Walmart: A book review by Bob Morris
How and why Walmart International continues to be “the best positioned retailer in the world”
As this book’s subtitle suggests, Natalie Berg and Bryan Roberts share “key insights and practical lessons from the world’s largest retailer.” Ironically, Walmart’s globalization initiatives did not kick into gear until after founder Sam Walton was succeeded by David Glass in 1988, 26 years after Walton opened the first Walmart Discount City store in Rogers, Arkansas. What we have in this volume is a reasonably thorough examination of the organization’s rapid growth in terms of both domestic and international markets as well as of its dominance of those markets and even of entire brand categories (e.g. it sells more groceries than Kroger and Safeway do…combined). Moreover, if Walmart were a country, it would rank 25th in terms of gross domestic product. It is also the world’s largest commercial employer. If the first Walmart Discount City store were viewed as an “acorn,” it certainly gave birth to an immense “oak tree,” if not an entire “forest.”
Berg and Roberts focus on major challenges and issues, explaining how Walmart has addressed them to gain and sustain competitive advantage. For example, here are seven of several dozen covered in the book:
o How to position ourselves during the rise of consumerism?
o How to transition branding to a balance of national and private label?
o How to provide cost-effective reader-friendly amenities?
o How to use IT to increase operational efficiency and productivity?
o How to lower costs by lowering suppliers’ costs?
o How to derive maximum benefit from global sourcing?
o How to accelerate improvement of logistics system?
In the Appendix (Pages 217-223), Berg and Roberts provide a timeline of the development of Walton International that began with two small stores in Mexico (1991) until 2011 when WI expanded in the UK, South Africa, the Middle East, and Canada. Does WI have what it takes to reposition for the next 50 years of growth?
Berg and Roberts observe, “The answer must be that Walmart has what it takes to succeed, but will need to be nimble, adaptable, and innovative to reconfigure to the new realities of commerce.” I agree while presuming to add that, in my opinion, competition will become more intense and of a different nature because those who challenge WI have learned valuable lessons from Wal-Mart Stores under Sam Walton’s leadership and they have also learned valuable lessons from what has happened to the company since his retirement as CEO. I assume that WI’s leaders know what got the company to where it is now won’t get it to where it wants to be in months and years ahead.
I agree with Damon Runyon who once said, when paraphrasing Ecclesiastes, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s how the smart money bets.”
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