A Missourian reader for many years who also owns shares in Walmart attended the 50th anniversary observance of the company recently. It featured the annual shareholders meeting in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Ark. Around 10,000 shareholders attended the big event.
The company provided those attending with a booklet that included stories about Walmart, its beginning and its remarkable growth. Whether you like Walmart or don’t hold the company dear to your heart, no one can deny that it’s a remarkable story of American entrepreneurial success. Sam Walton, who once delivered newspapers, opened his first Walmart July 2, 1962, in Rogers, Ark. The site now is a Walmart Visitor Center (free admission). He had been operating a Ben Franklin Store since 1945. Losing his lease, he opened Walton’s Five & Dime store in Bentonville in 1950. It was a Ben Franklin franchise. He opened a second store in Fayetteville in 1952. After opening a few more stores and realizing the Five & Dime concept was limited, he took that idea and opened his first Walmart Store in Rogers, paying 95 percent of the cost himself. In 10 years, the chain grew to 15 stores.
He went public with the company in 1972 and there are many people who now wish they had bought shares at that time. By the end of the decade, he built 276 stores in 11 states. It was in the 1980s when Walmart’s amazing growth mushroomed. The first Sam’s was opened in 1983 in Midwest City, Okla. Today there are more than 600 Sam’s stores.
Now the local angle. Walton always thought big was better and he decided to open “Supercenters.” The very first one was built here, in WashMO. Adding a grocery line and 36 different general merchandise departments were featured in the new store concept. Why Washington, Mo.? The store here had been doing very well and was ripe for expansion. The timing was right.
It should be added that the firm of Buescher Frankenberg Associates of Washington did engineering for Sam Walton all over the country. Old Sam took a liking to Ray Frankenberg, Sr., who remembers Walton as tough but fair. Ray, Jr., a “chip off the old block,” handled the engineering for the present Supercenter here. Of note, when the present “super” Supercenter here was built, it was the first to replace an existing Supercenter.
Ever creating, Walmart now is beginning a new era with a Neighborhood Market store. The first opened in 1998 in Bentonville, company headquarters. It features groceries, a pharmacy and select general merchandise. Today there are about 200 of these stores. Note to Downtown Washington, Inc., which is looking for a grocery store. Why not contact Walmart for a Neighborhood store. Seems like a good fit for Downtown Washington. There are available locations.
The anniversary booklet points out there now are 10,130 stores and clubs in 27 countries employing 2.2 million workers. There are 5,651 stores in 26 countries outside the U.S. Net sales hit $433.9 billion last year.
We said a great American story earlier. Actually, it’s a remarkable world-class merchandising story.