Editor’s note: Inman News publisher and longtime innovator Brad Inman has launched a blog at BradInman.com that will carry "stories, ideas and lessons on starting businesses." His first post, republished here, retells the successes of another family innovator, his grandfather Allen Inman. The post highlights the importance of good ideas — and the higher importance of incorporating them, building upon them and acting upon them. Click here to read the original post.
This story is difficult to confirm because my Uncle Dale is dead. He died of a heart attack in 1961. Fact or fiction, the story goes like this.
Dale operated clothing stores in Arkadelphia, Ark. "He was the best merchant of the bunch," my father often said. Everyone on my father’s side of the family was a small-town retailer; his two brothers, his sister and his father.
The family lore is that my Uncle Dale knew Sam Walton. Here is the connection. Walton purchased a Ben Franklin variety store in Newport, Ark. The store was a franchise of the Butler Brothers chain, where my Uncle Dale worked before he opened his own stores. In the 1950s and early 1960s, they were both budding businessmen in that part of Arkansas.
Twenty years earlier in the 1930s, my grandfather Allen Inman started a big-box discount business, dubbed "House of a Thousand Bargains." He operated two stores, one located in Hardin, Ill., and another in nearby Batchtown, along the Mississippi River in southern Illinois.
Was it a blueprint for Wal-Mart, long before Sam Walton introduced jumbo discounting to the world? Located in a small town but with regional reach and advertising, my grandfather’s store was packed with cheap goods and marketed that way. He purchased many of his products directly from the source, such as sugar from the refineries. He also sold staples such as flour at cost, and placed them to the rear of the store, forcing people to walk by other products to get to the essentials.
Around the dinner table, I enjoy telling this story, suggesting that my Uncle Dale gave Sam Walton the idea for Wal-Mart.
What about the power of ideas? Truly original ideas are like winning the lottery, a rarity. Typically, business success is knitting together several ideas, some may be yours, but most are not. Take Google’s success. Google founder Larry Page invented "page rank." However, "page rank" combined with another idea, "ad words," conceived by Bill Gross at Idealab, is what made Google a monster company.
In the end, execution trumps good ideas. That is why venture capitalists often say that they invest in people not ideas. "Cool idea, but can this team execute?" I cringe when people say I have good ideas — that is the easy part. My grandfather knitted a few ideas together and found a way to be successful during the depression. Sam Walton did it even better, and he became a multibillionaire.
The hardest part is execution: finding the right team, figuring out a business model, building distribution, developing a sales program and engineering a scaleable business.
That is what this blog is about, my stories — mistakes and victories — about starting and building businesses.
Other sources and facts:
1. The "Aha!" Moment
2. Brain Activity Differs for Creative and Noncreative Thinkers
3. History of Wal-Mart
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