By now the public is growing dimly aware of the fact that Wal-Mart has branched out into sundry retail ventures from gas stations and used care sales, to travel agent services. But the company also has strong family ties to banking and newspapers. Jim C. Walton, son of Sam, listed by Forbes as the 7th. richest person in the world with a worth of $21 billion (tied with siblings John, Rob and Alice), also happens to be the Chairman and CEO of the Arvest Bank Group, a banking conglomerate with a web of 18 banks (45 locations) in Arkansas, Oklahome and S.W. Missouri. Arvest is the largest banking group headquartered in Arkansas, with $4.7 billion in assets, and 2,700 employees. Arvest also owns the Arvest Insurance Company, which sells life insurance and annuities, and Arvest Asset Management, a subsidiary of the bank group. Arvest’s roots go back to 1961, when Sam Walton, who would found Wal-Mart in the following year, bought a majority interest in the Bank of Bentonville. He bought a second back in 1963, and then a bank in Rogers in 1975. The network kept expanding outside of Benton County, Arvest bank, which is a federally chartered thrift, was formed in 1995. Ironically, the Arvest Bank Group, with a Walton at the helm, says it is small business friendly. “Your friends at Arvest recognize that all business are not created equal,” the bank admits, which is a perfect description of how Wal-Mart succeeds over its smaller ‘competitors’. “WE know that in order for our communities to grow and prosper, there must be an active, vibrant small business spirit.” According to the Christian County New Journal, son Jim also is a major stockholder in a newspaper empire called Community Publishers, Inc., which owns newspapers in Ozark, Nixa, Marshfield, Bolivar, and Stockton. There is irony in this empire also, since Wal-Mart spends little or nothing on column inches in newspaper ads. In a May 27, 2002 article in Editor & Publisher magazine, a newspaper trade journal, the head of the Wyoming Press Associaton is quoted as saying: “They (Wal-Mart) don’t advertise a lick.” In fact, for newspapers, Wal-Mart supercenters have been a revenue drain. “In just about every case,” says Scott Champion, executive vice president of Liberty Group Publishing, “they put one or two grocery stores out of business.” Those smaller merchants took out ads in local newspapers. Not any more.
Sam Walton must have figured that his soon-to-be empire of stores would need an easy source of capital, so he bought a bank. The family must have figured they could always use good publicity in the newpapers, so they bought some newspapers. Some day we may all be reading from the same Wal-Mart newspaper, driving in our Wal-Mart car over to the Wal-Mart bank to get a Wal-Mart home mortgage. One nation, one store — with underwear and life insurance for all.