Wal-Mart is a multinational corporation with stores in all U.S. states and in 14 other countries. The company started with one small store in Arkansas and has since ballooned into the biggest-earning corporation in the world. It has the most employees of any non-government company in the world. It has made its reputation and built its customer base on the basis of low prices.
Sam Walton opened the first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, Ark., under the name Wal-Mart Discount City in 1962. The store became popular for its low prices and soon attracted enough customers to expand the business to 24 stores in five years. Wal-Mart became Wal-Mart Stores Inc. when the company was incorporated in 1969. Wal-Mart stores spread through the South and the Midwest during the '60s and '70s and penetrated the rest of the nation by the early '90s. The company then began expanding into South America and entered the United Kingdom in 1999.
Wal-Mart has built its business on charging less for its items that anyone else in the retail industry. The stores in the United States and Canada are divided into Wal-Mart Discount Stores, Wal-Mart Supercenters and Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets. The Discount Stores are retail stores that sell general merchandise as well as small selection of grocery items. Supercenters have a general merchandise side and a grocery side. Neighborhood Markets are generally grocery stores with a small selection of general merchandise items.
The company's headquarters is still in Bentonville, Ark., where founder Sam Walton first ran a retail franchise. About 1.5 million people work for Wal-Mart. Its U.S. stores see 100 million U.S. customers each week in more than 3,500 stores. Outside the United States there are about 3,000 stores in countries that include Argentina, the United Kingdom and Brazil. About 20 percent of the company's sales come from its international stores.
For customers, the main benefits of shopping at Wal-Mart are the low prices and the wide selection of items. Because Wal-Mart stores are so large, with as many as 197,000 square feet, customers have a better chance of finding their preferred low-to-mid-range brand than they would at a smaller store. For employees the multitude of jobs can be considered a benefit. With 1.5 million jobs and growing, Wal-Mart is sometimes the largest employer in rural areas.
Wal-Mart has gained a lot of criticism over the past two decades for what many people see as an unfair competitor in the retail marketplace. Some critics have shown that damage is done to small, locally owned businesses when a new Wal-Mart is introduced into a town. Other critics are concerned with the low pay and lack of union involvement of Wal-Mart employees. A recent documentary about Wal-Mart's anti-union attitude, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," showed the company's struggle against its employees joining unions. Wal-Mart has come under fire by labor boards in both Germany and Canada for its anti-union stance.