Fifty years ago today the business world changed when Sam Walton opened the first Walmart store in Arkansas. What has transpired since that first store is nothing short of astounding. Today, the company is a behemoth that dominates retailing. For instance, Walmart’s sales exceed $1.2 billion per day. In the U.S., more than 140 million customers shop at Walmart each week. And if those statistics were not amazing, then consider that Walmart employs over 2 million workers making it the world’s largest private employer.
But leading in retail sales volume, customer counts and payroll size are not the only significant achievements for Walmart. As discussed in this story, the company’s influence on other business functions is also impressive. For instance, Walmart often is credited with changing the relationship between suppliers and retailers. Their requirement that suppliers become more involved in managing their product’s inventory, is a key reason supply chain management has evolved into a critical business function. Walmart also is credited with helping heighten the retailing industry’s awareness of the environmental impact of the products they use and also the products they sell.
But with positives there are also some negatives. For example, many believe Walmart’s overall power and need for low priced products are key reasons many product manufacturers moved production facilities from the U.S. to lower wage-rate countries. Others feel that in many parts of the U.S. Walmart’s store design and general business model contributed to the growth of big-box store shopping centers at the expense of downtown shopping areas.
These are just a few of the influences. The story offers many more.
Of course, you don’t become one of the most powerful private organizations in the history of human civilization without turning over a few apple carts. Walmart’s relentless drive for efficiency has bankrupted companies, put downward pressure on wages and upset a retail culture that some believe was less efficient but more personal and aesthetically pleasing. In this sense, Walmart’s story is the story of American capitalism. It is the story of an unwavering pursuit of innovation and efficiency and the casualties of that pursuit
What will Walmart be like 50 years from now?
Image by Walmart Stores