News Heritage Two Tales of Sam Walton and the Hula

Two Tales of Sam Walton and the Hula

A black and white image of Sam Walton dressed in Hawaiian garb performs the hula on Wall Street

When most people think “Hula,” their thoughts go to one of two places: a luau on a tropical island or a hip-swiveling, popular toy in the fifties.  Apparently, the hula was popular with Sam Walton on both fronts.

Tale One: The Hula Hoop Craze

His first association with the hula came when Sam saw the Hula Hoop craze taking hold back in the five-and-dime days. Customer-focused merchant that he was, he wanted to make sure he had hula hoops available for his customers when they came looking for them. Unfortunately, the Hula Hoops were mostly earmarked for the big-city stores, and were hard to get – and pricey.  

Enter Jim Dodson

Okay, so even if Jim Dodson didn’t want to sell Sam his store in Siloam Springs, (causing Sam to open his first Walton’s 5 &10 in Bentonville), he still had some great ideas. And Sam took to the one Jim shared with Sam one day: go in together, 50-50, and make their own Hula Hoops. Dodson knew where to get the plastic tubing and even had some attic space where they could make them.  And so make them they did, and Sam kept many a customer happy with his homemade Hula Hoops.

Jim later went on to manage the Walmart store up in Columbia, Missouri, for about 15 years.

Tale Two: The Hula on Wall Street

It was 30 years ago this month that Sam Walton made good on a promise to “do the hula on Wall Street.”  Despite the company’s growth, strength, and the traditional Walmart optimism, Sam saw reaching an 8% pretax profit as unattainable. Then-CFO David Glass saw it differently, and bet Sam that the company would indeed beat the 8% and Sam would indeed do the hula on Wall Street.

“It’s part of our culture”

While Sam thought he’d get away with slipping into New York to quietly do a hula in the shadow of the stock exchange, Glass hired “a truckload of real hula dancers and ukulele players.” Even more to Sam’s surprise was that his CFO had alerted the newspapers and TV networks. 

While Sam may have found it a touch embarrassing, it showed his commitment to the 6th rule of his 10 Rules for Building a Successful Business:  Celebrate your successes.  And as Sam pointed out, “Don’t take yourself so seriously. Loosen up and everybody around you will loosen up.” And so they did.

Note: The hula skirt that Sam wore on March 15, 1984, is housed in our heritage archives, about to undergo the conservation process. Once that process is complete, it’ll take its place in The Walmart Museum.  More on this in an upcoming post.