Walmart is alive and well in Nashville.
As both residents and visitors know, Nashville is the Country Music Capital of America. To that end, it emits a sound, a rhythm, a beat all its own. Walk down Broadway, the city's major thoroughfare. Stop in at one of the scores of eateries, saloons and cafes that crowd out all other attractions. Three inducements are immediately available: food, liquid refreshments and live country music. No matter the time of day, Nashville pulsates with country music. Embrace it--or leave. No other options exist.
Well, that's not entirely true. There is one other option: Walmart.
Walmart dominates Nashville's retailing landscape as surely as country music dominates the city's cultural scene. More to the point, it is the Walmart of another generation, the Walmart consumers flocked to throughout the South a generation ago simply because it promised more, offered more, delivered more than other retailers. The 25 Walmart discount stores and Supercenters that blanket the Nashville metropolitan area pulsate with activity, team with traffic, bustle with the buzz that surrounds unbeatable prices and follows the rhythm of promotional activity encouraged by entrepreneurial store managers and eagerly executed by dynamic associates.
The Walmart Cheer, a sometime thing in most Walmart markets, is alive and well in Nashville, kept that way because longtime associates remain enthused by the Walmart spirit of another day and the memories of Sam Walton leading that cheer at another time, another life, another era.
The question in all this is why Nashville has remained a vibrant Walmart community when so many others, once of equal stature, have been allowed to languish. There is not one answer, but many.
First, there is Nashville itself. Unlike many other Southern communities, the Nashville of the early years of the 21st century remains much the same as it was a decade, or a generation, ago. Sustained by its allegiance to country music, it has continued to thrive amidst the recession. The restaurants, bars, tourist attractions, local amusements and area diversions bring in customers year-round.
The tourist trade has empowered the locals to earn a living, in many cases a good living. In other words, Nashville is largely a middle-class community, but not to such a degree that the community has found new ways to shop and new retailers to support. Nashville residents today are what they have long been: Walmart shoppers.
Indeed, Walmart long ago learned that Nashville could be a special market for the company. When the retailer initially rolled out its Supercenter concept, it determined that it would erect these food and general merchandise emporiums in those states that offered the least resistance. Tennessee quickly emerged in the top tier of those states.
As a result, Walmart has been building, expanding, remodeling and altering its store base in Nashville for over 25 years. As the chain has aged, its Nashville stores have remained vibrant and new, its retailing concepts have stayed current and innovative, and its customer base has remained loyal and committed.
Consequently, a retail observer interested in learning what Walmart was like when it dominated and eclipsed all others of the species need only go to Nashville to find out.
One other factor accounts for Walmart's success in Nashville: the Walmart associate. No studies have been undertaken to determine the longevity of the Walmart associate in Nashville, or how his or her tenure in the Country Music Capital compares to the tenure of Walmart associates in other markets. But many, very many, Walmart associates in Nashville measure their careers at the company not in years, but in decades. Sometimes, in many decades.
Tenure aside, these associates are true believers. They faithfully recite the Walmart Cheer each morning because they believe in the ritual and what it stands for. They build creative displays because they enjoy the experience--and because they constantly challenge themselves and their stores to improve, to do better.
Store managers encourage this performance and reward it--by recognizing its value. In doing so, they recognize the value of the people who perform, the people who keep the customers coming, the people who keep the tradition alive.
One more point: The associates who staff Walmart's Nashville stores are by no means ordinary. Indeed, it is as though Walmart attracts and embraces the unordinary, or the super-ordinary. There's the associate who came to Nashville from Azerbaijan more than a decade ago--an immigrant with no English and no apparent skills that Walmart could use--as a participant in a government-run program to bring to America people the government viewed as being "in jeopardy in their native land." Asked to hire her, Walmart immediately agreed. Today, that associate is an integral part of a Walmart store team.
There's the associate who, at age 5, contracted a rare form of meningitis that left him with no arms or legs. When, as a teenager, he applied for a job in retail, no company even responded. Except Walmart, where he was hired as a greeter. Today, he is a valuable associate, a jack-of-all trades at store level. He even works a cash register.
Other stories abound. There's one about the associate who asked for a transfer from a store in a Texas community to Nashville so she could pursue a career as a country music singer. She can still be found at a Walmart store in Nashville--except on weekends, when she entertains regularly at Cowboy Kewl, a music venue in Printers Alley in downtown Nashville.
There's the store manager who refused a promotion for 20 years because he didn't want to relocate while his children were in school. He finally agreed to be promoted earlier this year--because he was permitted to remain in his district, while leading the neighboring market.
There's the woman who wanted a career in law enforcement--until Walmart offered her a more-compelling option.
Then there's the ... It goes on and on. Suffice to say that in this day of impersonal management and indifferent treatment--at Walmart and most other mass retailers--Walmart in Nashville has discovered, or rediscovered, a better way. The pages that follow will detail how and why that way continues to produce dividends for both the retailer and its associates.
RELATED ARTICLE: NASHVILLE AT A GLANCE
2012 POPULATION (est.): * 624,496
MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME (2007-2011): * $46,141
2007 RETAIL SALES: * $10.27 billion
RETAIL EMPLOYMENT: * 40,920
NO. OF RETAIL OUTLETS: * 2,675
MARKET SHARE LEADERS: **
FOOD: ** Kroger
DRUG: ** Walgreens
DISCOUNT: ** Walmart
* Source: U.S. Census Bureau
** Source: Racher Press research