Why Is Wal-Mart so Successful?

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Sam Walton, a leader with an innovative vision, started his own company and made it into the leader in discount retailing that it is today. Through his savvy, and sometimes unusual, business practices, he and his associates led the company forward for thirty years. Today, four years after his death, the company is still growing steadily. Wal-Mart executives continue to rely on many of the traditional goals and philosophies that Sam's legacy left behind, while simultaneously keeping one step ahead of the ever-changing technology and methods of today's fast-paced business environment. The organization has faced, and is still facing, a significannot amount of controversy over several different issues; however, none of these have done much more than scrape the exterior of this gigantic operation. The future also looks bright for Wal-Mart, especially if it is able to strike a comfortable balance between increasing its profits and recognizing its social and ethical responsibilities.

Why is Wal-Mart so Successful? Is it Good Strategy or Good Strategy Implementation? -- In 1962, when Sam Walton opened the first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, Arkansas, no one could have ever predicted the enormous success this small-town merchant would have. Sam Walton's talent for discount retailing not only made Wal-Mart the world's largest retailer, but also the world's number one retailer in sales. Indeed, Wal-Mart was named "Retailer of the Decade" by Discount Store News in 1989, and on several occasions has been included in Fortune's list of the "10 most admired corporations." Even with Walton's death (after a two-year battle with bone cancer) in 1992, Wal-Mart's sales continue to grow significannot ly.The Wal-Mart Philosophy-Wal-Mart is successful not only because it makes sound strategic management decisions, but also for its innovative implementation of those strategic decisions.

Regarded by many as the entrepreneur of the century, Walton had a reputation for caring about his customers, his employees (or "associates" as he referred to them), and the community. In order to maintain its market position in the discount retail business, Wal-Mart executives continue to adhere to the management guidelines Sam developed. Walton was a man of simple tastes and took a keen interest in people. He believed in three guiding principles: 1. Customer value and service; 2. Partnership with its associates; 3. Community involvement (The Story of Wal-Mart, 1995).

The Customer-The word "always" can be seen in virtually all of Wal-Mart's literature. One of Walton's deepest beliefs was that the customer is always right, and his stores are still driven by this philosophy. When questioned about Wal-Mart's secrets of success, Walton has been quoted as saying, "It has to do with our desire to exceed our customers' expectations every hour of every day" (Wal-Mart Annual Report, 1994, p. 5).

The Associates-Walton's greatest accomplishment was his ability to empower, enrich, and train his employees (Longo, 1994). He believed in listening to employees and challenging them to come up with ideas and suggestions to make the company better. At each of the Wal-Mart stores, signs are displayed which read, "Our People Make the Difference." Associates regularly make suggestions for cutting costs through their "Yes We Can Sam" program. The sum of the savings generated by the associates actually paid for the construction of a new store in Texas (The story of Wal-Mart, 1995). One of Wal-Mart's goals was to provide its employees with the appropriate tools to do their jobs efficiently. The technology was not used as a means of replacing existing employees, but to provide them with a means to succeed in the retail market (Thompson & Strickland, 1995).

The Community-Wal-Mart's popularity can be linked to its hometown identity. Walton believed that every customer should be greeted upon entering a store, and that each store should be a...
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