Business's Winter of Discontent:
When the congenial, silver-haired man in the baseball cap took the makeshift stage at one of the hundreds of Wal-Mart discount stores around the country, he hardly looked like a billionaire. “Whooooooooo,” he yelled. “Whooooooooo,” the crowd—all Wal-Mart employees—shouted back. “Pig. Sooey Razorbacks!” he concluded with a whoop. What was the ruckus? It was just Sam Walton, founder of the largest retail chain store in the nation, talking to his employees. “Just a little chat between him and the 'associates,'” as he called them.
Sam Walton was one of the “rich who got richer” in the 1980s. He did so by expanding his chain from 200 stores to 1,600. He did so by creating 212,000 new jobs in the 1980s alone. And he did so by lowering prices for consumers on a panoply of retail goods.1 Hardly a miser counting his money by candlelight, Sam Walton started in retailing in the 1950s. In the 1960s, he started a chain of discount retail stores and began providing incentives to his managers. In 1966, he had twenty stores and was doing very well. The inflation of the 1970s would make buyers more price conscious. They looked at new ways of buying goods that saved them money. They were willing to drive out of town, buy in bulk, and put up with less service, less selection, and more spartan surroundings. Sam Walton gave them the lower prices they wanted.