A few days ago I went to a book store with my grandfather to browse. I had a few minutes, so I grabbed the first book I saw from the business section and I stopped at one of the random pages that I was looking over. To my surprise, they had a story there about pantyhose! What are the chances of this?
The story was about the founder of Walmart (Mr. Walton) going to Alabama to check out their competition. He went with another person. While the other guy felt that one of the competitor stores was a complete disaster, Walton was full of excitement. He spotted a pantyhose rack and looked at the back of it to find the contact info for the manufacturer.
The moral of the story was that where one sees nothing, other people see lots of opportunities.
Here is the full segment for those of you who want to know more:
This was very important. Perhaps a story would help illustrate this point. One year we were opening three new stores in Huntsville, Alabama, all at about the same time. One was north of town, one south of town, and one at the center of town. We usually didn’t open multiple stores in the same location at the same time, but this came about through acquisitions that took place at the same time we had planned to open our own new store.
In any case, whenever we went to a city, in addition to visiting our own stores, we would visit competitors to see what they were up to. On this particular occasion in Huntsville, we went to a competitor store. When we got to the door, Sam went one way, and I went another. After 45 minutes or so we met back at the car and he asked me what I had seen. I told him I had seen a store in total disarray. It was dirty. The clerks were obviously unhappy. There were boxes in the aisles, and shelves that were empty. This store was no competition at all.
Then I realized I should ask him what he had seen. It was almost like he was waiting for me to ask. His first reply was, “Did you see the rack they used to display their pantyhose?” I told him I must have missed that, so he went on, “It is better than anything we use in our stores. I pulled it out and looked at it carefully. Here is the manufacturer. We need to get these for our stores.”
When I asked him if he had any other observations, he went on to describe several other things he had seen that would bring value to our stores. He was always looking for better ways to do things, and could see beyond the mess I saw to find these things. I learned an important lesson that day about leadership and culture. The criticism is too easy, but learning from others takes effort. That is the way he was, and that is part of the culture we tried to sustain at Wal-Mart.
I’d like to personally add that proper display for hosiery is always a challenge and a nuisance. I can totally relate to the excitement of finally finding a good rack. This is one of the reasons why some stores don’t want to carry this product because of the unique display requirements and the fact that it doesn’t cost very much to justify the space it takes up.
For example, Fiore brand offers some display products to their customers. However, I got a quote on shipping and it would be $3000 to bring it to Canada because of its size! Crazy, right?