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The Real Low-Cost Leader

UW Oshkosh student Cori Gumz in China 
 UW Oshkosh business student Cori Gumz showing a Chinese dress
 in China's Walmart.

Hangzhou - After arriving in Hangzhou, the UW Oshkosh students were given an assignment: find and compare Walmart and Chinese competitor Wu Mart. Like the competitors on the TV show “Amazing Race,” students had a time limit – four hours – and directions, written in Chinese, to both stores. Hailing a taxi in China was no easy feat according to student Mitchell because she spoke no Chinese and the taxi drivers spoke little to no English.  “You hope that they will take you to the place you want to go,” Mitchell said.

Once in the cab, it’s a race to the destination, weaving through traffic and dodging pedestrians, bicycles, mopeds and vendor carts. “My first cab ride I didn't think I was going to make it,” Daniels said.

During one ride, Daniels’ cab driver drove down the wrong side of the road to pass the traffic in front of him to take a left turn. “They definitely make their own rules when they're driving,” Daniels said.

The Hangzhou three-story Walmart was built on top of a small mall. It had floors filled with clothing, toys and electronics. Similar to the U.S. Walmart Supercenters, the Chinese Walmart had a grocery department. Unlike its U.S. counterparts, the Chinese Walmart’s deli included a variety of live animals – turtles, fish, clams - for customers who prefer their food to be extra fresh.


 Fashion and Fowl

UWO student and professor in China's Walmart
How low can you go: UW Oshkosh student
Hannah Daniels and professor Tanvi Kothari
in a Walmart in Hangzhou, China.

One shopper was seen carefully perusing a mountain of chicken feet. She’d pick one up, hold it up to the light to peer at it. The first few did not pass muster.

Woman and Chicken Feet
Fowl Feet Check: A Chinese Walmart shopper ponders the mountain of
chicken feet in the store's large fresh meat section.

At the Wu Mart, the UW Oshkosh students immediately saw similarities to the American store. They also realized that there was a new low-cost leader in China. Wu Mart prices were significantly lower than those at Walmart.

The first dinner in Hangzhou was at Luowailou on West Lake, a famous and popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Luowailou was known for being Richard Nixon’s favorite place to eat when he visited the area.

“We actually went out after dinner and saw how beautiful the town was all lit up and seeing Maseratis and Ferraris driving down the road,” student Smits said. “When I pictured China I don’t picture anything like that.”

Working the Chinese Way

Chinese Workers Nap
The workers at PacRim take company-sanctioned after-lunch naps,
 which allows them to be refreshed for an afternoon of work.

Ninghai During a company visit to the PacRim plant, students walked on the factory floors. PacRim is a manufacturer and subcontractor for many companies including Swingline and Oshkosh Corporation.

During part of the tour, students wondered why assembly lines were not running. Founder Nancy Sun pointed to an employee sleeping on a pallet and explained that the employees are given time for a nap after lunch.

Later, students marveled over what would be safety concerns in the U.S. such as spraying powder paint coating on office supplies without a mask or using torches without goggles. “We went and saw people running presses punching quarter-inch steel,” Smits said. “And they’re in high-heeled shoes and open-toed shoes.”

Although the manufacturing conditions are quite different, it was not the sweatshop style atmosphere that the American stereotype might portray. Smits saw a lot of freedoms given to employees, who were allowed to use their cell phones and iPods on the manufacturing floors. “Our perception of Chinese manufacturing is a sweatshop style atmosphere,” Smits said. “It was kind of relieving to get a first-hand experience to see that’s not what it’s like.”  

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Q & A with Tanvi Kothari