Wal-Mart – A Learning Experience

In an effort to keep our seminar, keynote and website content current, we often examine people and organizations that are currently in the news. It seems easier to relate to strategies and concepts when we can connect them to something we’ve recently seen on TV or read in a newspaper. This media connection seems to enhance the learning experience.

Some of what we learn is very positive.

Some of what we learn is often negative.

Both situations can be very advantageous if we keep an open mind.

Don’t allow your personal preferences about people or organizations to cause you to miss a valuable learning experience.

There’s always something to learn.

Often we learn something we should emulate.

Other times we learn what NOT to do.

For instance, in my travels across North America, I have learned that half the population hates Wal-Mart while the other half loves Wal-Mart. Both groups feel fully justified. Obviously, the half that loves Wal-Mart must have more money than the half that hates Wal-Mart. Of course, I say that in jest, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that Wal-Mart has once again emerged in the number one position in the Fortune 500 with revenues of $378 BILLION dollars!

To put that figure in perspective for you … if you were to combine the revenues of the following Wal-Mart competitors, you would arrive at a total of $376 billion.

Home Depot, Target, Sears, K-Mart, J.C. Penney, Lowe’s, Macy’s,
Nordstrom, Gap, Kohl’s, Toys “R” Us, Office Max, Staples

Not a bad year for the giant Smiley Face!

The on-going love-hate relationship we share with Wal-Mart actually provides us with a tremendous learning opportunity. However, many people dislike this retailer so much that they simply refuse to acknowledge them as a source of learning.

History tells us that Wal-Mart has made many poor decisions. They’ve tried many things that simply didn’t work. In fact, they’ve suffered some classic debacles that made headlines world-wide. However, they continue to top the Fortune 500, they continue to experience rapid growth, and they produce breakthrough in many areas.

The reasons are obvious:

  • They acknowledge challenges.
  • They embrace change.
  • They encourage creativity and innovation.
  • They advocate calculated risk taking.
  • They don’t fear failure.
  • They learn from their mistakes.
  • They keep on keeping on.

Regardless of that admirable performance, Wal-Mart has blundered time and time again. Study the mistakes in detail and learn as much as you can at their expense. Then take the time to study their successes and choose those you wish to emulate.

Take a look at a short list of what Wal-Mart hopes to be future successes. Some will pan out and result in news-making advances. Others may fall by the wayside and soon be forgotten as another poor choice. The important thing is they keep trying something new in the hopes of coping with an environment that is certainly challenging for them as well as their customers. Can you say the same?

Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!” Think about that as you browse the shots Wal-Mart is currently focusing on.

Dr. Sam?
The first of the new Clinic at Wal-Mart walk-in centers, as they will be called, is to open in Little Rock, Arkansas, in April and be run by nurse practitioners. Wal-Mart said it plans to brand 200 of the new clinics with RediClinics. RediClinic, which already operates 13 clinics in Wal-Mart stores, plans to open one of the new units in Atlanta in April and another in Dallas next summer.

“Toy Safety Net”
Last fall, Wal-Mart implemented a “Toy Safety Net” program after the slew of toy recalls and toy safety concerns that plagued parents and retailers. These new toy safety guidelines include more independent lab tests, new standards on heavy metals (including lead), new guidelines on Phthalates and encouragement of date codes.

Check-cashing Expansion?
Aiming for consumers who don’t have bank accounts, Wal-Mart still wants a piece of the bank biz. Last year Wal-Mart cashed 45 million paychecks collectively worth $17 billion! It promotes the MoneyCard, which can accept direct deposits, when customers cash paychecks. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is expanding the number of stores with “Money Center” areas near the front of the store. Some 494 stores had them at the end of fiscal 2008, and 15 more opened in March.

Gourmet Grounds?
On April 1, Wal-Mart announced the launch of six coffees under its exclusive Sam’s Choice brand. Three of the brands are Fair Trade Certified, while the other three are certified by the Rainforest Alliance and USDA Organic. Wal-Mart’s aim was to appeal to consumers with an affordable line of gourmet coffee that has a positive environmental and social impact.

Energy Focus Continues
Wal-Mart Stores has announced the introduction of its most energy efficient U.S. store, the HE.5 prototype that will use up to 45% less energy than the baseline Supercenter. The HE.5 begins a new series of prototypes designed for specific climates, the company said.

Wrangling Profits
In March, Wal-Mart announced plans that it would begin selling milk under its own private label brand (“Great Value”) that is not sourced from cows that have been treated with growth hormones.

Another Shot at Furniture
Wal-Mart recently announced it is rolling out a new home furnishings brand, “Canopy,” as it tries to get lagging sales in that division back on track. The line will include bedding, furniture, bath accessories and dinnerware. Wal-Mart said the brand is designed “with a budget-wise customer in mind.” It said prices will be up to 40% below those of competitors.

Keep an eye on Wal-Mart and discover what works and what doesn’t in hopes of finding something you can apply to your own business … not their products or services but the way they search for ways of solving problems for their customers.

You don’t have to shop there.

You don’t have to buy their stock.

You don’t have to like them.

However, you can certainly learn a great deal from both their failures and successes.

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

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