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The Interesting History of Walmart

A Walmart store

In today’s consumer driven world, hypermarkets, department stores, and mega marts are commonplace and have multiple stores operating across each city and town. Though these multimillion Dollar chain stores might be huge and internationally renowned today, they didn’t start this way. Almost all the currently dominant corporations today have had humble beginnings.

Perhaps the largest and most well-known of these multinational retail corporations is Walmart. No American city or town is complete without at least one of these around some corner. Their recognizable yellow logo and their huge parking lots always make Walmart stores stand out whenever you drive past one. Being the largest company in the world by revenue, as well as the largest private employer in the world, there’s no doubt why Walmart is as popular as it is. In this post we will be going over the history of this prominent corporation, how it began, and more.

The First Store

In the year 1950, a businessman by the name of Sam Walton purchased a single store from a certain Luther E. Harrison. This store was located in Bentonville, Arkansas. Sam Walton named the store Walton’s 5 & 10. Bob Bogle was Sam Walton’s assistant, responsible for the purchase of signage, and the resulting maintenance required. It was Bob Bogle that came up with the name “Wal-Mart”, and the chain started in 1962 under that name.

The First Few Years

Sam Walton made the decision early on to reduce his profit margins and lower the sales prices. This initial move provided him a leg up his competitors and the Walton’s 5 & 10 store started gaining popularity. Sam Walton got the chance to open up his second store in Harrison, Arkansas, and the company only grew until it encompassed 24 stores in the state of Arkansas by 1967. By the next year, Wal-Mart had opened stores in two other states: Missouri, and Oklahoma. By this time the company had reached $12.6 million in sales.

The Third Decade

Wal-Mart continued to see massive growth and success in the third decade since the unassuming Walton’s 5 & 10 had popped up in Arkansas. Wal-Mart became a publicly traded company in 1970, with its first ever stocks being sold at $16.50 a share. This increased to $47 in 1972, by which Wal-Mart was operating in five different states with 51 stores and $78 million in sales. The next two years saw Wal-Mart appear in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi. By 1975 however, when the company expanded into Texas as well, it owned 125 stores and had reached a staggering $340.3 million in sales. This was also the year Sam Walton visited a Korean manufacturing facility and, inspired by a certain tradition of theirs, introduced the Wal-Mart cheer.

Wal-Mart made its footing in Illinois in 1977 and had grown large enough by then to acquire other department store chains in the area. In 1979, the Wal-Mart Foundation was founded. As Wal-Mart had started out in and grew in rural areas, it had been able to avoid having to compete with the giants of the time, like Sears.

The Growth in The 1980s

The 1980s saw expansive growth of Wal-Mart. 1980 was when Wal-Mart reached $1 billion in annual sales. 1981 saw Georgia and South Carolina getting their own Wal-Mart stores. Florida and Nebraska followed suit in the succeeding year of 1982. In 1983 Wal-Mart stores popped up in New Mexico, Iowa, Indiana, and North Carolina. This was also the year Wal-Mart implemented the use of ‘people greeters’ in every store. 1983 is also known for being the year when Wal-Mart opened the first Sam’s Club, a warehouse club chain that had $57.8 billion in sales in 2019. Finally, it was also in 1983 when Wal-Mart replaced its manual cash registers with computerized point-of-sale systems. Virginia meanwhile, got its first Wal-Mart stores in 1984.

By 1985 Wal-Mart had reached sales numbering $8.4 billion and had expanded into the states of Wisconsin and Colorado. It later added Minnesota to its ever-growing arsenal in 1986. In 1987, Wal-Mart launched a private satellite communications network for its stores. This was the biggest private satellite network in the US at the time and was used to track sales and inventory while also providing the company with instant and private communication with all its stores via text, voice, or video communication.

In 1988 Wal-Mart had installed barcode readers in 90% of its stores, which helped employees keep up with the massive inventories of the stores and the huge number of sales made each day. The first Wal-Mart supercenter was opened in 1988 too, situated in Washington, Missouri.

The Revolutions of The 1990s

The 1990s marked great success for Wal-Mart, as well as further growth and the incorporation of new technologies and ideas. In 1990 itself, Wal-Mart overtook the giants of the time, K-Mart and Sears, and became the number one retailer in the United States with sales of $32 billion. In 1991 the company expanded into some of the last few states remaining, which were New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Maine. This year was also the one in which Wal-Mart opened its first store outside of the US, a Sam’s Club in Mexico City South of the border.

Sam Walton passed away in 1992, less than a month after having been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the American president. His eldest son succeeded him as chairman of the corporate board of directors. As Wal-Mart continued to expand in 1993, it achieved the billion-Dollar sales mark in just a week. In 1994, after criticism from the National Advertising Review Board, Wal-Mart revised its slogan and changed it by a small amount to mean it provided products at low prices, and not the lowest as its slogan conveyed before. 1994 was also when Wal-Mart made its presence in Canada, with 122 stores. By this time the company also had 96 stores operating in Mexico.

In 1995, with countless stores in the US and 276 stores abroad, the company’s sales reached $93.6 billion. This year Wal-Mart expanded into the last American state remaining – Vermont – and finally covered the whole of the United States. It also opened three stores in Argentina, and five in Brazil. Wal-Mart made its way to China in 1996, and made over a hundred billion Dollars in sales in 1997. It acquired 21 stores in Germany in 1997 as well. In 1998, Wal-Mart entered the United Kingdom by acquiring the retail brand Asda.

Walmart in the 21st Century

In the year 2000, Wal-Mart’s sales had reached $156 billion. In 2002, Wal-Mart made its way to Japan. By 2005, Wal-Mart had $312.4 billion in sales and was a massive retail face around the world with 3,800 stores in the US, and the same number of stores worldwide. 2006 saw a small loss for Wal-Mart as it pulled out of the South Korean and German markets. In 2007, Wal-Mart changed its slogan to “Save Money Live Better”, and in 2008 it changed its logo from the internationally known “Wal-Mart” to just “Walmart” with a yellow spark in front if it representing Walmart associates. This century’s two decades have continued to experience massive growth for Walmart, and its market share keeps increasing ever so quickly. And thus, we arrive at 2019, with Walmart being a huge and wildly popular retail corporation not showing any signs of stopping any time soon, and leaving it difficult to imagine it as a simple little store in Arkansas.

Conclusion

Interesting isn’t it. Sure, everything needs to have begun somewhere, but who can imagine now Walmart being just a small store on an ordinary street in Arkansas? Walmart’s history really puts into perspective just how important hard work is for humble beginnings to grow into something bigger.

Interested in reading about more corporate retail chain success stories? We have a whole piece on the interesting history of Target. Looking for some more lighthearted history? Read about the history of board games here.

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