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50+ Sam Walton Quotes on Business, Retail and Success

This post doesn’t list every single quote Sam Walton ever made.

Instead, I have selected and organized quotes by the most important principles he used to build Walmart. These are the principles he used to create a company with over $500 billion in revenue, 2 million employees and $400 billion in value.

Put together, these are a masterclass in business building.

Let’s get to it.

Sam Walton Quotes on Success

“High expectations are the key to everything.”

“It never occurred to me that I might lose; to me, it was almost as if I had a right to win. Thinking like that often seems to turn into sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“Commit to your business. Believe in it more than anybody else. I think I overcame every single one of my personal shortcomings by the sheer passion I brought to my work.”

“If you love your work, you'll be out there every day trying to do it the best you possibly can, and pretty soon everybody around will catch the passion from you -- like a fever.”

“It’s true that I was 44 when we opened our first Walmart in 1962…and like most other overnight successes, it was about 20 years in the making.”

“If everybody else is doing it one way, there's a good chance you can find your niche by going in exactly the opposite direction.”

“My competitive nature was such that I saw his success and admired it. I didn’t envy it. I admired it. I said to myself: maybe I will be as successful as he is someday.”

Sam Walton on Retail

“I went to the library there and checked out every book on retailing.”

“There hasn’t been a day in my adult life when I haven’t spent some time thinking about merchandising. It has been an absolute passion of mine.”

“I was never in anything for the short haul; I always wanted to build as fine a retailing organization as I could.”

“While the big guys were leapfrogging from large city to large city, they became so spread out and so involved in real estate and zoning laws and city politics that they left huge pockets of business out there for us.”

"The secret of successful retailing is to give your customers what they want. And really, if you think about it from the point of view of the customer, you want everything: a wide assortment of good quality merchandise; the lowest possible prices; guaranteed satisfaction with what you buy; friendly, knowledgeable service; convenient hours; free parking; a pleasant shopping experience."

“In the early days of Walmart, this period we’ve been talking about, I really believe our emphasis on item promotion helped us to make up for a lot of shortcomings we had – an unsophisticated buying program, a less than ideal merchandise assortment and practically no back-office support. It was another way of swimming upstream. We made up for what we didn’t have by being merchants.”

“As a company we have been ahead of most other retailers in investing in sophisticated equipment and technology.”

“I was always looking for offbeat suppliers or sources.”

Sam Walton Quotes on Business

“I’ve always had a strong bias towards action.”

“The key to success is to get out into the store and listen to what the associates have to say.”

“What we guard against around here is people saying, ‘Let’s think about it.’ We make a decision. Then we act on it.”

“Our money was made by controlling expenses.”

“What we were obsessed with was keeping our prices below everybody else’s. Our dedication to that idea was total.”

“We were serious operators who were in it for the long haul. We had a disciplined financial philosophy and we had growth on our minds.”

“Keep everybody guessing as to what your next trick is going to be. Don’t become too predictable.”

Sam Walton Quotes on Operations

“I have always had the soul of an operator, somebody who wants to make things work well, then better, then the best they possibly can.”

“You can make a lot of different mistakes and still recover if you run an efficient operation. Or you can be brilliant and still go out of business if you’re too inefficient.”

“When you own and manage your distribution and logistics channel, you have a great competitive advantage over companies that rely on third-party suppliers. It automatically shortens your lead times, but also you can constantly look for ways to improve your operation and try to make it more efficient. You never have to rely on what’s going on in someone else’s shop.”

“I probably visited more headquarters offices of more discounters than anybody else—ever. I would just show up and as often as not, they’d let me in. I’d ask lots of questions about pricing and distribution, whatever. I learned a lot that way.”

Sam Walton Quotes on Customer Satisfaction

“There is only one boss: the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

“The folks on the front lines – the ones who actually talk to the customer – are the only ones who really know what’s going on out there.”

“If you want the people in the stores to take care of the customers, you have to make sure you're taking care of the people in the stores. That's the most important single ingredient of Wal-Mart's success.”

“If we work together, we'll lower the cost of living for everyone...we'll give the world an opportunity to see what it's like to save and have a better life.”

“Exceed your customers’ expectations. Give them what they want — and a little more. Make good on all your mistakes, and don't make excuses — apologize. Stand behind everything you do.”

Sam Walton Quotes on Competition

“We couldn’t care less about what the forecast is or what the market says we ought to do. If we listened very seriously to that sort of stuff, we never would have gone into small-town discounting in the first place.”

“Another way we tried hard to make up for our lack of experience and sophistication was to spend as much time as we could checking out the competition. It’s something I did from the beginning and it’s something I insisted all our managers do.”

“Control your expenses better than your competition. This is where you can always find the competitive advantage. You can make a lot of different mistakes and still recover if you run an efficient operation. Or you can be brilliant and still go out of business if you're too inefficient.”

“Capital isn't scarce. Vision is.”

Sam Walton Quotes on Failure

“I have never been one to dwell on reverses… it’s not just a corny saying that you can make a positive out of most any negative if you work at it hard enough.”

“I can tell you this: though: after a lifetime of swimming upstream, I am convinced that one of the real secrets to Walmart’s phenomenal success has been that very tendency. “

“I had to pick myself up and get on with it, do it all over again, only even better this time.”

“You can make positives out of most any negative if you work at it hard enough. I’ve always thought of problems as challenges.”

“Swim upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom.”

“When somebody made a bad mistake – whether it was myself or anybody else we talked about it, admitted it, tried to figure out how to correct it, and then moved on to the next day’s work.”

“Celebrate your successes. Find some humor in your failures. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Loosen up, and everybody around you will loosen up. Have fun.“

“I’ve always thought of problems as challenges. I didn’t dwell on my disappointment. The challenge at hand was simple enough to figure out: I had to pick myself up and get on with it, do it all over again, only even better this time.”

Sam Walton Quotes on Managing Employees

“We looked for the action-oriented, do-it-now, go type of folks.”

“We always ran a real tight organization. We had no excess people.”

“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”

“If you want a successful business, your people must feel that you are working for them—not that they are working for you.”

“My style as an executive has been pretty much dictated by my talents. I’ve played to my strengths and relied on others to make up for my weaknesses.”

“My role has been to pick good people, and give them the maximum authority and responsibility.”

Sam Walton Quotes on Employee Incentives

"Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They're absolutely free and worth a fortune."

“Share your profits with all your associates, and treat them as partners. In turn, they will treat you as a partner, and together you will all perform beyond your wildest expectations.”

Sam Walton Quotes on Communication

“Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners. The more they know, the more they'll understand. The more they understand, the more they'll care. Once they care, there's no stopping them.”

“Listen to everyone in your company. And figure out ways to get them talking. To push responsibility down in your organization, and to force good ideas to bubble up within it, you must listen to what your associates are trying to tell you.”

Sam Walton Quotes on Innovation

“We just started repeating what worked.”

“Most everything I’ve done I’ve copied from somebody else.”

“I never could leave well enough alone. I think my constant fiddling and meddling with the status quo may have been one of my biggest contributions to the later success of Wal-Mart.”

“Great ideas come from everywhere if you just listen and look for them. You never know who’s going to have a great idea.”

”It didn’t take me long to start experimenting—that’s just the way I am and always have been.”

“Whatever money we made in one store, we’d put it in another new one, and just keep on going.”

"I probably have traveled and walked into more variety stores than anybody in America. I am just trying to get ideas, any kind of ideas that will help our company. Most of us don't invent ideas. We take the best ideas from someone else."

“Look for the good. If you get one good idea, that’s one more than you went into the store with, and we must try to incorporate it into our company. We’re really not concerned with what they’re doing wrong; we’re concerned with what they’re doing right and everyone is doing something right.”

“Many of our best opportunities were created out of necessity. The things that we were forced to learn and do, because we started out underfinanced and undercapitalized in these remote, small communities, contributed mightily to the way we have grown as a company.”

“Had we been capitalized or had we been the offshoot of a large corporation the way I wanted to be we might not ever have tried all those other little towns we went into in the early days. It turned out that the first big lesson we learned was that there was much more business out there in small-town America than anybody including me had ever dreamed of.”