Sam Walton was the founder of two American retailers, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. He was the patriarch of the Walton family, one of the richest families in the world.
Sam Walton was born on 29th March 1918 near Kingfisher, Oklahoma to Thomas and Nancy Walton. At this time the Walton’s lived on a farm up until 1923 when Sam’s father decided to return to his previous occupation as a loan appraiser due to the farm life not providing enough income. Sam’s family moved to Missouri where they moved around for several years. During his 8th grade schooling in Shelbina Sam became the youngest Eagle Scout in the state’s history, which lead to him receiving the distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America later in life.
During high school Walton was very athletic playing basketball and football as starting quarterback for Columbia’s Hickman High School. He became the vice president of the student body during his junior year and moved up to president during his senior year, and he also excelled academically becoming an honors student.
Walton Grew up through the great depression and did many jobs to help his family meet their financial needs. They owned a cow which he milked and bottled the excess to deliver to customers, and also delivered newspapers on his route. During high school graduation he was awarded the title “Most Versatile Boy”. He attended the University of Missouri and majored in economics. He worked various part time jobs such as waiting tables in exchange for his meals and also joined estimable Zeta Phi chapter of Beta Theta Pi fraternity, and the professional business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi. During graduation he was voted “Permanent President” of the class.
After graduation Walton started as a management trainee at JC Penney in Des Moines, Iowa which paid $75 a month. In anticipation of joining the military for service in World War II he quit his job and worked at a DuPont munitions plant in Oklahoma where he met his wife, Helen Robson in 1942. They were married on February 14th 1943.
Walton joined the military in the US Army Intelligence Corps, where he supervised security at aircraft plants and prisoner of war camps, eventually reaching the rank of captain. 1945 saw him leave the military with the ambition of opening a department store, and so with a $20,000 loan from his father in law and his own savings of $5000 Walton bought a Ben Franklin variety store from the Butler Brothers franchise in Newport, Arkansas.
From this beginning Sam pioneered some concepts still used today to make his business a success including a wide variety of low priced goods, keeping his store open longer than most other stores and buying goods in large quantities from the lowest priced wholesaler to pass on savings to customers. With cheap prices came large sales volume which allowed him to purchase even cheaper wholesale goods from his suppliers, leading to his store to be the most profitable franchise store in the whole six state region. In 1950 he leased a nearby store and opened a department store called Eagle but it never had the same success.
The buildings landlord P.K. Holmes decided not to renew Walton’s lease wanting the store for his son to run, so with a high rent of 5% of sales and no lease renewal Walton was forced to sell the store, which Holmes bought for $50,000 which Walton thought was a fair price. In 1951 before leaving the store Sam arranged to lease another store in Bentonville, Arkansas as another Ben Franklin franchise but called his new store the Walton’s Five and Dime. Sam kept very busy serving as president of the local rotary club and chamber of commerce, sat on the city council and the hospital board and launched a little league baseball program.
Walton started yet another store in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 1952 with the same Walton’s Five and Dime name but wasn’t a Ben Franklin Franchise. The store became as successful as the first Five and Dime. Walton used a technique of nosing around other stores looking for good employees which turned up Willard Walker, a manager of the TG&Y variety store. Always the pioneer Walton did another usual thing at the time by offering Walker a percentage of the stores profit now known as profit sharing.
Walton Soon made the decision to move the checkout counters to one location near the exit; customers could now pay for all goods at the one location at the same time. Sam Walton was made sure his stores were clean well lit and kept loyalty high with his employees by profit sharing. He continued to open stores in all directions with the help of his brother, father in law and brother in law but decided to open larger stores called Walton’s Family Centre. Sam allowed his managers to be limited partners by investing in their store and any new stores that opened to give them motivation to maximize profits. Walton and his brother Bud owned 16 variety stores across Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas.
In 1962 the first of the Wal-Mart stores opened its doors in Rogers, Arkansas to huge success becoming the world’s largest retail store chain. 2004 saw 1.5 million people working for the Wal-Mart Corporation. 1998 saw Sam Walton move into Time Magazines top 100 most influential people of the 20^th Century, he also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his pioneering efforts in 1992. Forbes also ranked him the richest man in the USA from 1985 to 1988. Wal-Mart also operate Sam’s Club warehouse stores.
Wal-Mart stores now populate America, Mexico, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, China, Germany, Puerto Rico and the UK. Sam Walton died in 1992 and left his empire to his wife and children. Rob Walton took over as chairman of the board and John Walton became a director until he died in a plane crash in 2005, but the other family members are mainly only shareholders. The Walton family made up half of the top 10 richest in the USA until 2005 and if alive Sam would be the world’s wealthiest person.
The Walton’s supported many charitable causes, including those of his church, the Presbyterian Church (USA).