A Visit to the Walmart Museum

Whether you’re a fan, or not, there’s no denying that the company at the top of the Fortune 100 list is an American success story like no other.

These are a few of the cultural debates that will forever polarize America:

  • Coke vs Pepsi
  • Boxers vs Briefs
  • Star Wars vs Star Trek
  • Walmart vs Target

I’ll let you guess where my loyalties fall in the first three statements, but I am most definitely a Target chick. So Louise was pretty surprised when I said we needed to visit the Walmart Museum during a quick trip to Bentonville, Arkansas.

The way I see things, history is an important part of travel. No matter how you feel about Walmart — and I know that people tend to passionately love or hate the place — it’s an American success story worth knowing. Plus also, it wasn’t like we were shopping at a Walmart. And, there is no admission fee.

Fun Fact:  The galleries of the Walmart Museum were designed by the same team who designed the Clinton Presidential Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and other top museums.

Here’s what to expect when you visit the Walmart Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas…

An American Success Story

Sam Walton was part of the Greatest Generation — the Americans who survived the hardships of the Great Depression, served the country in World War II, and came home to build modern America. The first part of the museum walks visitors through Sam’s early life, from his birth in rural Oklahoma to how his family survived the Dust Bowl.

Fun Fact:  Sam Walton was the youngest Eagle Scout in Missouri’s history when he achieved that Boy Scout rank as an eighth grader in Shelbina.

Sam attended the University of Missouri in Columbia as an ROTC cadet. After graduating in 1940 with a degree in economics, Sam started his career with JC Penney in Des Moines, Iowa. When the US joined World War II, Sam moved back to Oklahoma while waiting to be inducted into the Army. It was in Claremore that he met Helen Robson at a bowling alley and fell in love at first sight. They were married on Valentine’s Day in 1943.

Helen Walton's wedding dress from their wedding on Valentine's Day in 1943

Fun Fact:  The flowers in the exhibit case displaying Helen Walton’s wedding dress are changed every Valentine’s Day in honor of Sam and Helen’s anniversary. 

Sam and Helen welcomed their first child, Rob, during World War II in 1944. When the war ended, they looked forward to settling down and raising a family. Sam purchased his first Ben Franklin store in Newport, Arkansas and he and Helen added three more children to their family, John, Jim, and Alice.  The museum takes visitors through the growth of Sam’s business, from that single store in Newport to a chain of 15 Ben Franklin stores by 1962. From the first Walmart in 1962 to 1,960 Walmart stores at the time of Sam’s death in 1992.

Painting of an early Walmart at the Walmart Museum in Bentonville

Painting of Walton’s 5&10 in Bentonville, Arkansas which opened in 1950.

 

The Customer is Always Right

One of my favorite exhibits was the wall of returned items that reinforced Sam’s relentless focus on customer satisfaction and ensuring that customers were always completely happy with their purchases.

Walmart has refunded customers who returned:

  • a hand mixer that was possessed,
  • a pencil sharpener that didn’t sharpen ink pens,
  • an outdoor thermometer that never displayed the correct time, and
  • a “defective” fishing pole because it wouldn’t catch any fish.

 

“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
~ Sam Walton

 

The Highest Civilian Honor

Also on display is Sam Walton’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Sam was suffering from blood cancer and could not travel to Washington, DC to accept the award from President Bush senior, so the President traveled to Bentonville to present the award to Sam and share the tribute with the employees of Walmart and the people of Bentonville.

 

An Inspirational Leader

Whether you’re a fan of Walmart, or not, it’s hard not to admire the hard work, dedication, and humble spirit that Sam Walton poured into building America’s most successful company.  In a hermetically sealed exhibit, Walmart Museum visitors can look into Sam’s office that has been preserved as it was the day he died. It is cluttered with books, a rotary telephone, and yellow legal pads filled with notes.

Sam Walton's office at the Walmart Museum in Bentonville

Fun Fact: You may notice that the painting of Sam and his hunting dogs is not straight. Despite numerous attempts to adjust the picture, this is how it was hanging on the day that Sam Walton left his office for the last time.

 

“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”
~ Sam Walton

 

Sam’s love for bird hunting and his hunting dogs shines through, from the painting hanging behind his desk to the spaniel statue on the coffee table. Also visible is a Walmart baseball cap, like the ones regularly worn by Sam with his business suit.

Outside of the Walmart Museum, you’ll see Betty, the museum’s replica truck used for parades, store openings, and other occasions. But inside the museum, you’ll see Sam’s pickup truck.  Museum visitors are encouraged to touch the door handle in order to receive the gift of frugality.

“It’s just paper – all I own is a pickup truck and a little Wal-Mart stock.”
~ Sam Walton

Fun Fact:  If you look closely at the steering wheel, you’ll spot teeth marks from Ol’ Roy, Sam’s hunting dog who enjoyed using the wheel as a chew toy.  If the name Ol’ Roy sounds familiar, that’s because Sam named Walmart’s dog food brand after his favorite English Setter.

 

“Why do I drive a pickup truck? What am I supposed to haul my dogs around in, a Rolls-Royce?”
~ Sam Walton 

 

Sam Walton’s 10 Rules for Building a Business

Sam said that his ten rules for building a business are not intended to be the Ten Commandments of Business, but rather they are some rules that worked well for him.

1 – Commit

Commit to your business.  Believe in your business more than anyone else.  I don’t know if you’re born with this type of passion, or if you can learn it.  But I do know you’ll need it.

2 – Share

Share your profits with all of your associates, and treat them like partners. In turn, they will treat you as a partner, and together you will all perform beyond your wildest expectations.

3 – Motivate

Motivate your partners.  Money and ownership aren’t enough.  Constantly think of new ways to motivate and challenge your partners.

“The way management treats associates is exactly how the associates will treat the customers.”
~ Sam Walton

4 – Communicate

Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners.  The more they know, the more they’ll understand.  The more they understand, the more they’ll care. Once they care, there’s no stopping them.

“We’re all working together; that’s the secret.”
~ Sam Walton

5 – Appreciate

Appreciate everything your associates do for the business.  A paycheck and a stock option will buy one type of loyalty, but nothing can replace a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.

Sam Walton's rules for business success

6 – Celebrate

Celebrate your successes.  Have fun.  Show enthusiasm.  And find some humor in your failures.

7 – Listen

Listen to everyone in your company, and find ways to get them talking. The folks on the front line, the ones who actually interact with customers, are the ones who really know what’s going on. Be sure you know what they know.

“Great ideas come from everywhere if you just listen and look for them. You never know who’s going to have a great idea.”
~ Sam Walton

8 – Exceed

Exceed your customers’ expectations so that they’ll come back over and over.  Give them what they want, plus a little more. Make good on your mistakes, extending an apology rather than an excuse.

9 – Control

Control your expenses better than your competition. You can try a lot of things and recover from any mistakes if you operate efficiently.

“You can make a lot of mistakes and still recover if you run an efficient operation. Or you can be brilliant and still go out of business if you’re too inefficient.”
~ Sam Walton

10 – Swim

Swim upstream.  Go the other way. Ignore conventional wisdom. If everyone is doing it one way, there’s a good chance you can find your niche by doing the exact opposite.

Sam Walton's Rules for Building a Business

 

“I have always been driven to buck the system, to innovate, to take things beyond where they’ve been.”
~ Sam Walton

 

The Spark Cafe Soda Fountain

The self-guided tour of the Walmart Museum ends with The Spark Cafe Soda Fountain, a tribute to Sam’s love of ice cream. The cafe proudly serves Yarnell’s ice cream, including Sam’s favorite flavor of butter pecan, which is the first brand of ice cream sold by Sam back in his first Ben Franklin store in Newport, Arkansas.

If you stop for a treat at the Spark Cafe, be sure to try Spark Cream, a special blue and yellow golden vanilla ice cream flavor made just for Walmart!

Fun Fact:  Yarnell’s is the official ice cream of the Arkansas Razorbacks and offers additional, custom flavors like Hog Wild and Wooo Pig.

What about you?  Have you toured the Walmart Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas?  Share your experience in the comments section below.

4 thoughts on “A Visit to the Walmart Museum

  1. I would definitely visit this museum if I was near Bentonville. The return excuses are a hoot!

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