Wal-Mart at 50: A Not-So-Short History Of the World's Largest Retailer

by Eric Francis  on Monday, Jul. 2, 2012 12:00 am  


• It takes just nine months to build and open a 390,000-SF distribution center in Searcy, the company’s largest to date, which employs 200 people and serves some 100 stores. The previous year the company had announced earnings of $1.90 per share on sales of $870 million, driving its NYSE listing up 11 points, from 18 to 29.

• “Arkansas Empire Keeps on Growing” says the headline across the top of the Omnibus section front of the Arkansas Gazette. Reporter John Brummett sums things up nicely in the lead paragraph: “In the early 1960s, about a billion dollars ago ... .” The chain now has 237 stores and expects to hit $1 billion in sales soon.

• In a one-column, three-paragraph story at the bottom of a page gray with text, the Gazette reports that Mable Hardin of Little Rock has filed a federal lawsuit claiming “her former employer, Wal-Mart, discriminated against blacks” in hiring, promotion and job assignment. The suit is thrown out on March 4, 1981, because Hardin’s lawyer fails to provide a list of witnesses in the time allowed.

• Three vice presidents of Wal-Mart’s leading Arkansas competitor, Sterling Stores Inc., are killed in a Dec. 21 plane crash near Batesville. The deaths of Ben Johns, David N. McClanahan, Frank A. Bauer and company pilot Jack Starr proves to be the beginning of the end for Sterling Stores and its promising discount store division, Magic Mart. In 1983, the entire company is absorbed in a merger with Duckwall-Alco of Kansas.


• During the decade of the 1970s, Wal-Mart has grown 2,000 percent.

• Another racial bias suit, also alleging sexual discrimination, is filed by Carl Williams in federal court. Williams claims that he was denied a job in the “encoding department” at the Searcy distribution center because he is male, and that his current job pays less because he is black. He seeks $25,000 in damages and an order from the court to prohibit discriminatory hiring practices at the retailer.

• On Dec. 10, a letter delivered to Wal-Mart headquarters threatens that 10 stores “would be blown up” unless the chain coughed up $1 million “in untraceable cash.” That same letter leads officials to a box of dynamite stashed in a Rogers Wal-Mart. The company informs the FBI, and a week later an agent arrests Earl W. Lakebrink of Camdenton, Mo., in a Fayetteville telephone booth as he is demanding delivery of the million bucks from Wal-Mart President Jack Shewmaker.

• Wal-Mart stock is split, two-for-one, in December. One hundred shares purchased at the IPO in 1970 have grown to 1,600 shares.


• Wal-Mart has just closed out a huge year, reporting more than $1.6 billion in sales for the fiscal year that ended Jan. 31, 1981, an increase of 32 percent over the year-earlier period, and $55.7 million in net income, a 35 percent jump. Per-share income is $1.73 in 1980, compared with $1.34 the year earlier. Walton credits the success to, among other things, $120 per SF in sales productivity, a 12 percent increase in comparable store sales and opening 54 new stores.



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