Two Tales of Sam Walton and the Hula

By Alan Dranow

When most people think “Hula,” their thoughts go to one of two places: a luau on a tropical island or a hip-swiveling, popular toy in the fifties.  Apparently, the hula was popular with Sam Walton on both fronts.

 

Tale One: The Hula Hoop Craze

His first association with the hula came when Sam saw the Hula Hoop craze taking hold back in the five-and-dime days. Customer-focused merchant that he was, he wanted to make sure he had hula hoops available for his customers when they came looking for them. Unfortunately, the Hula Hoops were mostly earmarked for the big-city stores, and were hard to get – and pricey.  

Enter Jim Dodson

Okay, so even if Jim Dodson didn’t want to sell Sam his store in Siloam Springs, (causing Sam to open his first Walton’s 5 &10 in Bentonville), he still had some great ideas. And Sam took to the one Jim shared with Sam one day: go in together, 50-50, and make their own Hula Hoops. Dodson knew where to get the plastic tubing and even had some attic space where they could make them.  And so make them they did, and Sam kept many a customer happy with his homemade Hula Hoops.

Jim later went on to manage the Walmart store up in Columbia, Missouri, for about 15 years.

 

Tale Two: The Hula on Wall Street

In March of 1984, Sam Walton made good on a promise to “do the hula on WallStreet.”  Despite the company’s growth, strength, and the traditional Walmart optimism, Sam saw reaching an 8% pretax profit as unattainable. Then-CFO David Glass saw it differently, and bet Sam that the company would indeed beat the 8% and Sam would indeed do the hula on Wall Street.


“It’s part of our culture”

While Sam thought he’d get away with slipping into New York to quietly do a hula in the shadow of the stock exchange, Glass hired “a truckload of real hula dancers and ukulele players.” Even more to Sam’s surprise was that his CFO had alerted the newspapers and TV networks. 

While Sam may have found it a touch embarrassing, it showed his commitment to the 6th rule of his 10 Rules for Building aSuccessful Business:  Celebrate your successes.  And as Sam pointed out, “Don’t take yourself so seriously. Loosen up and everybody around you will loosen up.” And so they did.

 

This post originally appeared on the Walmart Corporate blog, Walmart Today


Meet The Author
Alan Dranow Senior Director for the Walmart Heritage Group

His favorite artifact is one that is a tangible and iconic symbol of the truly humble man that was Sam Walton – his red Ford pickup truck.