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WHEN WALMART holds its annual events for shareholders, associates from all over the world fly into XNA, eager to see what Walmart’s hometown and the rest of Northwest Arkansas is like. Some of these folks say they are excited to visit historical American downtowns, and—who knows?—some might even be curious to see what horses and cows look like. It’s a big world.

While Bernie Sanders captured headlines for a three-minute presentation to Walmart officials last Wednesday, it’s usually Friday when the stars arrive. Who is Walmart going to bring in to host the business update and celebration for associates and shareholders? people ask.

In the past Walmart had big names like Blake Shelton and Hugh Jackman. This year the company introduced Jennifer Garner, or as Marvel fans might know her, Elektra. Rom-com fans will recognize her from 13 Going On 30.

As we sat surrounded by thousands of Walmart employees and shareholders, we had to admit this was really more of a party than a business meeting. A live band was playing. There were callouts and plenty of musical acts.

Garner was such a delight on stage, so warm and cheerful. It was hard not to smile whenever she told everyone about growing up in Charleston, W.Va. (She probably knows from horses and cows.) She recalled when Walmart came to her town, but, she admitted, Sam’s Club was there first.

And on that note, let’s take a second to discuss the Sam’s Club employees. They were the rowdiest and most energetic people in the room.

If anyone even mentioned the words “Sam’s Club,” an entire section of Bud Walton Arena would start yelling—and continue for 20 seconds. They did this several times. Garner at one point even said, “I have a trick to show you. Watch this. SAM’S CLUB!” And they went nuts on cue. It was almost a competition between Sam’s Club employees and Walmart U.S. employees to see who could be the loudest.

At one point, Garner told Walmart associates, “We have something in common.” The common denominator is that neither Walmart nor the movie star can do anything without news media reporting about them. She then showed several news articles ranging from an alligator being found in a Walmart store to Garner getting lost and needing rescue while on a kayak trip in Sweden. Turns out, Walmart is mentioned 60,000 times a day on social media.

Walmart brought in a number of musical acts to perform a few songs each. Our favorite was Lady Antebellum. The band played hits like “Baby You Look Good,” “Out of Goodbyes” and perhaps its most popular song, “Need You Now.” Other bands included Neon Trees, Bebe Rexha, Maren Morris and One Republic. Again, it’s a party.

Our favorite act, though, was one put on by Walmart employees: They had tap dancers, guitar players, violinists, singers, ballroom dancers and more as associates performed a medley of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”

The company brought associates from all over the world. A little business was conducted, about new tech and apps. At one point Modern Family star Sofia Vergara took the stage to introduce a line of jeans and other clothing she has with Walmart.

Our takeaway from all the executive speakers? Walmart is a big company. It has thousands of stores worldwide and $32 billion in sales growth over the last three years, according to Brett Biggs, its chief financial officer.

And with all that power comes the ability to really make a difference in the battle with climate change. CEO Doug McMillon said the company uses 28 percent renewable energy. And it’s working to cut emissions with Project Gigaton.

“Climate change is a big problem, and we’re taking a big swing at it,” he said.

Our favorite part of the CEO’s address to the audience came from a story he told about being in line for new tires one busy day at Sam’s Club. While waiting, another customer recognized him and said, “How’s it feel to wait in line?” If that’s not the funniest thing, we don’t know what is. Then the customer said, “Surely you can do something about this.”

And that’s when Mr. McMillon discussed a new app Sam’s Club that’s been developing to speed up tire shopping. It’s called Sam’s Garage. Call it driving forward.

Another innovation the CEO seemed excited about: in-home fridge delivery for groceries. Apparently the company is launching it this fall in three cities. An associate will come into your home and fill your fridge. Time-saver for some? Sure. But even with the ability to be notified when they arrive and watch a live video stream of the associate loading your fridge, we’re not sure that we’re ready for that one yet. It might be a little weird to have a stranger in the house. At first. Then again, we can ask our phones questions about traffic. The times they are a-changin’.

Things began to wind down Friday as One Republic took the stage, and we soon left the thousands of associates behind. They made their way to XNA to fly back out to whence they came, some from as far away as Africa, India and China.

It’s always exciting when Walmart week rolls out (that’s not what it’s officially called, but that’s pretty much what it is). Having all the international associates reminds us just how far Sam Walton’s company has come and continues to go.

The company continues to make billions of dollars, and Northwest Arkansas residents enjoy a good chunk of that change being invested back into their community.

As they used to say in the old gossip columns in your local paper, a good time was had by all.

Print Headline: Now, she’s familiar

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