Bloomberg

Walmart (WMT - Get Report) is one of the most successful companies in the world, and it's certainly one of the most celebrated and profitable retailers in history.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based company traces its roots back to 1962 when it was founded by a local business man named Sam Walton, with the first location in nearby Rogers, Ark.

Those roots were embedded in highly rural areas, as Walmart chose its original path not in the big urban centers but in emerging suburbs and rural outposts that weren't being served by major retailers.

That was an opportunity Sam Walton aimed to leverage, and he wound up doing that on a monumentally successful basis, as he began to mold the Walmart brand into the consumer behemoth it has become today.

History of Walmart

The founding of the first Walmart in Rogers, Ark. was an experiment at the time, with Sam Walton and his management team focusing on separation from the big existing retailers at the time, especially Sears  (SHLDQ) and Kmart.

By emphasizing store concepts that are widely associated with Walmart today, Walmart did stand out right away, especially in the following brand-building areas:

  • Customer focused advertising campaigns (particularly direct mail ads.)
  • A focus on pricing controls (mainly by purchasing and selling low cost imported goods).
  • Building warehouses that were close to its stores, and thereby easier and cheaper to distribute.

Success in all of the above areas came quickly, as the company began adding new stores outside of Arkansas and largely across the deep American South in the following years.

Within 20 years, the company had rolled out the first Walmart superstores (named Sam's Club) and its first phase-in of Walmart Supercenters by 1983 and 1988, respectively.

By 1990, Walmart had become the largest retailer in the U.S., and began to branch out internationally, opening a new store in Mexico and subsequently opened more stores in the U.K., Germany, China, and Canada.

Walmart doubled its sales in 1995 three years after the death of founder Sam Walton. Company management had taken a risk in doing so, electing to borrow the funds needed to open more and more superstores. Debt piled up, but management's bet had paid off, as Walmart earned the cash it needed to repay its financing loans.

By 1999, Walmart had grown so big it was not only the largest private employer in the U.S., but in the entire world and two years later, Walmart also surpassed Exxon-Mobile (XOM - Get Report) as the wealthiest company in the world. It's a moniker the company couldn't hang onto, as it now stands as the 29th company in the world, as digital-based giants like Amazon.com (AMZN - Get Report) , Alphabet (Google) (GOOGL - Get Report) , Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) , and Apple (AAPL - Get Report) , along with a host of Chinese companies, have passed Walmart by.

Walmart Timeline

Walmart's history is dotted with memorable moments and history-making events.

Here's a timeline snapshot of Walmart over the past 57 years:

  1. Walmart opens its first store in Rogers, Ark.
  1. Walmart begins American expansion, opening its first store outside Arkansas, with stores in Sikeston, Mo., and Claremore, Ok.,
  1. Walmart opens its first distribution center, in Bentonville, Ark. By this time the company had over $44 million in sales.
  1. Walmart stock goes public for the first time, with the company's stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange, under the stock symbol WMT.
  1. Walmart opens a store in its 10th U.S. state, in Illinois.
  1. Walmart opens it first Sam's Club in Oklahoma, taking on Costco (COST - Get Report) in the emerging market of "members only" retail outlets.
  1. In its 25th year in business, Walmart is a global hit, with 1,200 stores operating across the globe. The retailer earns $15.9 billion in sales the same year.
  1. Walmart opens it first superstore, which combined traditional Walmart stores with a grocery store.
  1. In 1990, Walmart becomes the top retailer in the U.S., and earns over $26 billion in product sales.
  1. Walmart goes global, opening a new store in Mexico City.
  1. Founder Sam Walton dies, triggering a new path for Walmart as it expands globally at an increased pace, taking on more financing debt in the process.
  1. Walmart opens a new division called Walmart International to boost its store presence outside the U.S.
  1. Walmart finally opens a store in its 50th U.S. state, with Vermont the last hold-out. The company is now a global retail powerhouse, with 675,000 employees, almost 2,000 stores, and has $93.6 billion in sales revenues.

 1996: Walmart launches its first store in China, opening the gates to one of the most lucrative and emerging economies in the world.

 1997: Walmart reaches $100 billion in sales.

 1999: Walmart now has 1.14 million employees, making it the largest employer in the world.

 2002: Walmart sets a new record, with a single-day sales total of $1.43 billion, on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

 2005: This year brings more record profits, with $312 billion in sales and more than 1.6 million employers.

 2007: Walmart makes a brand shift, eliminating its "Always Low Prices, Always" slogan in favor of "Save Money Live Better."

 2010: Walmart enters the video streaming business, with its purchase of Vudu, Inc. for $100 million. The following year cuts a new deal with Massmart Holdings to expand its operations in Africa.

 2014: Store employees go on strike throughout the U.S., opening the door to labor troubles.

 2015: Walmart now employs 23 million employees with 11,000 stores in 27 countries.

 2016: Walmart rolls out Walmart Pay, a digital-based payment tool for company customers who use it to pay for purchases with their smartphones. The same year, Walmart purchases Jet.com, an online retailer.

 2017: To better compete with Amazon and eBay (EBAY - Get Report) , among other online retail platforms, Walmart introduces free two-day shipping.

 2018: A company name change stands out in 2018, as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. gives way to Walmart Inc.

Legal and Operational Troubles

Like many Fortune 500 companies, Walmart has had its fair share of legal and public relations troubles. It's also taking steps to be more involved in cultural trends and vexing social and cultural issues.

Exhibit "A" is Walmart's recent decision to stop selling short-barrel rifle and handgun ammunition in the aftermath of tragic, yet high-profile mass shootings in El Paso, Texas (at a Walmart store) and Dayton, Ohio. The retailer has also banned open carry handguns in its stores, with only sanctioned law enforcement officers approved to bring firearms into stores.

The company's history of legal troubles may have motivated Walmart to get ahead of the nation's firearms debate.

The company's legal woes date back to 1999, when Walmart sued the nation's leading retail worker's union, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, from organizing. The Arkansas Supreme Court wound up ruling against Walmart in 2002.

The next year the company was sued over charges it didn't offer workers paid overtime, leading to a class-action lawsuit.

The same year a group of Walmart workers in one of its meat departments voted to unionize. Walmart quickly responded by opting to eliminate the meat department in 179 of its outlets, deciding instead to sell packaged meat. In 2003, a court ruled against Walmart for closing down its meat departments without proper consultation of workers.

In 2006, the company had to pay out $78 million to employees in violation of a Pennsylvania state law that mandated workers must be paid for overtime work, and work completed in an "off the clock manner.

In 2008, a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Walmart made the headlines, with a store service employee, Jdimytai Damour, killed in a consumer shopping stampede on Black Friday in a Valley Stream, N.Y. Walmart store.

The company wound up only paying a small fine for the incident, after agreeing to a deal with the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration who charged Walmart with inadequate crowd management.

Walmart's Stock Performance

Walmart's stock trading history has largely been favorable to shareholders.

Walmart's stock, currently trading at $115 per share, is up from $75 per share five years ago.

The company has also hit some remarkable financial milestones ever since the stock started trading on the New York Stock Exchange in 1972:

  • The company's highest-ever stock market closing price occurred on Sept. 13, 2019, when it hit $117 per share.
  • It's highest-ever 52-week trading high was $118 per share.
  • It's average share price over the past 52 weeks is $101.67 per share.
  • The company has a massive $328.8 billion market capitalization and pays a dividend to shareholders of 1.81%.

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