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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Another top 10 list I didn't make

Actually, let's make this a top 11 list because it suits my purpose. The list is Forbes 400 richest Americans. And consider my shock when I didn't make it... again!

Bill Gates at $59 billion is the guy waving the big "No. 1" foam finger this year, after an embarrassing drop in world rankings last year to second place... kind of like Casey striking out. Reason for his surge in a down world: Coupons! He and Melissa always shop on double and triple coupon days... and it paid off. This is a lesson for all of us.

Yes, Warren Buffett, using his senior discount to the max, was second, and blah, blah, blah. But that's not the story.

  • Number 6 is Christy Walton and family at $24.5 billion (note they round off to the nearest hundred-million dollars in this league).
  • Number 9 is Jim Walton with $21.1 billion.
  • Number 10 is Alice Walton at $20.9 billion
  • Number 11 is S. Robson Walton with $20.5 billilon

(Side note: The Walton family dog, Snert, dropped to number 23 this year with $3.4 billion and is concerned where his next doggie treat is coming from.)

So let's see... the Walton worth, taking 4 of the top 11 spots, comes to $86 billion. Pretty good total for a discount retailer. You did good, Sam. But what does that tell us about America? (It's a different story than you think.)

Walmart (the new logo style) isn't the world's #1 retailer because nobody goes there. We all do... even if we go in disguise so our friends won't know... or dress so outrageously that we grab our 15 minutes on YouTube.

And we all buy there... in great quantity. Walmart did $450 billion in retail U.S. sales last year! And do you know what its biggest seller was? This will kill you... bananas!

Walmart is the world's 18th largest public corporation in size and the largest in revenue. It has 8,500 stores in 15 countries. Two million people cash Walmart paychecks. Founder Sam Walton did something that wasn't high tech, so I guess you can say, he earned all those billions the hard way... by being the most desired SUPPLY to the consumer DEMAND... and he did it in a way we all seem to like, with low prices, high volume and lots and lots of stuff.

While no numbers are public, opinion and data say that considerably less than half--some guess 15 percent or so--of Walmart product, excluding groceries, is made in the USA.

We are all for "Made in America," but the reality is that supply (at the price we reward with our purchases) to fill our demand is what it is all about. As Sam said, as he built his little store, "There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else."

There is a reason why half of the cars on our roads are foreign made and you can't buy a television made in the 50 states. It is not because we wanted it that way, it is because that's what happens in a free world market. Competition for the dollar is the key variable as consumers weigh benefits, quality and perceived value. It's called capitalism and we are "the deciders."

Just a little on Sam Walton's roots. Growing up during the Great Depression, Walton had numerous chores to help make ends meet for his family as was common at the time. Says Wikipedia, he milked the family cow, bottled the surplus, and drove it to customers. Afterwards, he would deliver newspapers and sold magazine subscriptions. Upon graduating, he was voted "Most Versatile Boy." As success came, he still drove his old pick-up truck from store to store, or flew himself in his small single-engine plane.

Today, his legacy for low-cost operation can still be felt at Walmart. The corporate headquarters of the world's largest retailer looks like an old elementary school or bus station--no marble floors, custom-built furniture or executive dining rooms. Management still travels on a tight budget when taking business trips and the overwhelming corporate mission is to keep prices low and associates happy.

Isn't it interesting that this impressive American entrepreneur founded one of the most successful companies in the world--a company that probably sells more foreign-made goods in the United States than any other? But that's not the story. The story is about the America dream that we all share-- to be GREAT-- and the impressive list of those like Sam that it has spawned. Where but here could it have happened that way? In this, we can take great pride. Seriously.

As for "Made in America," it's not them, it's us, the third largest country in the world... and its greatest consumer.

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