Episode #8 of the course “History’s greatest entrepreneurs”
A pioneer of American business, Sam Walton is remembered for creating one of the most successful retail business models of all time. His Wal-Mart discount one-stop-shopping stores and his Sam’s Club warehouse bulk discount club shopping centers have forever changed the way that Americans purchase items for their lives. Walton believed in efficient business practices, managerial investment in the company, and reliable, consistent service. He was also one of the first to figure out an efficient cross-country shipping method that would allow him to distribute his merchandise while keeping prices low for his customers.
Sam Walton’s original Walton’s Five and Dime store in Bentonville, Arkansas now serving as the Walmart Visitor Center
Sam Walton was born in 1918, and like many boys his age, worked a number of odd jobs through the Depression. He was a studious boy who joined the US Army Intelligence Corps after graduating college. He invested in his first store in 1945, and after small expansions and franchises, opened his first Wal-Mart location in 1962. Walton felt it was important that his stores’ shelves always be stocked consistently with the merchandise that was in demand from his customers. He stressed professionalism, courtesy, and convenience to his employees. He also convinced managers to financially invest in his stores so that they were more inclined to encourage success from their stores and high standards from their employees.
Considering the expansion of the US highway system in the second half of the 20th century, Walton strategically invested in warehouse locations within one day’s drive, and opened his stores close to those locations. He also purchased a fleet of trucks so that Wal-Mart could distribute and ship their own merchandise, which kept the costs low for the shoppers at the store. Wal-Mart is now one of the most successful international companies, with over 11,000 locations.
“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
“Capital isn’t scarce. Vision is.”
“If you love your work, you’ll be out there every day trying to do it the best you possibly can, and pretty soon everybody around will catch the passion from you – like a fever.”
“If everybody is doing it one way, there’s a good chance you can find your niche by going exactly in the opposite direction.”
“Maybe I was born to be a merchant, maybe it was fate. I don’t know about that. But I know this for sure: I loved retail from the very beginning.”
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