A retail game of cat and mouse Pet shop owner says Wal-Mart forces price war

'Picking on the little guy'

Big competitor calls contest a boon to consumer

July 02, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A pet shop owner in Carrolltown Center says he is locked in a price war with a retail giant over cat treats.

At the front of Personal Pets in the Eldersburg mall, Gene Green displays Pounce Cat canisters and a sign comparing his price to Wal-Mart's. After three reductions, he is selling each 4-ounce canister for 4 cents less than the competition, but at a loss of 20 cents.

"I am going to win this battle, even if I have to give the product away," said Green.

When he was selling Pounce Cat for 69 cents last week, Green recognized a Wal-Mart employee shopping at Personal Pets. The next day Wal-Mart had marked the item down to 53 cents at its Eldersburg store, which opened in February less than a mile away from his shop in Carrolltown Center.

Green countered with 49 cents.

"This is not nice," said Green. "I can't play this game, and I don't want to."

Price checking is just sound business practice, said Bill Adler, manager of the Eldersburg Wal-Mart.

"This is the way the system should work," said Adler. "If not, customers would be telling me to lower the price."

Adler says his employees do price comparisons at Carrolltown Center, a practice Green calls "picking on the little guy."

"Our job is not to drive anyone out of business," said Adler. "We bring business to the area and everybody can thrive."

Yesterday, Wal-Mart was still selling the treats for 53 cents. But Green expects another reduction from his competitor. If he tries to compete on prices with a national retail chain, he will lose the war, he said.

Once the shipment of the popular cat product is exhausted, Green will have to reinstate his original price, 89 cents, he said.

Nancy Swift of Eldersburg shops at both stores for pet supplies. She likes the one-on-one service and reliable information on puppy care she gets at Personal Pets.

Green makes house calls, deliveries, sets up aquariums and tests water samples. He sells pets from local breeders and talks about pet care to students at area schools.

Other mall merchants say they are involved in similar pricing battles.

"Wal-Mart plays games that kill stores," said Wayne Davidson, owner of two mall shops. "They lower prices on the same items we have."

An employee at Kmart, the anchor store at Carrolltown, said Wal-Mart employees regularly check their prices.

And Kmart checks on Wal-Mart, said Adler. He can easily spot competitors' employees in his store, he said.

"We know they check our prices," said Adler. "It's no secret. This is a small town; we all know each other."

All retailers, including the Target store set to open in Westminster this month, research prices constantly, he said. One local food store displays two identical baskets of groceries and the comparable savings.

"How else could they do that but by shopping at their competitor?" Adler said.

Pub Date: 7/02/96

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