Whether you are a fan of Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT) or not, it is undeniable that it is the largest fish in its industry. Currently, the company sports a market capitalization of more than $251 billion and reported revenue of nearly $469.2 billion in 2012. To commemorate this miraculous achievement, I believe that it would be wrong not to celebrate some of the more interesting things about the company that have made it what it is today, for better or worse.
1988 was a big year for Wal-Mart... literally
Despite the growth that Wal-Mart saw throughout its early years, 1988 is the year that might literally have determined the course the company would eventually take. In 1988, the company opened its first Wal-Mart Supercenter in Washington, Missouri. In addition to providing the standard products of a traditional Wal-Mart store, the company's Supercenter model debuted with a range of options for consumers. These consisted of tire and oil change shops, video rental stores, portrait studios, and more.
By this time, the company operated in 27 states across the United States and had reached the status of the most profitable retailer in the country. Although all of these were milestones for the company, there was one downside that management had to deal with: the retirement of Sam Walton, the company's founder. Walton stepped down as CEO, but ultimately remained on the Board of Directors as the company's Chairman.
You have to walk before you run
In 1991, after 29 years in operation, the company decided that the time was right to finally make the bold step toward expanding internationally. Although such a decision can be a scary one that may not always work according to plan, Wal-Mart's decision to open their first store abroad in Mexico City served as a stepping stone for it to reach out and grab a large piece of the rest of the world. By 1994, the company operated an impressive 96 stores in Mexico alone.
Today, around 6,148 (or 60.6%) of the company's 10,153 locations are classified as a part of its international segment, with Mexico still accounting for the company's largest country of operations outside of the United States with 2,353 stores. This boils down to nearly 23.2% of the company's existing stores. I don't know about you, but that's some attractive growth if I do say so myself!
Talk about being left behind
In general, people don't like the feeling of being left behind because of the sensation of loneliness it incites. Now I can't speak for a state, but I know that if Wal-Mart forgot about me until 1995 then I would be pretty lonely. Interestingly enough, this was the case with Vermont. While the company was busy expanding to all parts of the globe including Argentina, Brazil, and Hong Kong, it didn't open a single store in the state of Vermont until 1995. The company already had 2,943 stores by this time, 276 of which were located internationally and generated $93.6 billion in revenue, with $78 billion (or 83.3%) of it coming from domestic markets.
Wal-Mart has been a big-time innovator... in both good and bad ways
In addition to expanding rapidly, Wal-Mart prides itself in being an innovative company. One of the earliest signs of this came about as a result of the company's decision to launch the Wal-Mart Television Network in 1998, whereby it could provide commercials, concert clips, and more for customers to be exposed to.
On top of this interesting achievement, the company also responded to the rising trend of healthier, organic foods being capitallized on by companies like Whole Foods Market. Since its inception in 1978, Whole Foods has focused primarily on providing healthier alternatives to what traditional grocery stores offered. As the company's concept became more popular, Wal-Mart took notice. In 2006, the company decided to offer a variety of organic alternatives at a price that wouldn't exceed 10% of their non-organic counterparts.
Though this is a good idea in theory since you would expect Wal-Mart to be able to price competitors like Whole Foods out of the market, its efforts appear to be in vain. Whole Foods has seen its revenue increase by 108.6% since Wal-Mart entered the fray. This statement is further bolstered by the fact that Whole Foods has seen its net income rise by an even more impressive 128.4%, from $203.8 million in 2006 to $465.6 million in 2012.
For all the controversy that has grown around Wal-Mart over the past several years, the company has a fascinating history behind it. Though this article hasn't shown much about the ups and downs of the company relative to its peers, I hope that it has at least opened your eyes to the interesting story the company has been able to tell through its triumphs and foibles alike.