"Sam Walton: Made in America" Book Writeup
February 13, 2017
What’s the point?
“Made in America” is an auto-biography about the founder of Wal-Mart (Sam Walton) and the early history of the company. For a company that is now reviled by some as an evil destroyer of local businesses, the origins and values of the company in the early days paint a different picture.
What are my takeaways?
It was very difficult to wrap my head around Wal-Mart being the pioneer of “discounting”. Discount stores are so common now that it seems impossible that they weren’t even a thing just 50 years ago. The concept of selling products at a low price (with low margins) and making up for it with high volume was truly innovate at the time.
I was reminded of Paul Graham’s infamous “Do things that don’t scale” motto several times. As Wal-Mart started expanding from the first store in Arkansas, Walton wanted to remain highly involved in the launch of new stores in neighboring states. To deal with the logistics nightmare of traveling between stores, Walton got his own pilot’s license so he could fly between locations – reducing travel time from 8 hours to 1 hour.
Walton was constantly checking out competitors and was not shy about “borrowing” good ideas and bringing them back to his own stores. Walton would stop by the local general store in any town he visited, even when on family vacations. He learned the secret sauce by simply walking up to employees or managers and talking about their day-to-day operations.
This practice is something we could always be doing more of in business. It’s easy to insulate ourselves and ignore the services our competitors are offering (or how they are selling them).