On the other hand, Kuhn's Big K stores had become a good-sized player in the South. Based inNashville, Tennessee, Kuhn's had started as a single variety store back sometime before 1920. JackKuhn and his brother Gus had converted the company into a discounter, made an acquisition or two, andgrown it into a chain of 112 stores, concentrated in Tennessee, but also doing business in Kentucky,Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolinaall states where we thought we could do well. We were a goodbit bigger than they were, but the two of us had been watching each other pretty closely. It was sort oflike the old variety store days when one chain, like TG&Y, wouldn't go into the territory of another chain,like Hested's. We knew that one way or another we had to head on into the South, and I guess westirred them up by crossing the Mississippi and opening a store in Jackson, Tennessee. They retaliated byopening stores in West Helena and Blytheville, Arkansas. The truth is, we were closing in on Kuhn's andreally doing a better job than they were. In fact, they were beginning to falter. They had taken on somedebt and built a fancy headquarters building. And they were showing some losses.
The closest thing we had to an operations manager was Don Whitaker, the guy I hired from TG&Y outin Abilene to be our first Wal-Mart manager. After that, he became our first regional manager. Don hadbarely finished high school, if that, and he had terrible grammar. He threw people off sometimes becausehe only had one eye, and he looked at you sort of funny. But he was one of the finest people I have everknown in my life. Everybody called him Whitaker, and he was a hard-working, practical, smart fellow.
Our first big clue came in Saint Robert, Missourinear Fort Leonard Woodwhere we learned that bybuilding larger stores, which we called family centers we could do unheard-of amounts of business forvariety stores, over million a year in sales per store, just unthinkable for small towns. The same thingproved true to a lesser degree in Berryville, Arkansas, and right here in Bentonville too.
More than anyone else, Doubleday vice president Bill Barrythe fast-talking, letter-writing New Yorkbook "merchant"deserves credit for somehow first convincing Sam to write a book at all. His ongoingefforts have transcended all normal roles of a publisher. Not the least of his contributions was selectingeditor Deb Futter, who rushed in where any sane person would have feared to tread. She turned in aremarkable performance despite unbelievable deadline pressure, as have so many people in otheressential roles at Doubleday.
For all my confidence, I hadn't had a day's experience in running a variety store, so Butler Brothers sentme for two weeks' training to the Ben Franklin inArkadelphia,Arkansas. After that, I was on my own,and we opened for business onSeptember 1, 1945. Our store was a typical old variety store, 50 feetwide and 100 feet deep, facingFront Street, in the heart of town, looking out on the railroad tracks. Backthen, those stores had cash registers and clerk aisles behind each counter throughout the store, and theclerks would wait on the customers. Self-service hadn't been thought of yet.