Did the Death of Sam Walton Stunt Wal-Mart’s Growth?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Sam Walton: Made in America" by Sam Walton. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What did Wal-Mart look like prior to the death of Sam Walton? How did Sam Walton’s business strategies inspire others?

Before the death of Sam Walton, Wal-Mart had grown to over fifteen thousand stores nationwide and Walton was hoping to expand internationally. Walton had also recently opened Sam’s Club in response to Wal-Mart’s ultra-discount competitors like Price Club.

Keep reading to learn what Wal-Mart was like right before the death of Sam Walton.

Nearing the End of Walton’s Life

Competition heated up in the 1970s, especially from Kmart, and Wal-Mart tackled them head-on in their territories.

  • In Springfield, MO, Wal-Mart had 40 stores within 100 miles. When Kmart came in with 3 stores, they had a tough time competing.
  • Wal-Mart also acquired a few chains in areas where they had little presence, like 100 of Kuhn’s Big K stores in the South. This geographical spread forced them to upgrade their communication and management practices.

In 1983, Wal-Mart faced competition from ultra-discounters like Price Club, which sold at a meager 6% markup compared to 22% in discount stores. In response, Wal-Mart started Sam’s Club. Sam felt this was something like a second childhood, a chance to build a company all over again.

The book was published in 1992, the same year as the death of Sam Walton. At the end of his life, Sam Walton focused on two things in Wal-Mart’s future: 1) international expansion, and 2) competition in discount retailing. He confidently expresses that no competitor has been able to operate on their volume as efficiently, nor service customers as well. 

Wal-Mart’s 30 Year Growth

As a final record, here is a summary of Wal-Mart’s staggering growth over 30 years.

19609$1.4 million$.1 million
197032$31 million$1.2 million
1980276$1200 million$41 million
1984600$4500 million$200 million
19901528$26000 million$1000 million

Sam Walton passed away before Amazon rose to challenge Wal-Mart for retail supremacy. Given Walton’s successful history of adapting to trends like discount stores and mega-stores, it would have been fascinating to see how Walton would have taken advantage of the Internet. 

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos considers Made in America required reading for Amazon managers. Read more about Bezos and Amazon in our summary of The Everything Store.)

Did the Death of Sam Walton Stunt Wal-Mart’s Growth?

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Here's what you'll find in our full Sam Walton: Made in America summary :

  • The story of Sam Walton and how he started Wal-Mart
  • How Wal-Mart grew from a single five and dime store to one of the world's largest companies
  • Sam Walton's retail strategies and management advice

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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