SAM WALTON: MADE IN AMERICA, MY STORY\ By Sam Walton with John Huey\ Doubleday, 262 pages, $22.50
Sam Walton died of cancer at age 74 in April. Before he died, he chronicled his life, with the help of John Huey, senior editor at Fortune magazine.
What a saga. From Uncle Sam's first job at a J.C. Penney store until the final pages wherein he philosophizes about the Walton legacy that has forever transformed the American landscape, the story is compelling.The man was a quail-hunting, tennis-playing retail mogul. He probably could have built an empire from baby-sitting or lawn-mowing if he'd chosen to do so.
His empire-building is well-publicized. He opened his first store, a five-and-dime, in 1950, and the Wal-Mart corporation is still building all manner of discount retail operations today, with no end in sight. More than 1,700 Wal-Marts dot the American landscape in 41 states. Small towns first, where little discounting action was going on in the early 1960s. Then Wal-Mart conquered territory around major cities.
Wal-Mart's 1991 sales earned the company $1.2 billion from sales that topped $32 billion.
Most of you will probably pick up the book to find out how Sam did it. And Sam delivers.
The secret's out, been out for years. But he was one of the first to realize just what it would mean for retailing.
And here it is on page 24:
``I was always looking for offbeat suppliers or sources. . . . I'd stuff that car and trailer with whatever I could get good deals on - usually ladies' panties and nylons, men's shirts - and I'd bring them back, price them low and just blow that stuff out the store.'
Sam, his closest business associates say, insisted on a 30 percent mark-up even when he could have gotten away with charging more.
The idea, which seems simple enough, was to beat everybody's price and sell more stuff than everybody else.
But that wasn't enough to put Wal-Marts in everybody's town. Sam also was one of the first to jump on the computer as a way to track operations back in the 1960s.
Says Abe Marks, the first president of the National Mass Retailers Association:
``He realized - even at the rudimentary level he was on in 1966 . . . - that he couldn't expand beyond that horizon unless he had the ability to capture this information on paper so that he could control his operations, no matter where they might be. He became the best utilizer of information to control absentee ownerships that there's ever been.'
The book is loaded with anecdote after anecdote depicting Sam as the Arkansas hick with brains. Indeed, Sam himself believes Wal-Mart got the jump on other discounters starting out at the same time just because he was a nobody.
Sam doesn't shy away from Wal-Mart controversy, either. He discusses the shake-up that occurred when two of his top executives butted heads over how to do things. He admits he was way late in offering his employees - deemed associates - profit-sharing and stock purchases. And, in print, he appears genuinely confused over why people believe that Wal-Marts kill off Main Street businesses in small towns.
The way he figures it, competition just makes everybody better.
The inevitable question lurks: Could Sam Walton build the Wal-Mart empire today given today's competition? And he answers that question in the book.
THE RETAIL GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAM
1. Commit to your business. Believe in it more than anybody else.
2. Share your profits with all your associates and treat them as partners. In turn, they will treat you as a partner.
3. Motivate your partners. Make bets with outrageous payoffs. If things get stale, cross-pollinate; have managers switch jobs with one another to stay challenged.
4. Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners. The more they know, the more they'll understand. The more they understand, the more they'll care.
5. Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. A paycheck and a stock option will buy one kind of loyalty. But all of us like to be told how much somebody appreciates what we do for them.
6. Celebrate your successes. Find some humor in your failures. Loosen up and everybody around you will loosen up. When all else fails, put on a costume and sing a silly song. Then make everybody else sing with you.
7. Listen to everyone in your company. The folks on the front lines - the ones who actually talk to the customer - are the only ones who really know what's going on out there.
8. Exceed your customers' expectations. Give them what they want - and a little more.
9. Control your expenses better than your competition. This is where you can always find the competitive advantage.
10. Swim upstream. Ignore the conventional wisdom. If everybody else is doing it one way, there's a good chance you can find your niche by going in exactly the opposite direction. But be prepared for a lot of folks to wave you down and tell you you're headed the wrong way.
WAL-MART IN THE TRIAD
Wal-Marts operate in Greensboro, High Point and Burlington. Another Wal-Mart, along with a Sam's Club (a discount warehouse),will open in Greensboro at Interstate 40 and Wendover Avenue. The Wal-Mart will open late this year; the Sam's Club will open in the spring of 1993. A Wal-Mart is scheduled to open in