Lessons From Sam Walton

Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart

This is the first in a series of posts on what I like to refer to as Retail DNA.  This is a new category and something I will write on from time to time.  Some owners of retail businesses seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to running their business. They approach things differently.  They don’t need to be told, they figure these things out on their own.  It’s like it’s part of their DNA.  The good news is, the rest of us can learn from them.  We are going to look at a few of my favorites, I hope you enjoy the ride and let me know what you think.

Now this different approach applies to the way they treat both their staff and their customers. If you read Sam Walton’s autobiography “Sam Walton: Made in America” you will learn from one of history’s greatest retailers. I read the book many years ago and there are lessons that are part of the fundamentals I use when working with a retail client.

First, let me say that this post is not intended to be part of any discussion about how Wal-Mart is perceived today in terms of their treatment of employees.  I am aware there are opinions on both sides but this is not something I have studied and therefore am not qualified to weigh in.  This post is meant to share some thoughts and ideas that you can apply to your own retail business.

Now back to my example. Many business owners keep information from their front line staff. The fear is that the information might be misused or competitors might learn this inside information. Sam Walton respected his front line staff. They weren’t clerks they were associates and he shared information. My daughter early in her working life worked in a Walmart store. She wasn’t “part-time” she was a “prime-time” employee.  On her first day on the job was told exactly what that stores sales were the previous day. Sam felt there was value in sharing the information with everyone as it made them feel an important part of the success of the store. This benefit far outweighed any possible damage that might occur from people outside the company gaining access to the information.

Make your employees feel that they are important to your success.  Share information with them and give them an opportunity to show you what they are capable of.

A Sports Analogy

Here is a business anaylsis excercise that can make your company better.  In sports, leagues are always changing the rules.  This is done with the intent of making the league better.  When these changes are viewed at an individual team level it is good for some teams and maybe not good for others.  The team management has to asses the rule changes and determine how it might effect them and discuss how they will change to adjust to the new rules.  This is standard practive.  Keep in mind that in sports, rule changes are made during the off season and teams are informed of the changes.

In business, change is ongoing.  Sometimes businesses are unaware that a “rule change” has occurred.  Every year it is worthwhile to sit down and determine what has changed in your business, in your industry, in your marketplace and with your customers.  What do you need to change in order to continue to win under the  “leauge’s” new rules?  A useful technique to employ as part of the exercise is to say “If we were to launch a business to complete against us, what would we do?”  Put together a plan.  Now ask yourself, “Is there any part of this plan that might be seen by consumers as better that what we are currently doing?”  If the answer is yes then you should seriously consider implementing this in your business.  If you aren’t able to, or decide against taking this new approach develop a plan to bullet-proof your business from competitors that might use this approach.  It might be a simple as developing a communications plan to explain how your plan or offer is superior.

If this exercise is done on a regular basis your business will evolve and stay current and reduce the risk of having dramatic changes forced on you in the future when you are not well prepared.  Be proactive.  It’s almost always better to have change be an evolution instead of a revolution.  Good luck.