Friday, July 11, 2008

A New Logo for Wal-Mart!

I don’t make a habit of reacting to current retail news on this site, but over the last week or so, it’s been hard to escape the coverage of Wal-Mart’s (er, excuse me, Walmart’s) new logo. The storefront in this 1977 photo shows the “frontier” style logo the company used until the early 1980’s. By the time most Americans became familiar with Walmart, it had been phased out for some years.

Opinions as to the relative merits and effects of Walmart are strong on all sides, and that’s a discussion I’d very much prefer to leave up to other websites. I thought it would be fun, however, to take a brief detour over the next couple of posts and have a look at the company’s early history, when they had just a few stores in a handful of states. Long before Walmart became the world’s largest company, the world’s largest retailer, or even a nationwide retailer. Before their “little town blues” melted away…before they were A-number one…King of the hill…Top of the list…A-number one…ok, I’ve gotta stop listening to Sinatra when writing these posts…


  1. Great idea, Dave! I would love to know where you get these rare photos. By the way, your insight as to the history of these store is amazing as is your interest in sharing this with other enthusiasts like me is also much appreciated. Keep up the great work.

    Oh, and Wal*Mart (or Walmart) sucks, but I love the new logo, even if it does look like a golden sphincter.

  2. Wal-Mart arrived in North Georgia and many of the nearby states in 1980 with the purchase of Kuhn's Big K. The frontier font had been replaced, but was still quite common on the trailers delivering to the store throughout the 1980s, at least in the Southeast. Like Wal-Mart, Big K had ringed the larger cities of the region, thus nearby Atlanta and Chattanooga wouldn't gain their first close-in Wal-Marts until late 1989 and early 1990. This was on the heels of Hills(no pun intended) and Zayre leaving their Southern markets and Richway being sold to Target. Thus Wal-Mart was afforded a vast opportunity to fill a market gap which it did quickly. Kmart really failed to go after the customers left by the exit of its rivals and seemed to be relieved that they were gone rather than seek the opportunity for growth.
    Wal-Mart's aggressive growth and pricing instantly was a success and this formula that would follow as Wal-Mart began its expansion beyond its rural roots in the 90s.

  3. That logo...

    I love but hate it at the same time.

  4. Here in WI, the first Wal-Mart stores were put up in the smaller cities. At the time they entered here (mid/late 1980s), they were well past using this old 'Western' styled font, going with the 'block letters' (with a hyphen, no star yet) logo...albeit, the letters were spaced out further apart. Also they were typically called "Wal-Mart Discount City". The first of the 'old' stores I saw was at Beaver Dam WI's Beaver Dam Mall, the location of a former WoolCo (1980-1983) / Copps (1983-1984) store.

    That particular location built onto the existing WoolCo/Copps building before opeing in 1987 as one of my state's first Wal-Marts. Oddly enough, due to their 'low prices' they wound up killing the mall's interior stores.

    I'm not sure what stores / chains they took over, but I think other than a few scattered former Copps (Beaver Dam location included) locations, most of their stores here in WI were newly built from 1988 onwards.

    Ultimately over the years, they took away several K-mart stores here, and the entire Prange Way chain. (which I still miss to this day).

    They did something the aformentioned P-Way never had the infastructure in place to do though.....they streamlined the distribution model. Really though, that's another topic for another day.

    Their new logotype has a bit of a 'retro' thing going. I've yet to see it at my local store.....maybe within a few months.

    I look forwards to your look back into the past, before they became the behemoth that they have been the past 15 years.

  5. I kind of like the new Wal-Mart logo. Less severe, more 'upbeat', if you will...

    That frontier-style logo was the pits. Yuk!

  6. The Font looks similar to the Albertsons font from the sixties.

  7. I love the photo, but the logo stinks. Western fonts were favored by a lot of companies, but I never understood why there were so popular.

  8. Jack - Thanks, but they would probably call it a golden sunburst! These are old W-M publicity shots.

    Ken - Those frontier font trailers were around for quite a while. Thanks ror the background on Big K. Wal-Mart was never real big on acquisitions, but this one really helped their growth by pushing them into adjoining states. Kmart definitely missed an opportunity when those other chains folded, that's for sure. Funny you should mention Hills. When my wife and I first got married, we rented a townhouse in the Nashville area, and the sign for the Hills store next door stood literally in front of our living room window.

    Charles - Focus on the love, man!

    Matt - The block letters were the way most of the country first remembered Wal-Mart, when they had expanded beyond their original Mid-South/Lower Midwest markets. The term "Discount City" was used on all stores until the Supercenters came out. Thanks again for the background on the Wisconsin area stores.

    Thriftgoddess - I like the new logo myself. It's modern without being too jarring in its newness. I think that Walmart is definitely going for a low-key approach, both in the logo itself and in the way it's being introduced.

    I dig the old Western logo, because I'm into that sort of corn - some would say it's the basis of this entire website! :). Definitely a matter of taste, though, and I could never have seen them going national with the Frontier logo.

    Anonymous - You're absolutely right. Another Pacific Northwest-based grocery chain, Tradewell, used it as well.

    Steven - My theory about that is because the country was obsessed with all things Western at the time - a look at the TV prime time schedules, say from 1957 to '67 will show a heavy percentage of Western dramas during those years. It projected swagger and optimism.

  9. Big K was based in Gallatin, TN and had a strong Mid-South presence. Their strategy had been similar to Wal-Marts as they ringed the regions larger cities and focused on small towns, a strategy employed by two North Carolina discounters as well-Rose's and Sky City, both of which were/are casualties of the Wal-Mart juggernaut-Rose's still survives in a more variet/dollar store sense. Big K was in great need of modernizing their store base and merchandising, which Wal-Mart did. Their stores were as colorful as the early Wal-Marts.

    Hills was another great could have been Wal-Mart beater. The sole Georgia location in the Chattanooga suburb of Fort Oglethorpe was the locations I was most familiar with. They were late accepting credit cards and check approval was slow and tedious. All three Chattanooga locations were busy right up until they closed shop on their Southernmost operations in 1989. Hills did have one "innovation", you could make lay-away payments at the checkouts which both Kmart and Wal-Mart were late to adapt.

  10. Ken - I didn't know that Big K was based in Gallatin, everything I've ever seen in print showed Nashville as the headquarters. We actually lived in Gallatin for several years, but that was long after Wal-Mart's buyout of Big K. I traveled Tennessee extensively from the late 80's until a few years ago, and remember one BIg K sign that still existed long after the store was gone. I think it was in Tullahoma or Manchester.

    Hills had six stores in the Metro Nashville area, and we lived next to the Hermitage store for a couple of years. By that time (1990), it had seen better days.

    I remember seeing one of the Sky City stores as a landmark along the way on my trips to Knoxville. This particular store was visible from I-40 eastbound, way down below in a valley, in the Roane County area, I believe.

  11. I actually kind of dig this night shot. Makes the store actually look nice on the outside. In my opinion, Walmart should have kept the Western font. It actually looks less boring than anything current.