- Written by Todd Moning
It has topped FORTUNE magazine's list of "Most Admired Companies in America." One could argue it is the store most admired by motorhome owners.
Motorhomers often mention it as a favorite stopping spot while traveling. Its expansive, lighted parking lots provide plenty of space for motorhomes and motorhome-towed vehicle combos.
Emphasis on name-brands at low prices make it an appealing place to buy groceries and supplies. Looking for the same brand of shampoo or dog food that you use at home? Need to stock up on bottled water or your favorite snacks?
Welcome to Wal-Mart.
Sprouting across America
When motorhomers arrive at an FMCA convention, they want to know the locations of banks, fuel stations, restaurants, souvenir shops. They also want to know, according to tourism representatives of the host towns, "Where's the nearest Wal-Mart?"
Chances are, very near.
The first Wal-Mart store opened in 1962 in Rogers, Ark. As of July 2003, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.'s U.S. operations included 1,514 traditional stores, 1,343 Supercenters and 528 Sam's Club warehouses.
FMCA has gone so far as to identify Wal-Mart and Sam's Club locations throughout its North American Road Atlas & Travel Guide.
To find out how Sam Walton put Wal-Mart "on the map," head to Bentonville in northwest Arkansas.
The old five-and-dime
Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton died in 1992 at age 74. He used old-fashioned business principles to turn a five-and-dime into one of the greatest American entrepreneurial successes. The site of Sam's original variety store, at 105 N. Main St. in downtown Bentonville, is now a visitors' center that chronicles the rise of a retail giant.
The facade of the visitors' center still resembles Sam Walton's old five-and-dime. The front, which faces the town square, plainly reads "Walton's." The name is flanked by "5-10."
The inside of the original store was completely renovated, leaving only Sam's favorite part — the original floor — intact. The visitors' center opened May 9, 1990. Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters and first distribution center also are in Bentonville.
The name on the outside of the building says Wal-Mart Visitor Center, but staff also refer to the facility as a museum. It contains many mementos from Wal-Mart's past and present. Old advertisements, photos of early stores, and a Wal-Mart timeline take visitors from the very first store up to the present day.
While browsing, visitors can activate videos, including "The Story of Wal-Mart." Another video shows Sam and his brother talking about the history of Wal-Mart. Visitors also can watch President George Bush awarding Sam the Presidential Medal of Freedom, shortly before Sam's death in 1992. The award recognizes distinguished civilian service in peacetime.
There are signs of Ol' Roy Dog Food — Ol' Roy was Sam's favorite hunting dog. And MoonPie snacks. MoonPie once was one of Sam's VPIs (volume producing items) selected by stores and executives for special promotion.
The Walton Wing, added in 1993, is devoted to Sam and his wife, Helen. His hunting boots and Helen's wedding dress are displayed.
Sam's 1979 red Ford F-150 custom pickup with 65,627 miles on the odometer is here. It has a few dents stemming from many hunting trips.
Sam's entire office was moved from the headquarters and re-created. Paintings, family pictures and photos of Wal-Mart stores adorn the walls.
Admission to the visitors' center is free. A souvenir shop is incorporated into the lobby of the center, offering T-shirts, mugs, lapel pins, shirts, caps, pencils.
Several spots on the street can accommodate bus-size vehicles. There is a two-hour parking limit on weekdays.
For more information, call (479) 273-1329.