Do not despise YOUR days of small beginnings
I have been to the Walmart Museum in Downtown Bentonville, Arkansas, several times with my family. After all, we lived in the city for a while, and the downtown square was a great family-friendly place to hang out. My kids loved visiting the museum partly because each tour always ended up with the whole family getting ice cream to enjoy together at the square fountain. But every single time I visited the museum, I was always reminded of the importance of small beginnings. Do not discountenance your days of little beginnings. Though this short piece takes cues from Walmart’s beginning, it is really about YOUR own small beginnings, right where you are now.
The Walmart empire as we know it today began from this small beginning at downtown Bentonville. After a major setback in his retail business (topic for another day) as a Ben Franklin franchisee in Newport, Arkansas, Sam Walton moved to 105 and 107 N. Main St, Bentonville in 1950 and set up another Ben Franklin franchise store which he called the Walton’s 5-10.1 It was a small beginning, especially, after the loss he had just endured at Newport, but a new beginning was all he needed.
One of the ideas that Sam Walton latched onto as he started anew here in Bentonville was the implementation of self-service variety retail model that was just becoming available in those days. In fact, his was the first variety self-service store in the entire state of Arkansas. By 1960, Sam Walton was doing over a million dollars in business annually and owned nine Ben Franklin variety stores.
“Walmart’s story is really about the story of Sam Walton – a story about one individual who dared to believe in his idea and chose not to despise his little beginnings, even when the big corporations and established institutions mocked and derided his humble efforts in rural America.”
Being a discerning leader, he began to recognize the limitations of variety stores. So, he repositioned himself and started investing in the discount model. Therefore, in 1962, he opened his first discount store, “Wal-Mart Discount City,” in Rogers, Arkansas, combining both the self-service and discount models in one.2 Borrowing every bit of cash he could get, Sam Walton effectively launched what is now the Walmart discount empire. Today, based on 2021 data, Walmart serves over 220 million customers per week in 11,440 stores in 27 countries, with over 550 billion dollars in annual revenue!3 All that from that small beginning called Walton’s 5-10 at Bentonville, Arkansas.
But you say, “Well, it is all great for Walmart. But what does that have to do with me? My situation is so different from Walmart’s.” If you really think about it though, Walmart’s story is really the story of Sam Walton. It is truly about the story of one individual who dared to believe in his idea and chose not to despise his small beginnings, even when the big corporations and established institutions mocked and derided his humble efforts.
“There are plenty of people out there who are all too eager to minimize, ignore, or disrespect your work, efforts, or ideas. Do not do that to yourself too.”
Do not allow paralysis through comparison
It is so easy to look at the big organizations and established institutions that are in a similar industry as you are – retail, banking, self-development, faith and nonprofit, manufacturing, distribution, content creation etc. – and become discouraged at the “little ol’ me.” In compassion to already established businesses, your idea or current efforts may seem so rudimentary, so mundane, so insignificant. Why even bother? What difference could I reasonably make? How can I even compete with the “big machines” all around me? Am I not being presumptions? In that situation, it is easy to become paralyzed or to give up on your big idea. Or simply settle into mediocrity. But remember that when Sam Walton started, Kmart and others were the real players in discount store business, and he was the “nobody” in rural America. Remember that almost all other founders of great businesses started small too. Just like you, all they had was mostly an idea and perhaps a little cash to get started.
Do not ignore or disrespect yourself
One definition of “despise” is to ignore in a disrespectful manner.4 There are plenty of people out there who are all too eager to minimize, ignore, or disrespect your work, efforts, or ideas. Do not do that to yourself too. Do not ignore or disrespect your idea or yourself. You are a doer, a believer, a creator. Someday the mockers will acknowledge you.
As leaders in early stages of startups or projects, it is so easy to set our sights on the next thing, the next idea, goal, or task. But it is equally important to develop the habit of taking a moment to reflect and be thankful. Thankful for the journey so far. Thankful for life. Thankful for great ideas. Thankful for an opportunity to pursue innovative ideas. Thankful for today, for this time and season. Thankful for what has already been accomplished. Thankful for the people who believe in us. Thankful for those helping us go from one difficult step to the next. Thankful for the family members who are walking and enduring each step of the journey with you.
Treat others well
When you are in your small beginnings, it is so easy to develop a limited mindset, a struggling, zero-sum mentality. It is so easy to see everyone as a potential “tool” to be used to help you get to the next level. Workers, partners, spouses, coworkers, investors, children – everyone should be focused on you. They should acknowledge the urgency and importance of your idea and make sacrifices to help you get there. In that mental mode, it is really easy to devolve into the kind of selfishness that twists our inner self to an ugly beast that we can hardly ever recognize again. Of course, there would always be mean people who are out to try to take advantage of you. But not everyone is out to get you. People are your greatest gift – treat them right. Carry a generous attitude with you wherever you go and over time, you may notice that others will be generous to you too.
“Who you become in the process is ultimately more important than the destination to which you arrive at the end.”
Give a helping hand to another person
Finally, when we are in our small beginnings, we tend to think of only relationships that can elevate us. We cultivate connections with people who have gone ahead as potential mentors and sponsors. We angle and sometimes scheme to get their attention. Of course, there is nothing wrong with strategically developing connections that would enhance your person and your business. However, something that strikes us as fundamentally wrong and manipulative when all we do is cultivate those higher relationships and simultaneously ignore or even actively despise people who are “below” us on the ladder of life or business. Find someone who is a step or two behind where you are and help them up. After all, that is exactly what you expect from others who have gone ahead of you too. You just never know what happens tomorrow – life’s journey can be so queer. The person who is struggling today in rural Arkansas may well be the Sam Walton of tomorrow. Show a little kindness to everyone you meet. If you cannot take a moment today in your humble beginning to be kind to someone else, you may not suddenly become that type of person when you finally “arrive”. Who you become in the process is ultimately more important than the destination to which you arrive at the end.
- Vintage Bentonville. 105 – 107 N. Main Walton 5 & 10 Museum. https://www.vintagebentonville.com/105-107-n-main—walton-5–10-museum.html. Accessed July 7, 2022.
- The Walmart Digital Museum. Walmart is Born. https://www.walmartmuseum.com/content/walmartmuseum/en_us/timeline/decades/1960/artifact/2366.html. Accessed July 7, 2022.
- us Inc. Walmart Statistics and Facts. https://market.us/statistics/e-commerce-websites/walmart/. Accessed July 7, 2022.
- Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/despise. Accessed July 7, 2022.
Frank Talk is hosted by Francis E. U., publisher and managing editor at one of the leading publishing houses in the United States. If you like the above, feel free to re-share. Leave a message or comment – Frank would love to hear your thoughts on the topic as well.