I used to go out of my way not to shop at Wal-Mart. It wasn't necessarily the argument Sam Walton's chain of behemoth discount stores was causing the death of the local retailer, though as a newspaper employee I was acutely aware boutique advertisers and not mega corporations were funding my meager checks.
For me, it was more a personal snobbery. Though I was poor and shopped at thrift stores, I'd turn up my nose at girls parading around in ill-fitting, badly sewn attempts at the latest trends. If those were the kind of clueless people who patronized Wal-Mart, I'd skip it, thank you.
That all changed when I moved to a small city and got a dog. After buying enough expensive treats and gear from PetCo, I found myself in the pet aisle at Wal-Mart and was blown away by the all the money I could save. My dog needed a constant supply of food, bones and leashes. This wasn't about clothes anymore.
I gradually started buying other things there, including clothes. Not everything in the fashion department is spot on, but if I can rock it, who cares.
And it's no secret most Wal-Marts let RVers park free overnight. So I have spent more money at Wal-Mart on this trip than at all the local stores (which I still purposely go to), combined.
When I got to Arkansas I was reminded that Sam Walton founded the company in Bentonville, today a city of about 20,000.
There is a museum there and I made a special trip to visit it.
Along with a nice collection of memorabilia, there's an emphasis on Walton's business philosophy. The most notable of his tenets, I think, is to embrace change.
After all, the discount department store was as much a part of the inevitable future in the 1960s when Wal-Mart was founded as a drastic restructuring of newspapers is today.
Walton got his start in boutique retailing and would regularly visit other stores to get a sense of what customers gravitated to.
I believe (as he did) that local retailers still have a future. I believe newspapers have a future, too.
I also believe forerunners embrace change.
Wal-Mart's business model will no doubt get a wakeup call one day, too.
Today there are 3,520 Wal-Marts across the U.S. and 3,593 in 15 other countries. The company's stock has split two-for-one an astounding eleven times since it was listed in 1970.
Not bad for a self-made Joe from Arkansas.
Here are recreations in the museum of Walton's first office, his last office before he died (with a closeup of the books on his shelf) and the red pickup truck he used to drive.