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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Sam Walton Vision Remains Intact

November 2, 2009

Advertising works best when there is truth to the statement or claim being made in the ad.

Wal-Mart - the nation’s largest retailer - is out with a new promotion just in time for the Christmas season: Save money. Live better. By all accounts this is a slogan that dates back to the original vision of company founder Sam Walton. Walton cut company costs everywhere he could and passed the savings onto the customer with guaranteed lower prices.

Just make a visit to Bentonville, Arkansas (not the easiest place in the world to get to), home of Wal-Mart corporate headquarters, and you’ll understand the Wal-Mart "culture" and see the truism in the company’s latest advertising slogan.

There is no frivolous spending at Wal-Mart - and it’s demonstrated in the manner in which it conducts its business at company headquarters. The only way one can describe the building where top executive and management officials work is that resembles a one-story brick elementary school building.

The building was once a Wal-Mart warehouse - and company executives from the Chief Executive Officer on down - work out of partitioned make-shift style offices - well within view of any passerby walking down the corridors of the building.

The company reviews sales figures on Saturday mornings and these meetings are infamous - resembling a Notre Dame pep rally instead of a corporate meeting. They are held in an auditorium that looks like a high school gymnasium - not a Fortune 500 conference room - and the meetings are standing room only.

All this would have little to do about nothing - if it weren’t for the fact that this Wal-Mart "culture" keeps the vision of the company’s founder alive and well. The company keeps growing and prospering just as Mr. Walton predicted some 60 years ago because it watches the bottom line and passes the savings onto customers with low prices.

 Corporate officials are famous for traveling in the most economic way possible - doubling up with co-workers on room assignments when out-of-town on business - and the company always spends the least amount possible on corporate meetings or outings.

Consumers benefit, and the company often points out that the regular Wal-Mart family saves upwards of $3,000 per year by shopping there - or looked at another way - that’s the equivalent to a $3,000 per year tax cut.

Everyone knows Wal-Mart provides a hassle-free shopping experience - wide aisles, well stocked shelves, dozens of merchandise departments, specialty shops (such as vision centers, tire and lube expresses, photo processing), and 24-hour service.

Wal-Mart now offers (of all things) a line of burial caskets - which can be purchased directly online - and shipped within 48 hours to the funeral home of your choice. The company will receive its fair share of comedic comments about its newest product line - nonetheless caskets will sell between $999 and $3,200 - and no doubt will be a big "hit" with customers - albeit it is a product nobody will truly want to think about buying.

Over the years Wal-Mart has been the focus of various special interest groups and individuals (usually organized labor unions and retail competitors), complaining of poor company pay and benefits for its associates. The company, however, has little problem filling job vacancies and unlike employees at most retail stores - Wal-Mart’s associates are mostly considered full-time employees with health and retirement benefits.

But the real success of Wal-Mart stores comes back to two things: consistent low prices and taking care of the customer.

It all started with a simple vision in a five and dime store in a small rural Arkansas town. It now has a Madison Avenue slogan: Save money. Live better.

Some things don’t change.

 

Robb can be reached at RbbAustin@aol.com