Wal-Mart has a long history of stealing ideas from competitors.
In his book, “Made in America,” Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton wrote that he built the world’s largest retailer almost entirely off of other companies’ good ideas.
“Most everything I’ve done I’ve copied from someone else,” Walton wrote in the book.
One of Walton’s first jobs in retail was running a franchise for Ben Franklin, a chain of discount stores, in the 1940s.
While he was operating the Ben Franklin store, Walton constantly visited his competition across the street.
“What really drove Sam was that competition across the street — John Dunham over at the Sterling Store,” Walton’s wife, Helen Walton, recalled in the book. “Sam was always over there checking on John. Always. Looking at his prices, looking at his displays, looking at what was going on.”
Later on, when Walton built the first predecessor to Wal-Mart in Bentonville, Arkansas, he copied everything from Ben Franklin — from the accounting system to the shelving.
“Although we called it Walton’s Five and Dime, it was a Ben Franklin’s franchise,” Walton wrote.
Walton said he was obsessive about staying on top of every new idea in retail.
“I read an article about these two Ben Franklin stores up in Minnesota that had gone to self-service — a brand-new concept at the time,” Walton wrote. “I rode the bus all night long to two little towns up there — Pipestone and Worthington. They had shelves on the side and two island counters all the way back. No clerks with cash registers around the store. Just checkout registers up front. I liked it. So I did that too.”
Seven decades later, Wal-Mart is the biggest retailer in the world with more than 11,000 stores and nearly $US486 billion in sales last year.
Wal-Mart Stores CEO Doug McMillon says copying competitors is still a core part of the company’s strategy.
“I mean going all the way back to [Wal-Mart founder] Sam Walton, we had a part of our DNA that was interested in learning from others,” McMillon told PBS’ Charlie Rose in an interview last year. “Copying good ideas. Don’t be so proud that you can’t implement a good idea.”
One of the main competitors of interest to Wal-Mart right now is Amazon.
“We believe in learning from other people,” McMillon said in the PBS interview. “And what Amazon’s doing and what [Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is] doing is showing us and showing the world what’s possible, and I admire that.”
When asked what he admired about Amazon’s business, McMillon said: “Very customer focused. Moving with speed. Just putting ideas at work that are directly beneficial to customers.”
Watch the full interview.
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