Harvey Hughes has stories to tell on just about all his workplaces and colleagues over the years, but his favorites involve Walmart founder and Arkansas business legend Sam Walton.
“I was very much a junior programmer with a little bit of experience in a lot of things,” said Hughes, founder and CEO of Hughes Technology of Mountain Home. He spent several years at Walmart, working on the data systems that linked stores with distribution hubs, building Walmart into the world’s largest retailer.
“Since we designed the systems communicating with the distribution centers, I was out in those a lot, and Mr. Sam was, too,” Hughes said, using Walmart’s fond nickname for the founder. “He would be out there a lot, too, because he loved his drivers, loved his distribution centers. He was omnipresent, not just in the boardroom. I loved everything about him.”
Key advice? “He told us one time that if you take care of one customer, they’ll tell five people about it,” Hughes recalled. “But if you fail to take care of that customer, they’ll tell 15. He called that the secret, that you have to take care of customers.”
Hughes recalled how computer technology turned Walmart into “the world’s largest consignment store.”
Years ago, he said, “Mr. Sam would call somebody up and say, ‘Give me two truckloads of Tide detergent.’ They’d reply, ‘Well, send us some money and we’ll do it.’ So Mr. Sam would send the money. But then it got to the point where he thought, why don’t I delay paying you till I get paid?”
That, in Hughes’ “layman’s opinion,” is what turned Walmart into a consignment shop on a grand scale. “So our senior team implemented electronic data interchange, a system that scans the Tide, sends the money owed on it and orders a matching box of Tide for the one sold. This made the transactions more profitable,” Hughes said.
“So now Walmart doesn’t actually own anything it sells in its stores except Ol’ Roy dog food,” he said. “I’m being a little facetious here, but I call it the biggest consignment store in the world.”
Ol’ Roy, the dog food brand that Walton owned, was renamed for his favorite bird dog in 1980. It remains a customer favorite and a source of company memories more than 40 years after the pointer’s death. “His likeness was added to the packaging,” according to Walmart’s digital museum. “Over the next few decades, Ol’ Roy became a bestseller, and other products were added to the line.”
The irony is that while Ol’ Roy was very much Walton’s companion and friend, the Walmart CEO described him as perhaps the most overrated hunting dog in the world. The dog would hunt, Walton said, “but he wasn’t much of a hunter at all.”