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IN SAM WE TRUST by Bob Ortega

IN SAM WE TRUST

The Untold Story of Sam Walton and How Wal-Mart is Devouring America

By Bob Ortega

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8129-6377-6
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Attention Wal-Mart shoppers—and anyone interested in the history of retailing in America. Here’s the tale of the late Sam Walton, once the richest man in the country, and of the marketing juggernaut he fashioned. With “big box” stores at every crossroads, Wal-Mart, together with affiliated outlets like Sam’s Clubs, is the largest retailer in the world; Mr. Sam’s enterprise is second only to Uncle Sam’s in number of employees. (“Associates— is what the Wal-Mart sales force is called.) As reporter Ortega, who followed the firm for the Wall Street Journal, demonstrates, it was all done with a heavy dose of down-home bunkum and a monomaniacal devotion to business by cunning country boy Walton. Single-minded Mr. Sam, driving an old truck, used to pay folksy visits to his expanding domain. As it grew to become a ravenous retailing force and he became a billionaire, he remained the same canny tightwad, charming his “associates” even as he underpaid them. “Satisfaction guaranteed” and “low prices” were the watchwords, and if that eliminated the small-town merchant, so be it. But Mr. Sam died, and times have become a little more difficult. Many communities have successfully resisted heavy-handed Wal-Mart incursions. Concurrent with a “Buy American” campaign, the firm was shown to be buying lots of jeans and tchotchkes made in Chinese gulags and shirts and bras made by Third World children. (The Kathy Lee Gifford child-labor flap is a case study in mismanagement.) With the company based in Arkansas, one might wonder about a Clinton connection; and sure enough, Hillary appears as a feisty board member. All in all, Ortega provides a vivid analysis of Wal-Mart and competitors like Sears, Price Clubs, and, notably, K-Mart, with many anecdotes that are emblematic of a new way of business. Here is well-researched, high-end business reportage, readable and informative. Put it in the category of “Store Wars.” (Author tour)