Wal-Mart Stores’ History. How Samuel Walton Founded The Biggest Offline Retailer
Samuel Walton, born in 1918, opened his first discount stores in the 1940s and 1950s in Arkansas. In 1962 Samuel and brother Bud Walton opened their first Walmart store based in Rogers, Arkansas. A dash was added to the logo in 1964, becoming Wal-Mart. Within seven years they were running eighteen stores in locations including Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. In 1969 the chain officially became Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. The following year the company issued stock to the public and entered the New York Stock Exchange in 1972.
The business model was built on warehouses, where merchandise could be stored. Walton was able to purchase merchandise at lower prices by buying in bulk. He created a more efficient distribution system for his stores, which could be served by warehouses at lower costs than if stores individually ordered from various distributors. By 1976 Walton had phased out his earlier chain called Ben Franklin Stores so that he could focus on building the Wal-Mart brand. Wal-Mart opened its first pharmacy in 1978, along with an auto service center and jewelry sections. At the close of the seventies, the total number of Wal-Mart stores was 276 in eleven states.
By 1979 Wal-Mart’s annual revenue exceeded $1 billion, making it the fastest company in history to reach this financial level. By 1982 the stock had increased by over 1000 times its value in 1971. The company had made a series of acquisitions throughout the seventies, such as Mohr Value Stores then the Hutcheson Shoe Company in 1977 and Kuhn’s Big K Stores in 1981. In 1983 the company expanded with a new line of discount stores called Sam’s Wholesale Clubs, which would later be called Sam’s Clubs, initially targeting small business owners who wanted to buy products in bulk through memberships.
Wal-mart began opening “Supercenters,” which added groceries to discount stores, in 1988. A few years later they acquired The McLane Company, which was their first acquisition in nine years, providing wholesale distribution. By 1990 Wal-Mart had become the biggest retail chain in America. The following year Wal-Mart expanded its foreign operation starting with Mexico’s top retailer, Cifra, S.A. de C.V. Within six years, Ciftra went through several mergers while Wal-Mart gained control of Cifra, which became Wal-Mart de Mexico S.A. de C.V. in 2000.
Samuel Walton, known to visit his stores and meet employees, received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 before he died of cancer at age 74 a few weeks later. At that time Wal-Mart had 380,000 employees working at over 1,700 stores. Ownership of the company remained with the Walton family as son Rob Walton became Chairman. H. Scott, Jr. was named CEO in 2000. Based on inheritance, five of the top ten richest people in America were from the Walton family within the decade that followed. Another change happened early in 1992 when Wal-Mart replaced the dash in their logo with a star. This logo remained in place through 2008, when the name returned to Walmart.
After acquiring the 122 Wooco stores fro the Woolworth Corporation in 1994, Wal-Mart expanded to Canada. In 1997, with revenues over $100 billion, Wal-Mart entered the European market after acquiring 21 Wertkauf stores in Germany. The following year Wal-Mart acquired 74 Interspar stores in Germany. Wal-Mart further expanded its European profile in 1999 by acquiring ASDA Group plc, the third biggest British supermarket chain.
Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets began appearing in America in 1998, the same year that Sam Walton made Time Magazine’s top 100 influential people of the century. The company became the top grocery retailer in America in 2001, with sales of $56 billion. At Neighborhood Markets and Supercenters grew, the discount stores declined. By 2003 Wal-Mart decided to focus on expanding its retail operations while selling off its wholesale distributor, McLane.
Wal-Mart bought the top supermarket chain in Puerto Rico, Supermercados Amigo, Inc. in 2002. Later that year Wal-Mart entered the Japanese market by investing in The Seivu Ltd, which combined groceries with clothing. Wal-Mart became the largest revenue-generating corporation in the world in 2003, with revenues of over $244 billion. It made history by being the first company to make number one on the Fortune 500 that didn’t manufacture products. The key to the company’s success all along was staying competitive with low prices for consumers while keeping overhead costs low as well.
By 2004 Wal-Mart faced a series of class action lawsuits from employees about working conditions and pay. The company was ordered to pay fines and additional wages of over $300 million. Many employees complained they were over-worked or were forced to work off the clock without scheduled breaks so that the company could maximize labor and avoid overtime pay. The company was known for its low pay, high turnover and resisting unions.
At the end of 2004, Wal-Mart owned 2,460 Discount Stores, 1,728 Supercenters, 618 Sam’s Clubs and 100 Neighborhood Markets on a global level. The majority of these stores were based in America. In 2012 the company had a market capitalization of over $245 billion and employed over 2 million people with annual revenue of nearly $447 billion.