Everyone in the United States has heard about Walmart. They have stores all over the country and they’ve since expanded to have an international market.

There are now Walmart stores in many different countries of the world. But how did this company turn into the largest retailer in the world we know today? Keep reading to find out. 

The Man Behind The Mart

Walmart owes its success to its founder Sam Walton. He was born in 1918 in the American town of Kingfisher, Oklahoma. He would join the military at the age of 24, in 1942 and got married in 1943. After 1945, when his military service ended, he and his wife moved to Iowa and then to Newport, Arkansas.

This was the first time Sam gained some retail experience by working at a Ben Franklin five-and-dime store. His first dealings in the retail business taught him about the true value of giving to the customer and helping them save money. He even worked up to owning his own variety store. 

View of the Walmart Museum and original 5&10 store by Sam Walton in Bentonville, Arkansas.
The Walmart Museum and Sam Walton’s 5-and-dime store in Bentonville, Arkansas.

This retail store was not the first Walmart and the real legacy of the supercenters we know of today wouldn’t start until 1950. It was around this time that Walton and his wife would move to Bentonville, Arkansas. This small town is where Walton would open the store that would start it all, simply known as Walton’s 5 and 10. 

Humble Beginnings

Walton’s 5&10 store was not unlike what Walmart is today. It was a variety store that offered a myriad of products to the general public. However, the small business did not yet adopt the low prices that we associate with Walmart today. In fact, Walton wasn’t even the first person to come up with this idea. He actually adopted the idea because he was inspired by the success of other discount department store chains. 

At some point during the early 1960s, Walton went through with this strategy and had profited enough off of it that he was able to open a second location, the first Walmart store. This second store opened in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962 and was called Walmart Discount City. It was not actually Sam who came up with the name “Walmart.” Instead, it was his assistant Bob Bogle. After that, the company began to expand rapidly. 

Quick Expansion and Profits

By 1967, the Walmart brand already began to amass a lot of money. They had 24 stores across their home state of Arkansas and had grossed more than 12.6 million dollars in profits. The following year, the company was able to open its first stores outside of the state of Arkansas.

These stores were in Missouri and Oklahoma. The huge profits and quick growth of this company shocked a lot of people. Though the idea of offering lower prices with great service was not an original idea, it was not something people believed would lead to such great success. It even surprised Walton himself. 

Before long, the continued success of the Walmart stores would lead to the company going public on the stock market in 1970 as Wal-mart stores, inc. The money that was made by this move further pushed along Walmart’s steady and rapid growth. Walton himself gave credit to not just the low prices, but also the associates and employees.

He believed the low prices were what attracted customers and the employees encouraged them to return. In 1971 the company had built its first distribution center. And, In 1972, Walmart had its first stock split. This move only helped to further increase the already impressive profits of Walmart.

For the rest of the 1970s, the company continued to grow and expand throughout the southwestern United States. In 1972, they had stores in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Oklahoma. In 1973, they put stores in Tennessee, and in 1974 they put stores in Kentucky and Mississippi. In 1975 they then put stores in Texas. 

By this time they were making a killing in profits. Across the states they had stores in there were 125 of them. They had 7,500 associates and employees, plus their profits had increased to 340.3 million dollars. Their seemingly unstoppable magnitude of growth only increased in 1977 when they got into Illinois. 

When they expanded into this state, the company had actually made its first corporate acquisition. They bought out Mohr-Value stores and then acquire Hutcheson Shoe Company in 1978. This rapid expansion led to the company branching off into different services besides a variety of goods and groceries. They decided to launch pharmacies, auto services, and jewelry stores as new additions to their stores. 

Further Expansion Throughout the ’80s 

The ‘80s were no different for Walmart in terms of expansion. In 1981 and 1982, the company expanded its already impressive reach by putting stores in the southeastern United States. Specifically, they were able to open locations in Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, and Nebraska.

During this expansion, they acquired a number of Big K stores, 92 to be exact. 1983 would be the year that the Walmart company would introduce their membership-based warehouse store, known as Sam’s Club. These stores operate like a Costco. The first Sam’s Club popped up in Midwest City, Oklahoma.

This same year, the corporation expanded its reach into Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico, and North Carolina. It was also around this time that the company had decided to introduce greeters into their stores to further push their idea of excellent service and customer satisfaction.

In 1984, the first Virginia-based stores opened up. Beyond that, nothing else really happened in terms of expansion and growth during that year. 1985, however, is a different story. By this year the company had 882 stores throughout the United States and had grossed over 8.4 billion dollars in profits!

That year, they also expanded into Wisconsin and Colorado. In 1986 the company saw the opening of its first stores in Minnesota. 1987, the company’s 25th anniversary, was a different year in the sense that the company had to focus on innovations to keep up with trends and stay ahead of the competition.

Specifically, they needed offices to track certain aspects of their business. These offices were created to help keep track of their huge inventories and massive amounts of sales. Additionally, they put systems in place for instant communication between stores. Other technological upgrades followed close behind all of the extra offices needed for the company.

Most importantly, they started implementing barcode readers and by 1988 over 90% of their stores were equipped with this technology. This made keeping track of their inventories even easier! Unfortunately, Sam Walton had to step down as chief executive officer in February of that same year and was succeeded by David Glass.

He did, however, remain in the company as Chairman of the Corporate Board of Directors. It was this same year that senior management positions were restructured. Without getting into specifics, it essentially gave these positions more responsibility. 

The Birth of the Superstore

The late 80s also saw the creation of what Walmart is arguably most known for, their supercenters. The first Walmart Supercenter in Washington, Missouri. For those who don’t know about this format of the store, they have everything you’d see in a normal Walmart discount store in addition to a myriad of other services.

Walmart’s first Supercentre was in Washington, Missouri.

This includes auto shops, eye care centers, photo processing labs, hair salons, fast food, and even banks! This new store really helped to solidify Walmart as the retail powerhouse it’s known as today. In fact, in 1988, Walmart was considered the most profitable retail company in the United States!

That year, it also expanded into Arizona, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, and Wyoming. They were obviously growing at a pretty amazing rate and raking in crazy amounts of cash, but the success didn’t stop there. 

The 90s, An Era of Amazing Growth

The 1990s was an amazing era for Walmart. In 1990, the company expanded even further and had stores in California, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Utah. Also, in this year alone, the company had seen a quadruple in U.S. sales to a total of 32 billion dollars.

1991 was another novel year for expansion with the company opening up stores in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York. This would also be the year that Walmart decided to take their business worldwide by opening a store in Mexico City. 

In 1992, Sam Walton received an award from then-president, George H.W. Bush. The award was the Presidential Medal of Freedom for making such a significant contribution to the United States as a business. Unfortunately, Walton would pass away this year on April 7th. Even then, the company would continue to grow and expand into Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and even Puerto Rico. 

1993 saw even more expansion as Walmart created its very own international division. Additionally, the company made stores in Alaska, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Washington. Something that should also be noted is that the company took in a billion dollars in sales in just one week during this year.

In 1994 they were expanding so fast they were even able to buy stores from Kmart. The following year saw some more expansion internationally. Walmart bought more store locations in Canada, opened three locations in China, and had 96 stores in Mexico. By 1995, Walmart had opened nearly 2000 discount stores, 239 supercenters, 433 Sam’s Club stores, and had 276 stores internationally.

Sales had reached a staggering 93.6 billion dollars and they’d finally expanded into the last state, Vermont. Walmart properly entered the Chinese market in 1996 via a joint venture. The following year, the company would reach over 100 billion dollars in sales and replace one of the biggest retailers in the world, Woolworth, on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. 

In 1998 Walmart decided to try something new by introducing a concept known as the Neighborhood Market. These stores were smaller compared to their supercenters and discount stores and focused more on the grocery aspect of the retail business. Compared to an average grocery store, these stores boast easier parking, less crowded aisles, and quicker checkout.

Additionally, it made the ASDA chain based in the United Kingdom a subsidiary in 1999. Interestingly enough this was also the same year that Walmart started its very own TV Network that ran exclusively in stores. This TV Network played commercials for items that were sold within Walmart stores as well as music videos and concert clips of music artists. On top of that, it also played upcoming movie trailers and had the news. 

The 21st Century

The years went on and the Walmart company continued to grow. Every year they had an increase in sales, hundreds of billions of dollars worth in annual sales were made. In the early 2000s, the company was even considered the most admired company in America.

There are so many Walmart stores in America that only small pockets of the country were more than 60 miles away from the one. It was at this time that Lee Scott took over as CEO and the company made it to the top five of the Fortune 500. With so much ground covered in the United States, Walmart seeks to increase its international reach.

They’ve since worked their way into the Japanese market as well as the Korean market by either buying stakes in retail groups or buying companies and turning them into subsidiaries. Additionally, the company acquired access to several African countries. 

E-commerce and Other Ventures

With Walmart being the biggest retailing company in the world, it makes sense that they would look into slicing a piece of the pie that is e-commerce. However, they have a big competitor in front of them, Amazon. Despite the titan of online shopping looming over them, the retail giant has set up its own online website, walmart.com, in an effort to make a name in the online business. 

Walmart has done a lot of things in order to sweeten the deal and make loyal customers choose their online services over Amazon’s. For instance, you can order and pick up an item on the same day by going to your local Walmart. Additionally, they offer a grocery delivery service.

On top of that, they’ve done some innovating to compete with Amazon’s premium subscription service. Walmart+, as it’s known, allows shoppers to have a variety of benefits. This includes discounts on gas prices as well as certain prescriptions. With a Walmart+ subscription, some of these prescriptions can even be acquired with no extra cost.

A service like this really helps to encourage frequent shoppers to take advantage of it. On top of all of this, Walmart has also created a space for third-party sellers, known as the Walmart Marketplace. This portion of the Walmart website allows people to partner with the company to sell their products to their customer base. It’s an excellent program and helps them go up against Amazon. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, Walmart has had a very impressive history. They became the biggest retailer in the world in a relatively short amount of time, making crazy amounts of money. Their expansion throughout America was extremely fast and there’s not one state that doesn’t have a Walmart store somewhere nearby.

On top of all of this, Walmart has managed to make an entry into the online shopping scene and is doing its best to go up against Amazon with its own premium subscriptions and the Walmart Marketplace