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Walmart Is Born

The Next Big Idea

In 1960, Sam Walton owned nine Ben Franklin variety stores and was doing over a million dollars in business each year. But future prospects for variety stores were limited. “By then, I knew that the discount idea was the future,” he said. In 1962, he opened his first “Wal-Mart Discount City,” in Rogers, Arkansas. Two years later, he opened two more Walmarts, one in Harrison and another in Springdale. From its hub in Bentonville, Walmart expanded into Missouri and Oklahoma, bringing low prices to underserved rural communities. The new stores delighted customers. One newspaper proclaimed, “Cost of living goes down in Claremore, Oklahoma!”

Advertisement for the first Walmart—“the district's ‘1st’ Quality Discount Center”

Whether a customer needed a tennis racket or fishing lures, Walmart's sporting goods department offered great prices.

Fabric, photo supplies, watches, and jewelry were included in Walmart's grand-opening offerings.

With discounts on everything from grills to toothpaste, Walmart was revolutionizing one-stop shopping.

Whether shopping for casual or dress, the customer could get a bargain on shoes.

The July grand opening meant there were a variety of items to help customers enjoy the great outdoors.

I had no vision of the scope of what I would start. But I had confidence that as long as we did our work well and were good to our customers, there would be no limit to us.
Sam Walton

Walmart was a different sort of store. Sam explained those differences in an ad for the first Springdale, Arkansas store.

WALTONS, Inc. is changed to WALTON'S MERCANTILE COMPANY, Inc. in this amendment signed by Sam Walton and Bob Bogle on October 21, 1964.

Monthly financial statement for Walmart store #1. The store did $43,078 in net sales during its first month.

This telegraph details when the St. Robert, Missouri store would receive its fixtures.

Board games and art supplies were featured for Toyland.

Folks Were Skeptical

Sam later recalled that in the beginning, “Most folks … were pretty skeptical of the whole concept." In 1962, David Glass, who would join Walmart 14 years later, attended the opening of the Walmart in Harrison, Arkansas. His candid impression? “It was the worst retail store I had ever seen.”

But Sam saw great opportunity, dedicated associates, and enthusiastic customers. After those first stores opened, he said, “I knew we were onto something. I knew in my bones it was going to work.”

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Sam's ledger. The entry for November 22, 1963, includes the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Bud Walton, David Glass, and Bob Bogle discuss the first two Walmarts and Sam’s innovative strategies and showmanship.


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Action Alley

Walmart customers could find some of the biggest bargains in Action Alley, the wide horizontal aisle running left and right across the store, closest to the checkout counters. This is where “Volume Producing Items” (or VPIs) were stacked, sometimes floor to ceiling. Walmart executives would compete to find the most profitable VPI, buying in huge amounts at rock-bottom prices and passing on the savings to customers. Big sellers included antifreeze, toothpaste, detergent, mattress covers, Thermos® bottles, and many others, including Sam’s favorite, the Moon Pie.

Sam in an early Walmart Action Alley, where special items were sold at deep discounts and promoted to break sales records.

 
 
 
 

Sam talks about his favorite VPI (Volume Producing Item), the Moon Pie, a marshmallow snack that had sold 500,000 boxes in one week.

 
 
 
 

Grand opening of the 100th Walmart store, across the street from the Walmart Home Office in Bentonville, 1974.

 
 
 
 
   
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Blueprint for Walmart Store #2 in Harrison, Arkansas, mid-1960s. Drawing by Clarence Leis, one of Sam's earliest associates, who created a department system for organizing merchandise.

Clarence Leis wasn't an engineer, but his knowledge of merchandising gave him the tools he needed to create these blueprints.