Sunday Snippet: Sam Walton, Founder of Walmart

“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

Say what you will about how Walmart chooses to conduct its business. There are certainly valid concerns about how the company treats its employees (and its suppliers), as well as the aggressive impact the mega-sized superstores have on mom-and-pop shops around town. Walmart is remarkably successful everywhere it goes, so they’ve got to be doing something right. And founder Sam Walton is right; Walmart is ultimately at the mercy of its customers.

If you really do disagree with the way that Walmart operates, you can let your money do the talking. Stop shopping there. No matter how intelligent or how strategic any of the executives at Walmart might be, if all the customers suddenly stopped shopping there, Walmart would be left with no choice but to change its practices or shut down for good.

That’s how the open market works and that’s how Walmart has grown into the overwhelmingly gigantic beast it is today. In fact, some have said that if Sam Walton were still alive today, he’d be the richest man on the planet. That’s because the Walmart fortunes have since been split up among several members of the Walton family. Put all that wealth together and you’ve got a lot of money.

Voting with where you choose to spend your money is perhaps even more powerful today than it was in the early days of Walmart, because word spreads quickly on the Internet. All it takes is a single viral story to turn into a PR nightmare for a company. Sadly, also given the way that the modern marketplace works today, many large corporations can weather the storm and still come out ahead.

You might remember when I had a particularly horrible experience at a restaurant a few years ago. I wrote a blog post about it and I shared it on social media. Those within my immediate social sphere were influenced, yet that restaurant still remains in operation today. It still gets horrible reviews online, but its primary clientele don’t rely on online reviews for their dining decisions.

I try to remain optimistic. As individual consumers, we can all make an incremental difference in what companies survive and how businesses are run. When things go awry, we must demand for these companies to make it right or we walk away. Not all corporations are bad based on the simple virtue of being large and profitable… but we should hold them all accountable by letting our money do the talking. Without us, they cannot survive.