Wife and husband compete as Walmart managers

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 467 views 

Wal-Mart employs an estimated 1.3 million people in the U.S. and roughly 10,000 in the Northwest Arkansas area so it’s no surprise that the retail giant is also an all-family employer for some, especially close to its home base in Bentonville.

Scott Swenson and wife Sherry Curtis-Swenson of Rogers are long-time Wal-Mart employees logging 45 combined years of service. But the couple has also spent the last nine years managing competing stores in Bentonville and Jane, Mo.

“I went into a Walmart shopping for some (bed) comforters for my three little girls and the store associate told me that I could have gotten a 10% discount if I had worked there. That was all I needed to fill out my job application,” Curtis-Swenson said.

She was hired as a cashier about 20 years ago and like 75% of Wal-Mart’s management she started in an hourly position. Curtis-Swenson said she became hooked almost instantly and had worked up to grocery manager when she first met Scott who called on her department as market manager at the time.

“We didn’t click right away. I kind of resented this guy coming into my department and telling me to make changes,” she said.

Swenson spent his entire career in retail much of the time in grocery with Sam’s Club. Wal-Mart and Food 4 Less, prior to that.

She said the two reconnected at a function outside of work and then began dating and eventually marrying in 2000. Curtis-Swenson is now the store manager in Jane, Mo., overseeing about 450 employees in that 24-hour-daily retail operation every since it opened nine years ago.

“I worked in Bentonville for several years before they built this supercenter and I feel like I really know this store, walls and all,” Curtis-Swenson said.

Swenson oversees 600 employees at Store No. 100, directly across from the Wal-Mart home office, which has advantages and disadvantages. Not only are these stores close to the corporate hub, but there is just 10 miles between them, so they also compete for customers.

When asked about being under a microscope for corporate scrutiny, Swenson said he does get a lot of corporate traffic in his store and often that comes with advice – well intended, of course.

Close proximity also has its benefits, he said.

“We get to try new things first, from merchandise to modulars and testing certain programs,” Swenson said.

Curtis-Swenson said she gleans the benefit of the testing that goes on in her husband’s store.

“It doesn’t bother me to call down there are ask how they might be merchandising certain seasonal items like back-to-school,” she said. “We talk a great deal about our stores, it’s inevitable.”

Store managers can earn between $100,000 and $250,000 in total salary which includes salary, bonuses and profit sharing benefits, according to Glassdoor.

Wal-Mart does not break out the performance of individual stores in its reporting, but store management bonuses are performance based.

The days are long for store managers who work nearly every Saturday and a few hours on Sunday, but the two managers said they find time to get away during week and because they are both managers in different stores it’s possible for them to get the same days off.

In their downtime the couple said like to get out to the lake and ski and spend time with their children and six – soon-to-be seven – grandchildren. Being a store manager is a demanding job, but it’s just what this couple wanted.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love working with people. Just recently I was able to promote a stocker into an assistant manager position and know firsthand how this would change his life,” Curtis-Swenson said.

When the $4 prescriptions were rolled out, she said many people became emotional in the store about the difference it would make in their family budget and being part of that solution was very rewarding for her. Swenson said he’s had other management positions, but running a store is his favorite job because of the diverse group of people he has an opportunity to mentor in the process.

“I know my 600 associates and can call them all by first name. I enjoy this opportunity to help them grow their own careers if they so chose,” he said.