A Good Failure and Sam Walton’s Perseverance

Today it seems that everyone and his grandmother has a theory (and a blog) about how to become a successful entrepreneur. So how can you filter through all of this info? Why not trade in the theories for a dose of reality by examining the example of one entrepreneur who defied conventional wisdom?

Take one of the most successful entrepreneurs America has ever known: Sam Walton, founder of Walmart. He went from managing his first small variety store at age 26 to seeing his corporation become the largest in the United States. Forever changing the retail industry, the merchant extraordinaire saw and did things differently. In the wake of his success, he left a handful of important lessons for entrepreneurs everywhere.

Sam Walton’s Mistake

Walton’s rise to success was not devoid of obstacles. In fact, the merchant had his share of outright failures. Perhaps his lowest moment came in 1950. Let’s see what happened then.

Walton had purchased a Ben Franklin franchise store in Newport, Arkansas in 1946. By applying his own unique management techniques, Walton nearly tripled the store’s sales within a few short years. Walton’s magic drew attention. Amongst those who took notice was his landlord. When the store’s lease was up, the landlord refused to renew it!

Sam Walton wrote of the experience in his autobiography, Made in America:

… We hadn’t made any mistakes we couldn’t correct quickly, none so big that they threatened the business. Except, it turned out, for one little legal error we made right at the beginning. In all my excitement at becoming Sam Walton, merchant, I had neglected to include a clause in my lease which gave me an option to renew after the first five years.

He did offer to buy the franchise, fixtures, and inventory at a fair price; he wanted to give the store to his son.

Walton was forced to do the unthinkable: sell his precious store.

Sweet Failure

There is no way around it: Walton’s Newport failure was abysmal. While conventional wisdom says failure is a bad thing, Sam Walton saw things differently. Walton recognized failure was unavoidable. In the business start-up game, obstacles–even outright failures–are a necessary evil, and Walton knew he could not be deterred by them. In his autobiography, he explained how the Newport debacle provided him the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge: “The whole thing was probably a blessing. I had a chance for a brand-new start, and this time I knew what I was doing.”

Learning from Walton

Walton’s story gives struggling entrepreneurs several morsels of thought to chew on:

  • For entrepreneurs, failure is a given.
  • Entrepreneurs must never allow setbacks to deter them.
  • Obstacles are opportunities.

As you face the blizzard of information available to entrepreneurs, keep Walton’s far-from-conventional view of failure in mind. And try to remember, conventional wisdom is anything but the entrepreneur’s friend.