I grew up with a K-Mart down the road. It was my family's source for school supplies and other general items. Then, one day in the mid 80s, it became a Target. We rejoiced: Target had higher-quality things for sale for roughly the same prices. Then, after I left my hometown for college, that same location became a Walmart.
A few years later, my father, on a whim of mid-life career shifting (and probably a stroke of genius), moved from Southern California to Bentonville, Arkansas where he put together a healthy real-estate business selling homes to (mostly) Wal-Mart executives.
I've visited him on numerous occasions, but the first time, sometime around 1997, left a hefty impression on me. That's because we visited Walton’s, the very first Walmart. The Walton’s Museum is a small, even humble experience that tells the story of the world’s largest retailer simply and straightforward. Of course, there are boasts about job creation and the local economy, but I was left with new-found respect for the franchise.
Regardless of your feelings for Walmart and its contributions to Americana, there are two empirical truths about the company:
- First, it is the world’s largest retailer with over 11,000 stores worldwide.
- Second, it has aggressively opened new stores to a degree never seen before in retail - so aggressively that it's been the subject of both criticism and awe.
So what did Walmart's store-opening cadence look like since that very first Walmart in Bentonville?
It looked something like this:
Keep in mind that this graph illustrates openings per year (as opposed to total openings), in an effort to show how aggressive the company was with retail locations year over year. You see spikes in 1993 and 2015, both followed by steep drop-offs in following years. Spikes and drops don't necessarily mean corporate up-ticks or slow-downs, mind you - they just show the years in which those stores opened.
And Then There Was Target
Hot on Walmart's heels has always been Target (in red), the more fashionable (to some, at least) big-retailer who has spent just about as much time as Walmart attempting to get into America's wallets.
Walmart's expansion slowed down significantly after 1993 (although they were still opening more than 75 stores per year). Target even outpaced Walmart for the first time in 1997, and almost kept up into the 2010s (when they both cut way back).
Since 2012, as you can see, Target has been relatively quiet on the expansion front while Walmart spiked again with a massive expansion year in 2014.