It would be a safe bet that nearly everyone is aware of Walmart. For years, they have dominated the chain store landscape by implementing some unique policies. It’s hard to believe it, but the Arkansas-based company will celebrate 50 years in 2022. This mega-chain came from a rather humble beginning way back in 1962. It was in Rogers, Arkansas, that Sam Walton launched a new idea for retail sales that would become what we see today. We dropped by the Walmart Museum, in downtown Bentonville, to walk through time and learn more about their early days. The museum is easy to spot since all you need to do is look for Sam’s iconic 1979 Ford pickup truck parked out front.
Lay of the Land
An institution as large as Walmart has a lot of moving pieces. To get a little background, we met up with Karen Singleton, Tours Manager for the Walmart Museum. She is a perfect fit for the position, as her bubbly spirit makes her a great cheerleader for the company’s progress. After explaining how the museum was laid out, she wished us the best and headed off to oversee an evening of music that was planned for later that day. Having some background made it easier to know how to work our way through the exhibits.
Going Back in Time
The name Sam Walton is familiar to most, but we never knew much about his beginnings. Much like this display of hidden objects found during renovation, Sam had plenty of history before his move to Arkansas. Born in Oklahoma, he married his wife Helen while serving in the military. After his time in the service, Sam worked in retail. The couple relocated to Iowa and finally made their way to Arkansas. In 1950, they landed in Bentonville where Sam opened his first 5 & 10 store. The location was perfect as it provided Helen with the small town living she desired. Sam liked the idea that the location put him close to hunting spots around a four-state region.
A New Direction
It didn’t take long for Sam to see that there was plenty of competition in the retail sector. Not to be disheartened, he came up with an idea that would revolutionize the marketplace. By offering products at a low-profit margin, he would be able to entice a broader range of customers. Other companies felt like his business model was a setup for failure. His plan to succeed by volume sales was about to be tested. Using targeted sales ads and a concentrated distribution system, the company grew to 24 stores by 1967. The retail experiment was paying off big for the Walton family.
Walk Through Time
After passing through the early days of Walmart history, we made our way into the main exhibit gallery. Here we found an extensive timeline that shows some of the key moments in the company’s past. Many of the displays reminded us of times gone by with the use of familiar images. It was obvious to us that the other visitors were experiencing the same moments of nostalgia. As we continued our walk through time, we learned about Walmart’s rise to domination in the retail sector.
The display that appears to take the central spot is a recreation of Sam’s office. The staff has taken care to painstakingly duplicate the space just as he left it. It contains a collection of books that were helpful in guiding Sam’s business philosophy. There are also some personal photos of Sam with special friends.
A Familiar Face
Moving into the next section of the Walmart Museum, we found ourselves learning about the later days of Sam’s life. While his competition attempted to gain ground, Sam was taking to the air. He embraced the idea of flying in the mid-1950s. He would often scout out new potential locations by air and would sometimes be accompanied by his hunting dog, Ol’ Roy. Yes, the dog’s name would be used for the Walmart line of pet food and treats. While reading about his love for aviation, we found a familiar name. A previous stop had introduced us to Bentonville’s most famous aviator, Louise Thaden. Sam passed in April of 1992, and the world remembers him for his retail legacy.
Building a Legacy
We have to admit that before our visit to Bentonville, our opinion of Walmart was one of a business bent on eliminating competition. Their business model has certainly made other retailers rethink their approach. Walmart has created an impressive legacy by filling a void in the supply chain of America for low-cost goods. Bentonville, Arkansas has seen the benefit of being home to the corporation. The Walton family has invested vast amounts back into the community and made the city a cultural mecca. For this northwest Arkansas city, the Walton family have helped lead their hometown into prosperity.