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American Icon: Sam "Wal-Mart" Walton

American Icon: Sam "Wal-Mart" Walton
Through this BusinessZeal write up, you will get to know the story of how a small town college graduate, went on to become the world's second richest man, using various innovative methods that were backed by a burning ambition to succeed.
BusinessZeal Staff
Last Updated: May 31, 2018
Chances are that almost every American would know of someone working in one of the Wal-Mart stores! In a world that is increasingly being influenced by marketers and advertisers, that is a very good statistic. It is something that advertisers can only dream of.

These stores can also be found in countries such as Mexico, Thailand, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, China, and Puerto Rico. They have become a symbol for globalization all over the world. There are Governments in many countries who actively lobby with the Wal-Mart, to bring their stores to their country. And on the other hand, there are Governments who win elections by promising that they would drive it out from their country. Surprisingly for a company, that is a symbol of American hegemony, its roots are incredibly modest, and lie at the heart of rural America.

About Sam Walton

Sam Walton was born on March 29, 1918 to Thomas Gibson, who was a Farm Loan Appraiser and Nancy Lee Walton in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. The family lived in Oklahoma on a farm that they owned until 1923. After the birth of Sam's younger brother Jame, the Walton family found it difficult to run the farm profitably enough to provide for the entire family. So Thomas went back to his Farm Loan Appraiser job, and the family moved out of Oklahoma to Missouri.

It was during this period that young Sam began to show glimpses of what was in store. He was in 8th grade at Shelbina, when he became the youngest boy in the state's history to become an Eagle Scout. He was the starting quarterback for the football team at Hickman High School in Columbia, and led them to the state title in 1935. He became an honors student, and was the President of the Student Body. He went on to major in Economics from the University of Missouri. In order to pay for the schooling, he milked the family cow, waited tables, life guarded at the school pool, and delivered newspapers.

Three days after graduation, he entered the retail world working at JcPenney's in Des Moines, Iowa as a management trainee, earning a salary of $75.00 a month. But Walton soon resigned, because he was inducted into the military services for World War II. Sam went to serve in the US Army intelligence corps, and by the time he was discharged from the war he was ranked as captain.

While all this was happening, he met Helen Robson and eventually married her. Her father was L.S. Robson, a prosperous banker and rancher. He helped Sam, start his first store. Sam's first store was a franchisee of the Butler Brothers; it was a variety store. He would stock all the shelves with a wide range of goods with very low prices, keeping his store centrally located, so it was easily accessible to many customers. It stayed open later than most stores especially during Christmas seasons, and experimented with discount selling. In 1950, he opened his second store in Bentonville, Arkansas, which was called Walton's 5 & 10.

On July 2, 1962, 44-year-old Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart store, in Rogers, Arkansas. He was joined by S.S. Kresge, who launched K Mart, F.W. Woolworth who started Woolco, and Dayton Hudson, who began the Target chain. All these firms focused on discounting,

Walton began to drive costs out of the merchandising system. He tried to slash the costs that were associated with the store profits, in the manufacturers' profit margins, and with the middlemen. Once his margins were cut to the lowest possible level, and prices became unbelievably low, he began to grow Wal-Mart's sales at a scorching pace. To do this he pioneered a number of practices, which are the standard in many industries today.

He began hanging around competitor's stores, and started hiring their best managers. He started special promotions, the stores were always well lighted and clean, and he shared a percentage of the profits with the employees, to keep the good will intact.

He pioneered a concept known as 'self-service'. Instead of the cash registers that were located at the counters throughout the store, he placed checkouts located in the front of the store where customers would pay for everything at one time. Anyone who enters Wal-Mart is welcomed personally by People Greeters. Each store awards a graduating high school senior, a college scholarship.

Walton conceptualized a unique 'decentralized distribution system'. In the mid-1960's, he attended an IBM school to hire the smartest guy in the class for Wal-Mart's operations. Wal-Mart went on to become the trailblazer of just-in-time inventory control, and cutting-edge logistics. Today its computer database, is second only to the Pentagon's in capacity. Most of his concepts have been successfully adopted by businesses such as Home Depot, Barnes & Nobles, and Amazon.com.

By the 1980s, Wal-Mart had sales of over one billion dollars, and over three hundred stores across North America. In 1991, it was the largest U.S. retail chain with more than 1,700 stores.

Sam Walton received the 'Medal of Freedom' from President George Bush. Walton died on Sunday, April 5, 1992, as the world's second richest man, after Bill Gates. He passed his company down to his wife, three sons and daughter.