies in part within LeCavalier's book. It is, of course, not alone in its documentation and analysis of Walmart. The company's approach to retailing and management has been the subject of thousands of popular and scholarly books, papers, and articles. What LeCavalier offers is a way of looking at the corporation through the lens of space, in particular logistical spaces, rather than personnel policies, [End Page 112] corporate environmental practices, or Walton management philosophies. This is new ground and a significant contribution to the field of architectural studies (not to mention business). LeCavalier uses Walmart to help deconstruct the relationship between business operations and buildings and he argues that the nature of the logistical enterprise is what actually shapes Walmart's, and hence much of America's built landscape.
LeCavalier organizes the book into five major sections. In section 1, "Logistics," LeCavalier sets the stage for Walmart's model. The linkage to military logistics (made both by LeCavalier and the company itself) is especially relevant and offers an informative perspective on the movement of goods in support of a clear mission. The battlefield for Sam Walton was not overseas in some remote jungle or desert, however, but in the small towns and cities of America. His goal was to defeat the retail competition through a superior logistical enterprise.
LeCavalier's references to military theorists like Carl von Clausewitz, Antoine-Henri Jomini, and James Huston help reveal the military legacy of Walmart's logistical strategies and tactics. Left largely unmentioned here, however, are the costs of this retail war. The most obvious are the many American communities struggling to keep local businesses and historic downtowns viable. But there are others. Walmart's reliance on Chinese products taxes the U.S. economy and national security. By repressing the labor rights of its workers and limiting their wages Walmart offers the...