Sam Walton: Made in America Book Summary

Sam Walton: Made in America

Sam Walton built Walmart from the ground up – starting from 1 variety store in the 40’s to thousands today. When he passed in 1992, he had a net worth of $8.6 billion.

Sam Walton: Made in America, is Sam Walton’s autobiography of his life and work.

Starting in the 30’s, he talks about growing up during the Great Depression, and the impact it had on his life. After discussing his childhood, he takes you on a 50 year retailing journey, from his days running his first store, to owning a national brand and a company bringing in billions of dollars a year.

Sam Walton was a nobody living in the Midwest, and became one of the richest individuals in the United States by the time he grew old.

This autobiography sheds light on his thoughts while creating the massive retail empire of Walmart, and gives insight into how to create an amazing business through serving.

The rest of the post includes a summary of Sam Walton: Made in America, takeaways from this autobiography, and a reading recommendation for you.

Book Summary of Sam Walton: Made in America

Like many autobiographies, Walton starts with a discussion of childhood.

Sam Walton grew up in the Great Depression and this time left a lasting impression on him: EVERY DOLLAR MATTERS. When money is scarce, you can’t afford to be wasteful. Whether it was food, clothing, transportation or fun, there was an opportunity to be efficient and not to waste your hard earned cash. 

Having this thought and philosophy instilled at an early age had a great impact on his life in later years when he started in business.

Sam Walton: The Retailer and Merchant

After graduating college, Sam went to work at a retail store and quickly realized he really enjoyed the role. He was born to be a merchant, he writes, but the issue was, his handwriting was horrible and the management group at the time didn’t like how he played by his own rules.

After leaving this role, he bought his first store in Arkansas – a Benjamin Franklin store.

He was quite successful for 5 years, bringing in a solid profit through his hard work and constant need for improvement.

However, due to inexperience and a lack of legal know-how, he had to sell this store and start from scratch.

While it was a great learning experience, he wasn’t going to make that legal mistake again.

How Sam Walton Built Walmart

After his legal mishap with the Benjamin Franklin store, where he wasn’t able to renew his lease, he set off to start buying more stores.

It was at this point he realized there was an opportunity for him to persuade customers from other variety stores. If he could profitable make sales by offering lower prices and passing on the savings to the customer, then he could be successful.

He didn’t understand why a retailer needed to get 30-50% margins on every single product in the store. A margin of 5-10% would suffice, and after implementing these changes, his stores took off in sales.

Learning how to stretch every dollar, working from dusk until dawn, and being efficient and customer focused allowed him to create a lean and successful business.

The customers were incredibly happy and loyal, and his shareholders were satisfied as well.

He was always pushing to become a little better, and it showed.

Over 30 years, his retail empire grew and grew and grew. There were many tough times, but all of the hard work paid off. Here are his store numbers over time:

Yearly Revenue$1.4 Million$31 Million$1.2 Billion$26.0 Billion
Yearly Profit$112 Thousand$1.2 Million$41 Million$1.0 Billion

In 40 years, he built Walmart from the ground up. 9 stores to 1528 stores in 40 years is absolutely amazing growth – especially for someone from the Midwest who Wall Street thought was nutty and unconventional!

Sam Walton’s Ten Rules of Business

At the end of the book, Sam provides us a list of 10 rules for his success in business. He had never done this before, and decided to do it for the book for the first time in his life.

Here are his ten rules of business:

  1. Commit to your business
    • Be tenacious and always look to improve your service or product.
  2. Share your profits with all of your associates, and treat them as partners
    • Be generous and pay your people appropriately.
  3. Motivate your partners
    • Ensure your people are listened to and motivated so they give their best.
  4. Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners
    • Information is power, and the more information your people can utilize, the better they can do their job.
  5. Appreciate everything your associates do for your business
    • Everyone in your business is doing their best and deserves thanks.
  6. Celebrate your successes
    • Stop being so serious, it’s okay to be happy for your successes and give yourself a break.
  7. Listen to everyone in your company
    • Everyone is unique and has great ideas.
  8. Exceed your customers’ expectations
    • Providing immense value to your customers will give them no choice but to choose you as their store of choice.
  9. Control your expenses better than your competition
    • The leaner your organization, the easier it is to manage tough times.
  10. Swim upstream
    • Don’t be afraid to go against the grain.

Unfortunately, Sam passed away in the 1990’s, and cannot pass on his wisdom anymore. These tips are incredibly beneficial for someone in business, looking to start a business, or interested in creating an empire like Walmart.

Takeaways from Sam Walton: Made in America

With every book you read, it is a must to have takeaways and actionable items to implement in life.

The main takeaways from Sam Walton: Made in America were Sam’s focus on the customer, Sam’s focus on frugality and efficiency, and Sam’s tenacious approach to self-improvement.

The customer comes first in business (and life). Adopting a philosophy in which the work, service or product you put out should be geared to satisfy your customer at the highest level.

By focusing on making the customer experience the best it can be will bring you great success.

Putting tougher a piece of crap product won’t bring you pleasure or success – and it certainly won’t make the people giving you money happy.

Second, frugality and expense management is crucial in business and life.

Sam, worth billions, flew coach and drove his truck until his passing days. He didn’t feel the need to live lavishly because it didn’t make him happy.

Being able to save and make strategic moves when necessary allowed him to live comfortably and build his brand.

Finally, Sam’s tenacious approach to self-improvement, and the daily improvement of his business spoke volumes to me.

Consistent efforts WILL lead to massive results. 

He flew around the globe looking at other stores, figuring out what was working and what wasn’t working, and implementing the great ideas in his stores to ensure future success.

Daily disciplines added up over time will help you reach your goals. Sam Walton knew this intimately and his results showed.

Our Recommendation for Sam Walton’s Autobiography

Sam’s story was incredibly inspiring, and shed light on a true American entrepreneur. This businessperson autobiography motivated me to become better as an individual, and as a business owner.

Sam constantly was looking to improve a little bit each and every day. He studied the competition ruthlessly, and wanted to ensure the customer was experiencing the maximum benefit from Walmart’s service.

It wasn’t enough to do something right once, and then have an amazing finished product. No, you have to do it each and every day.

You must look to make an impact on your customers, readers, clients, or whoever you are serving. 

If you are an entrepreneur, or a student of business or American history, I would recommend giving Sam Walton: Made in America a read. Walmart and Sam’s Club are 2 iconic storefronts still prevalent today after many years. There is always something to learn from successful people and companies.

Readers: do you focus on providing your customer a great experience in your work? Are you inspired reading about incredibly successful people?