Sam Walton was a man who took chances, never said never, and kept on fighting the odds. He was like no other man in this world. All through his life he has fought an up hill battle and in the end he won. Sam Walton was a leader not a follower. Sam Walton grew up during the depression and knew that hard work and thrift were a way of life. Sam was described as to be industrious, always trying to get the most out of money, and had a burning ambition to succeed. This is all apparent by: how he helped his family through the depression, started his own business from almost nothing, and how he changed the field of management.
Sam Walton was born on March 29, 1918 to Thomas Gibson and Nancy Lee Walton near Kingfisher, Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, they owned and lived on a farm until 1923. The Walton's then decided that the farm was not profitable enough to raise a family on. So, Sam and Jame's (Sam's younger brother born in 1921) dad decided he would go back to being a Farm Loan Appraiser. Once this job started the Walton family moved out of Oklahoma and moved from town to town in Missouri. This would traumatize most children but for the Walton boys though it was no big deal. This could be seen when Sam was in 8th grade at Shelbina he became the youngest boy in the state's history to become an Eagle Scout and this was only a start of his many of accomplishments.
As Sam Walton grew up he was always an ambitious boy. He attended Hickman High School in Columbia there he played basketball and football, in which he was the starting quarterback for the football team and lead them to the state title in 1935. He wasn't the most smartest person at school but he was determined to do good so with hard work and lots of studying he became an honors student. Besides being athletic and smart he was also a political figure at school, too. He severed as Vice- President of his Junior Class and President of the Student Body his senior year. Don't think this is all Sam did though, he also had to help support his family, along with his father and brother because money was lacking due to the depression. Sam's job was to milk the family cow, bottle the milk, and then deliver the surplus of to customers and then went off to deliver newspapers afterwards. When he graduated from high school he was voted the "Most Versatile Boy" in his class. During this time it would have been easy for Sam to just give up on school and go to work full time. Seeing though how his family was struggling to make ends meet, he decided he was going to stay in school and attend the University of Missouri.
At the University of Missouri Sam majored in Economics. He could not really afford to attend school so he worked extra hard to get the money. Sam waited tables in exchange for meals, lifeguarded at the school pool, and also delivered newspapers. While he was not doing that he was either at his fraternity in which he was an officer, or at a student government meeting since he was a member of the student senate, or fulfilling his duties as an ROTC Officer, and then on Sundays he was President of a Sunday School Class in which many of his fellow classmates attended. While accomplishing all this he was also in the National Honor Society. When Sam Walton graduated in 1940 he was voted the permanent President of his class. 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.
As Sam grew up and anyone could see how determined he was to succeed and as time passed he went from being a poor town boy to the richest man in the world. He gained experience at Penney's but in early 1942 Walton resigned to wait to be inducted into the military services for World War II. While waiting, Sam took a job in a Du Pont munitions plant near Tulsa, Oklahoma. While working and living near Tulsa, Sam met his future wife Helen Robson. She lived in a little town called Claremore where she attended Claremore High School and graduated valedictorian of her class and went on to attend college at the University of Oklahoma at Norman and graduated with a degree in business. They met in April of 1942 and were married on February 14, 1943. In 1944 they had their first son, Samuel Robson (Rob), John Thomas was born in 1946, James Carr (Jim), born in 1948, and Alice born in 1949. Her father was L.S. Robson, a prosperous banker and rancher who would go on to help Sam start his first store.
Soon after they were married, Sam went to serve in the US Army intelligence corps in the continental United States, supervising security at aircraft plants and prisoner of war camps. By the time Sam was discharged from the war he was ranked as captain and decided he wanted to own his own department store. This dream came a reality in the fall of 1945 when he purchased a store in Newport with the help of his father-in-law. Sam borrowed $20,000.00 from his father-in-law and had $5,000 saved from the military.
Sam's store was a franchisee of the Butler Brothers, who consisted of two chains. One chain was the Federated department stores, which were small department stores and then the Ben Franklin variety stores. Sam store was going to a variety store and with the assistance of the Butler Brothers, his store led in sales and profits in the six-state region. Sam made this possible by properly stocking 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, stayed open later than most stores especially during Christmas seasons, and experimented with discount merchandising ( buying straight from the wholesaler which enable him to lower his price per item and then was able to sell a greater quantity of goods, and thereby increasing his sales volume and profits). All these were ideas were new to businesses but Sam caught on fast and was able to use them to his advantage. Since his store was such a success everyone wanted a piece of the action. So, when his lease was up his landlord would not renew the lease because he wanted the business for his son. Sam sold the store and made a profit over $50,000.00. This deal was complete in January 1951 and the new owner then took possession of the store. This did not stop Sam from continuing with his dream. Before the sale was even finalized between him and his landlord Sam started looking for a new place in town but he would have no such luck. In 1950 though, he purchased a store in Bentonville, Arkansas, which ended up being called Walton's 5 & 10, this store was also a member of the Butler Brothers' Ben Franklin chain. Before this store opened it needed many improvements but to Sam that was no problem. He was never discouraged for a second. To introduce his store to the new town in July 1950, Walton staged his first sales promotion , called the "remodeling sale" and then the following March he had the grand opening. During this time Sam operated both stores the one in Newport and the one in Bentonville. In 1951 after his landlord took over the Newport store his family and him moved to Bentonville and settled in quite nicely. They became quite involved with town activities, such as Walton served as president of Rotary Club and the chamber of commerce. He was elected to the city council and served on the hospital board and in 1954 he launched a Little League baseball program in town. This is only to name a few of his activities and accomplishments in the community.
Most people would not have time to do anything else but Sam did, he decided to start a second store in Fayetteville, located about 20 mile south of Bentonville. This was also named Walton 5 & 10 but it was not a Ben Franklin franchise but it was just as successful as the other Walton 5 & 10. Walton knew though he needed a qualified manager to run the store so it would be as successful as his other store. So, he said, " I did something I would do for the rest of my run in the retail business without any shame or embarrassment whatsoever: nose around other people's stores searching for good talent" ( Scott 11 ). With this search he hired Willard Walker, the manager of a TG&Y variety store in Tulsa. He attracted Walker by offering him a percentage of the store's profits, now known as profit sharing. Even with this new manager Sam did not neglect the new store. He visited once a week to make sure everything was running smoothly and once a month he examined the store's books and compiled a profit-and-loss statement.
To keep his stores running in tip top shape Sam was always trying to find new ideas to improve business. The next new thing he found was a concept known as self-service. This is that the cash registers that were located at the counters throughout the store would be replaced by checkouts located in the front of the store where customers would pay for everything at one time. The cashier would unload the new light weight baskets and ring the goods up and put them in bags and then the customer was ready to exit the store. Some other customs, Sam had to keep customers happy were: he had a wide assortment of goods, had special promotions, kept the place well lighted and clean, demanded that the staff be loyal and did this by sharing a percentage of the profits with the employees.
As time passed Sam opened more stores with the help of his brother, father-in-law and brother-in-law. In 1954 he opened a store with his brother in Ruskin Heights, a suburb near Kansas City in a shopping center. This store was quite profitable, too. He decided to take this idea to Arkansas but it was not quite as successful as his other stores. At that time Sam decided to go back and just concentrate on retail business instead of the shopping center business. Sam opened larger stores which were called Walton's Family Center. To keep management on their toes and on top of the game, Sam offered them the opportunity to become limited partners if they would invest in the store they were to oversee and then invest a maximum of $1000.00 in new outlets as they opened. This kept the managers always trying to keep profits at a maximum and kept them improving their manager skills. His ways were proven to be successful because by 1962 Sam and his brother Bud owned 16 variety stores in Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas. With all these ideas and new management techniques that is how Wal-Mart got it start and that is why they are different from any other store today.
Wal-Mart first opened in 1962 and became the world's number one retailer. Wal-Mart's success has also given many people today an opportunity for a bigger job market. More than 600,000 Americans work at Wal-Mart. The reason for its popular success it still follows Sam Walton's values: by hometown identity, each person is welcomed personally by People Greeters, each store honors a graduating high school senior with a college scholarship, bake sales to benefit a local charity, associates determine where charitable funds are donated, and the prices are low and customers do not have to wait for a sale to see savings. This is only to name a few of the things that Wal-Mart does for the community. Wal-Mart goes according to what Sam Walton believed, "Each Wal-Mart store should reflect the values of its customers and support the vision they hold for their community" ( The Wal-Mart Story). With this saying always in mind the Wal-Mart community outreach programs are steered by local associates who grew up in the area and understand its needs.
Sam Walton always made quite an impression on everyone. Sam Walton has done so much for the retail world. He has gone beyond what any other owner or manager has ever done or will ever do and was honored for all his hard work in March of 1992 when he received the Medal of Freedom from President George Bush in which he said,
Sam Walton (1918-1992)
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Scott, Roy V., and Sandra S. Vance.Wal-Mart: A History of Sam Walton's Retail Phenomenon. New York: Twayne, 1994.
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