Let’s face it, when many Americans think of Walmart, they think of a convenient place to go shopping to get their most basic essentials and then some. From the smallest towns in rural areas to major American cities, Walmart is just about everywhere.
But for many Americans, Walmart is seen much differently. And the number of people seeing Walmart as a corporate bully with a culture of mistreating its employees and contractors, discriminating against women, promoting and fostering environments of racial discrimination and violating more employment law that one can shake a stick at, the choir of naysayers seems to be growing by the day.
Enter The Triplett’s
Daryll and Lisa Triplett are the co-owners of Hair 911. Hair 911 sells originally high-quality human hair to women, which is an industry in the billions. Yes, billions with a “B”. Normally, most women go to “hair and beauty stores” to purchase hair. But the Triplett’s thought differently. They thought that while the average woman shopped at Walmart for her food, toiletries, skin care, hair products and everything else, why not have the hair she buys elsewhere there too? And the idea worked.
In 2017, they pitched the idea to Walmart, shortly thereafter they were relegated to sell Hair 911 on their online platform. “On one hand we were pleased but we tried to explain to them that though buying hair was a lucrative industry, the idea to offer it to women in the stores while they were there is how to best position the product. It’s not like buying electronics. Women like to feel the quality of the hair before purchasing it. Nonetheless, we agreed,” says Daryll. Shortly after going online, to the surprise of Walmart, not only did they meet expectations, but also they shattered it. Yet and still, only touching the tip of the iceberg in sales. “It was clear that they thought that we were going to fail but we didn’t. Then, we had an African American buyer assigned to us who saw the potential of our brand. She is the one who pushed through our promotion to be available in the big box stores and we were elated” Lisa says. “But then right after she promoted our brand and signed off on us being a mainstream product for women of all races, and ethnicities, there was a twist. In retribution, they abruptly transferred her away from us and then relegated us to “the ethnic section” of products when that was not our market! We offered hair designed for everyone! It was really shameful and racist because just because we are Black business owners, they pigeonholed us to offering products exclusively to Black people when that was only a small portion of the demographic that we served. Thus, causing us to lose millions in exposure from the opening gate. She went on to say.
But Walmart wasn’t done. After the Triplett’s complained and asked to be classified as a “regular product placed in a non-ethnic section”, not only were they denied access but they were then told that even though they could offer their hair in the stores, they would have to travel to each and every store in America to have a personal conversation with each store manager to ask permission if it could be sold in their respective stores. And then in theory, based on the arbitrary standard of how each individual store manager felt about “the demographics” of his or her store, they could then say yes or no to product. After traveling all over the country to an untold amount of stores, there were countless times that store managers told them “no” based on the “low amount of Black shoppers” in that particular store which again, is only a small sub-section of customers that the Triplett’s were targeting but forced to target exclusively because of Walmart. “It was humiliating not to mention the amount of money that we spent as a new small business traveling from state to state unnecessarily instead of simply treating us like a non-ethnic business with a product just like everyone else.
But it got worse!
On November 27, 2018, Daryll traveled to a store to once again, pitch his product for all of Americans as if it’s a product for just a small minority of Americans at the good old Walmart in Gadsden, Alabama. Daryll had been talking to the store manager John Carroll for the past three weeks and had an appointment on that day. “Once I got there, he seemed shocked because a lot of people tell me that I have a very ‘neutral’ voice and that it’s often indistinguishable what race I am when speaking on the phone. After talking to Mr. Carroll and what felt like convincing him and reminding him of our previous umpteen conversations leading up to that day, he blew me off, said that he didn’t have time to talk to me and told me to meet with his assistant store manager Joni Owens. But after meeting with her, I received threatening text messages from an unknown number as part of a group text stating “So is this one of the fat ass niggers your fucking Joni? I’m not gonna waste my breath…… You can fill him nigger lover. I won’t say another word to this fuck I’ll bring you a momento from his black ass”. Aside from being threatened, I just couldn’t believe it! I immediately notified Walmart, sent them the text messages and told them exactly what happened. And I admit, originally, they seemed very concerned. But then shortly thereafter, the nightmare continued because they said that they could not determine who sent the text when the manager Mr. John Carroll and the assistant manager, Joni Owens were the only ones who knew that I was there and were the only ones that I interacted with! So obviously, it was a text from Mr. John Carroll.
Walmart not only failed to investigate the matter but then suddenly and in pure unadulterated retaliation, responded by saying that a review of their records shows that we owe them 500K in merchandise which is absurd Triplett says. And then they used that fictitious amount to say that if we agreed to not sue them for their mistreatment of us, they wouldn’t come after us for this out of the blue fictitious debt.
Walmarts response was to brush the threatening conduct under the rug, and, shortly thereafter, to retaliate against the Triplett’s by not only terminating the Hair 911 relationship, but also to terminate, without warning or cause, the relationship with the Triplett’s other business, the Lisa T Collection.
Put another way, Walmarts systemic treatment of minority-owned business effectively put the Triplett’s in the back of the Walmart bus, and the racially threatening text messages by Walmart employees effectively burned a cross in front of their house.