Regardless of what people might think of the Walmart we know today, there is a lot to be learned from Walmart’s founder Sam Walton. In fact, if Sam were starting in business in 2020, he would almost undoubtedly be starting that business online.
So what can we glean from the guy in the old pickup truck who loved retailing?
Don’t worry about what others say about you. At JC Penney’s, his first full time job out of college, the personnel director told Sam, “Walton, I’d fire you if you weren’t such a good salesman. Maybe you’re just not cut out for retail.” No one remembers that man’s name, but Sam built an empire no one is likely to ever forget.
If people are telling you that you’re not cut out for online marketing, just remember Sam and smile.
Go with your strengths. Sam wasn’t good at accounting, he had poor organizational skills and he was hopelessly disorganized. But one thing he could do really well was build a team of people who could handle these things for him.
Focus on your strengths and outsource the rest.
Build relationships. In college, Same wanted to be student body president, so he discovered a trick that he would use for the rest of his life:
“I learned early on that one of the secrets to campus leadership was the simplest thing of all: speak to people coming down the sidewalk before they speak to you. I did that in college. I would always look ahead and speak to the person coming toward me. If I knew them, I would call them by name, but even if I didn’t I would still speak to them. Before long, I probably knew more students than anybody in the university, and they recognized me and considered me their friend.”
Sam made friends every where he went, and you can do the same thing online. Talk to everyone in your niche because you never know who is going to be your next customer, your ally, your promoter, your affiliate or your next joint venture partner.
Be a learning machine. Sam never stopped reading books and taking courses because he understood that the next great idea could come from anywhere.
Choose 5 or 10 proven online marketers to follow, and then read everything they write. Read a marketing book each week, and develop a curiosity for everything related to your field. Keep an open mind and know that your next great idea is hidden right in front of you – you just have to uncover it and act on it.
Learn from your competition. When Sam bought his first store, he realized the store across the street was doing twice as well. So Sam spent time everyday checking out his competitor to see what he was doing, right and wrong. Later he checked out Kmarts, who were ahead of him at the time. Then he visited the headquarters of other retailers who didn’t consider him to be serious competition. Little did they know…
Carefully watch and analyze what other online marketers are doing right and wrong and learn from them. Make friends with them. Ask questions. Bribe them, buy their courses and do whatever it takes to find out what’s already working.
Continually experiment with your business. Sam was continually applying what he learned elsewhere to his stores. Said Sam:
“I think my constant fiddling and meddling with the status quo may have been one of my biggest contributions to the later success of Walmart.”
Learn something and apply it. Make it your mantra: Learn something – innovate. And test, test and test some more to see what is working best. In no other business model in history has it been easier to innovate, test and discover exactly what is working and what needs improving than in online marketing.
Don’t reinvent the wheel – adapt it to your own use. According to Sam, “…most everything I’ve done I’ve copied from somebody else…”
There are plenty of proven online marketing business models you can choose from, so don’t think you have to invent the next revolutionary thing. Instead, take what’s already working and make it even better.
Make mistakes and then move on. Sam didn’t understand the terms of his first lease or how to buy a business. He borrowed money and went into debt to overpay for a failed Ben Franklin store in Newport, Arkansas. After 5 long years of grueling work and long hours, he had quadrupled sales and he had the most successful Ben Franklin store in the region. That’s when the landlord booted him out to give the store to his son to run. There was no where else in town to locate Sam’s store, so he drove across four states looking for a new location. He found one in Bentonville, Arkansas and started over.
It’s okay to get it wrong the first time. In fact, you’re probably going to make mistakes and that’s terrific, because it means you’ve started. You’re moving, you’ve got momentum and you’re making progress. Mistakes aren’t roadblocks, they’re bumps in the road to success.
Don’t dwell on your mistakes. Says Sam about being thrown out of his own store, “I’ve never been one to dwell on reverses, and I didn’t do so then…. I know I read my leases a lot more carefully after that, and maybe I became a little more wary of just how tough the world can be …. But I didn’t dwell on my disappointment.”
Every moment is a fresh beginning and an opportunity to take what you’ve learned – good and bad – and use it to your advantage.
Enjoy the process and your victories. In his autobiography, which was written on his deathbed, Sam wrote, “Walmart No. 18 … opened in 1969, and it marked our return to Newport … nineteen years after we had basically been run out of town. By then, I was long over what had happened to us down there, and I didn’t have revenge in mind…. As it happened, we did extraordinarily well with our Newport Walmart, and it wasn’t too long before the old Ben Franklin store I had run on Front Street had to close its doors. You can’t say we ran that guy—the landlord’s son—out of business. His customers were the ones who shut him down. They voted with their feet.”
Sometimes success can be a long time in coming, so remember to enjoy the process and the victories along the way. There were 17 successful stores prior to No. 18 and no doubt Sam enjoyed them all. At first, even your smallest successes should be celebrated, whether it’s your first website, your first sale, or your first $10,000 day.
When it comes to success, Sam Walton may have said it best:
“Celebrate your successes. Find humor in your failures. And remember that high expectations are the key to everything.”
Expect to succeed, act as though you are already successful, do the things you need to do to succeed, and the rest will take care of itself.