When Jim Kimbrough convinced Walmart to build one of its major distribution centers in Brooksville, Florida, the retired Truist banker of 53 years had a vision. However, a vision would be fruitless on its own. He would need to convince the right people – or person – of Brooksville’s advantages. That person was Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart. The perks of the small Hernando County town, Kimbrough reasoned, were its central location and its proximity to certain major thoroughfares. If he had been unsuccessful, Brooksville would have lost this boon to its business to a competing nearby town.
“I had the pleasure of visiting with Mr. Sam Walton at his office in Bentonville and fortunately was successful in convincing him that his first distribution center in Florida should be in Brooksville versus Polk County,” Kimbrough said. “The assets that I described to him that Brooksville had was it was in the center of the state. When you measure from Pensacola, Key West, Brooksville’s in the center, but more importantly, the transportation arteries that we have in Brooksville with highway 50 now being four-laned all the way across to Titusville and I-75… With the Florida Turnpike, I-95, the major transportation arteries in Florida would be accessible to him if he built his distribution center in Brooksville.”
Fortunately for the growing town, Kimbrough was persuasive in convincing the mega-corporation owner, and the distribution center arrived in Brooksville in 1990. Over thirty years later, the town’s results since must have impressed the superstore giant. Brooksville has been pegged to serve as the very first of Walmart’s newly automated distribution centers that will span the United States. This automation comes courtesy of Symbotic Incorporated, which is a robotic technology platform powered by artificial intelligence that Walmart has worked with since 2017.
Founded in 2007, the robotics company’s goal has been to revolutionize warehouse operations and automation through advancing technologies. According to Symbotic’s website, it began when the Founder, Rick Cohen, was endeavoring to grow his fledgling wholesale grocery business. “Starting with a blank sheet of paper and an idea,” the first prototype was born of little more than a piece of plywood on four wheels. A decade and a half later, Cohen’s creation will now be used across the nation thanks to one of the largest companies in the world. In a press release put out by Walmart, the superstore explained how this new system will enhance the distribution experience for both them and their customers.
“Through its extensive work, Walmart is reengineering its supply chain to fulfill customer needs with a more intelligent and connected omnichannel network that is enabled by greater use of data, more intelligent software and automation,” the press release stated. “The outcome improves in-stock, inventory accuracy, and flow whether customers shop in stores, pickup, or have a delivery.”
By automating the supply chain, Walmart plans to increase efficiency and cut costs over the next three to five years. According to the company, the plan is for 65 percent of its stores to be “serviced by automation,” with roughly 55 percent of fulfillment center volume moving through such facilities. Walmart projects that this could improve unit costs by upwards of 20 percent. Through this, Walmart Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer John David Rainey, is projecting around four percent growth in sales by adding more than $130 billion in sales over the next five years.
While increased profit margins are always desirable for any company, a concern that can come with robotics or artificial intelligence is how it will affect the jobs of human employees. From physical labor to art and everything in between, the mention of these technologies has led to growing angst among many across the country. Fortunately, Walmart appears to be addressing this potential pitfall. According to the company, these advancements will create new types of positions, such as cell operators, and lighten the workload on employees.
The following statement from the corporation’s website was sent to the Sun by Senior Manager of Corporate Communications Ashley Nolan, detailing how the company plans to help its employees in the wake of this new development: “Along with saving time, limiting out-of-stocks and increasing the speed of stocking and unloading, we’ll also have the chance to train associates on how to use the new equipment, creating new skills and preparing them for jobs in the future. And because the technology decreases the need for our associates to handle freight, it removes one of the toughest aspects of supply chain work in material handling. It also creates new, tech-enabled jobs, such as cell operator and maintenance technician, that offer widely applicable skills in robotics and technology.”
Jim Kimbrough also feels that Walmart and its systems have been positive for jobs in the county and surrounding areas and is pleased with their ongoing involvement in the local communities. He feels that they are an “awesome business partner” and have created plenty of jobs. “We’re delighted they are here and pleased to see them continuing to invest in the community, which is what this amounts to.”
“I had the pleasure of visiting with Mr. Sam Walton at his office in Bentonville and fortunately was successful in convincing him that his first distribution center in Florida should be in Brooksville versus Polk County,”