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Purpose-Driven Expansion Powered By Global Outsourcing: Walmart's Rise and Kmart's Demise

Updated: Jan 11

“If you deprive yourself of outsourcing and your competitors do not, you’re putting yourself out of business.” ~ Lee Kuan Yew In the 60's, at the core of American retail, two giants dominated the American industry: Kmart and Walmart. Their stories, intertwined yet distinct, painted a vivid picture of competition, innovation, and the ever-changing world of commerce.

Kmart, founded in 1899 as S.S. Kresge Corporation, was the clear winner of early retail success. It thrived in the mid-20th century, pioneering the concept of discount department stores and quickly spreading its blue light specials across the nation.


Kmart's strategy was simple: offer a wide variety of products at low prices in a convenient, one-stop shopping environment. The stores were a hit, and by the 1960s, Kmart had become a household name, synonymous with value and accessibility.

Wall Mart Grand Opening Banner

Meanwhile, Walmart, a much younger competitor, began its journey in 1962 in Rogers, Arkansas. Founded by Sam Walton, Walmart's philosophy centered around offering the lowest prices possible to attract a large customer base.


This was achieved through a relentless focus on cost-cutting and efficiency, including a pioneering supply chain management and a unique distribution system. Walmart’s strategy paid off, and the company grew at an astonishing rate, opening stores nationwide and eventually overtaking Kmart in both size and popularity.

The early growth trajectories of Kmart and Walmart reveal much about their foundational strategies and philosophies. These trajectories, characterized by their unique approaches and driven by differing principles, set the stage for their future successes and challenges. Kmart began its journey in the retail world with a strong focus on logic, data, and profit goals. Its early growth was marked by strategic expansion and a keen eye for market opportunities.


Kmart Mall

Kmart's approach was methodical and calculated. They opened stores in locations where data indicated a high potential for profit and customer footfall.


By the 1960s, Kmart had effectively capitalized on the post-war economic boom, rapidly expanding its presence across the United States. This expansion was driven by a clear understanding of market trends and consumer behavior, allowing Kmart to become a dominant player in the retail sector. Walmart's early growth, conversely, was fueled by emotion, a strong sense of purpose, and a deep connection to the community.

Sam Walton - The Founder Of Walmart

Founded by Sam Walton in 1962, Walmart started as a single discount store in Rogers, Arkansas. Walton's vision was not just to make a profit but to make a difference in the lives of his customers by offering lower prices and better service.


This vision was underpinned by a powerful emotional connection with both customers and employees. Walmart's expansion strategy was community-centric, often targeting small towns and rural areas where Walton felt he could serve a community need. The company's growth was organic and driven by Walton's personal values, focusing on creating a sense of belonging and loyalty among customers and staff. The difference in their early growth strategies is telling. Kmart's expansion was a textbook example of a data-driven approach, focusing on maximizing profits and expanding market share through calculated store placements and operations.


Walmart, on the other hand, pursued a path of emotional connection, aligning its growth with the values and needs of its customers and communities. This approach not only allowed Walmart to expand rapidly but also to build a strong brand identity rooted in trust and customer loyalty. These distinct paths set the tone for their future development. Kmart's reliance on data and profit goals eventually led to challenges in adapting to the changing retail landscape, as their focus remained more on numbers than on evolving consumer needs.


Walmart's emotionally driven, purposeful approach, however, enabled it to remain closely connected with its customer base, adapt to their needs, and continuously innovate, eventually leading it to overtake Kmart in both size and market influence.


Global Outsourcing: The Secret Walmart Superpower


Incorporating the element of Walmart's outsourcing strategies adds another crucial layer to the comparison of the early growth trajectories of Walmart and Kmart, further elucidating how their distinct approaches shaped their respective destinies. From its inception, Walmart was driven by the principle of offering the lowest possible prices to its customers. This principle, coupled with a deep emotional connection to the community and a strong sense of purpose, guided its operational strategies, including outsourcing.


As Walmart expanded throughout the 1970s and 1980s, it began to look beyond American borders for suppliers who could provide goods at lower costs. This strategic move was not merely a cost-cutting measure; it was intricately tied to Walmart's mission of passing savings onto its customers. Outsourcing allowed Walmart to maintain and even lower its prices, a key factor in its appeal to a broad consumer base. By sourcing goods from countries with lower labor and production costs, Walmart was able to offer a wide variety of products at prices that were often unbeatable by competitors, including Kmart. This strategy was revolutionary at the time and played a significant role in Walmart's rapid growth and market dominance. Kmart, on the other hand, was slower to adopt an aggressive outsourcing strategy. While Kmart did engage in some outsourcing, its approach was more cautious and less integrated into its overall business strategy compared to Walmart. Kmart's focus remained on traditional retail practices, driven by data and profit goals, without fully embracing the global supply chain efficiencies that Walmart capitalized on.


Kmart Store Closing

This difference in approach to outsourcing was a critical factor in the diverging paths of the two companies. Walmart's outsourcing strategy was not only about cost savings; it was a manifestation of its emotionally driven mission to serve its customers by offering the lowest possible prices. This approach helped Walmart to not only keep costs down but also to continually expand its product offerings, further solidifying its market position. Kmart's more tentative approach to outsourcing, combined with its focus on data and profits, meant it was less able to adapt to the competitive pricing pressures of the market. As Walmart's prices drew more customers, Kmart struggled to keep up, eventually leading to a decline in market share and financial troubles.

Walmart's early adoption and integration of an aggressive outsourcing strategy were key components of its growth trajectory, deeply aligned with its mission to provide value to customers. This strategy was a stark contrast to Kmart's more traditional and cautious approach, highlighting the importance of adaptive and forward-thinking business practices in the rapidly evolving retail landscape. Walmart, with its deeply ingrained purpose of serving customers and its pioneering embrace of global outsourcing, wrote a success story that reshaped not just its own destiny, but the entire landscape of retail.


Kmart, despite its early triumphs, illustrates the perils of a rigid adherence to traditional methods in a rapidly evolving market. The words of Lee Kuan Yew, "If you deprive yourself of outsourcing and your competitors do not, you’re putting yourself out of business," resonate powerfully in this context.


The Founder Of Walmart & The Walmart Store

Walmart's success story, fueled by its purpose-driven approach and bold outsourcing strategies, stands as a compelling reminder that in business, the willingness to adapt and embrace global efficiencies is not just a strategy, but a necessary lifeline for survival and growth.


This tale of two retail giants highlights a timeless lesson: in the relentless pursuit of success, those who adapt and innovate, keeping pace with the changing tides of business and technology, will chart the course of the future.


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