Walmart and the power of physical availability

Lots of reasons are given for brand growth.

At the moment social media all the rage. So, many brand consultants take a successful brand and their social media acivity and link the two together, especially if they happen to be selling social media. I myself am guilty of this "lazy linking" sometimes.

In reality, the drivers of growth are often much more less sexy. And one that we've been posting a lot about is "route to consumer": getting your product to more people in more places to make more profit. Byron Sharp calls this "physical availability" in his book "How Brands Grow".

Nowhere is the power of physical availability more obvious than in the retail world. Remember the old saying about the three key things in retailing being "location, location, location"? Well, its an oldie but a goodie, and still true today. A brilliant bit of online animation by Flowing Data via The Huffington Post shows this in action for Walmart. Some clever dude has modelled the growth of US retail giant WalMart from one store in 1963 to in 4,193 in 2010. A few snapshots of this animation are shown below:

Screen shot 2011-07-11 at 10.32.12
  Screen shot 2011-07-11 at 10.39.27
A few thoughts on this amazing animation:

1. Patience and persistence pays off

When you look at WalMart's growth carefully you notice how this is not linear at all. In the graph below you can see how growth was steady at a low rate for a full 13 years and only then took off.

During this time you can imagine Sam Walton experimenting with his retail model trying to perfect it, before rolling it out at speed.

Screen shot 2011-07-11 at 10.38.20

2. Grow from strength

I find it fascinating to watch in the animation how WalMart grew its store footprint in "inkspot" fashion. It started in the home-town of Bentonville and gradually expanded out from here. This applies to retail. But it also applies to product brands. Grow a strong core, then expand gradually out from there.

3. Remember your roots

I like the way that WalMart are still based in their hometown in Arkansas where the first store opened. I imagine this is a good way of keeping "real" and remembering what made the brand famous.

Screen shot 2011-07-11 at 10.47.52

In conclusion, the Walmart model shows the power of physical availability being built from the core out over time, and also the importance of patience and persistence in the early years of any new venture.