After visiting a Big Lots store for the first time last weekend, I came away wondering who those stores are for, exactly. A lower-income demographic, since the company does very little to tart up its stores. This hews closely to the longstanding prejudice in American retail, namely that if you aren’t able or willing to pay a high markup, you deserve a crummy-looking store with crummy-looking goods. (Ikea in its Scandinavian way takes a more egalitarian tack; everyone deserves some design.)
But how does Big Lots compete with Wal-Mart, which takes no prisoners when it comes to undercutting? Of course, the two aren’t butting head-to-head precisely, but they’re close enough. They both specialize in selling gobs of cheapness.
Still, someone must be buying at Big Lots. The company web site tells me that the company operates more than 1500 stores and has annual revenues of $4 billion and change. I liked it for one thing: obscure, third-string brands. I bought about $10 worth. Including the following, only the first of which have we eaten --
Mexicali Big Dipper Corn Chips. Use By Apr 10 06, 13 oz. for 99¢. Very much like Fritos, though maybe a touch saltier. Even the bag looks like a Frito bag, sort of, with reds and oranges. Made by an entity called PRT in that south-of-the-border town of Marion, Ohio.
Bear Creek “Damn Good” Chili Mix, made by an outfit in Utah. Just add water and tomato paste. American Tasting Institute 2002 Gold Taste Award. Also 99¢.
Taste o’ the West Pears in light syrup. Distributed by the Signature Fruit Co. LLC, Modesto, Calif. 15 oz., weight of pears, 10.6 oz. 59¢.
Luck’s Field Peas with Snaps, seasoned with pork. Authentic Southern Taste! Distributed by ConAgra. 15 oz., 39¢.
Picnic Basket Fruit Preserves – Strawberry. Imported by Purity Foods of Clayton, Ohio. Product of Jordan. 16 oz., $1. I can’t recall ever buying anything from Jordan. Good to see that the strawberry business is alive and well in the Hashemite Kingdom.