"Anyone willing to work hard, study the business and apply the best principals can do well," Sam Walton once observed. "We learned from everyone else's book and added a few pages of our own."
Those few pages profoundly shaped the course of American retailing. Sam Walton, 74, who died Sunday in Little Rock, rewrote the rules of retailing, fusing discount pricing on brand-name goods and small-town locations into an extraordinarily successful merchandising story. His "low prices always" slogan and habit of calling employees "associates" have become standards in the industry. The 1,735 discount department stores he leaves behind have edged out rivals for the shopping dollars of middle America. Wal-Mart, which began life as Wal-Mart Discount City 30 years ago in a tiny Ozark outpost, last year sprinted past Sears as the nation's No. 1 retailer. Its impact, though, has meant financial trouble for hundreds of small-town merchants across the South and Midwest.
Yet for all his success and vast personal wealth -- part of a family fortune estimated at $23 billion -- Sam Walton was a man of simple tastes and hard working dedication. He drove an old Ford pickup and a battered Chevy Sedan sporting a pocked steering wheel christened with his hunting dog's bite. He was a regular visitor to the square in his hometown of Bentonville, Ark., where he'd breakfast at a coffee shop, shop for groceries and grab a haircut.