Kay Rockwell recalls early career advice from an unexpected source.
Forty years ago, on Kay Rockwell’s third day of work at Store 146 in Gilmer, Texas, she learned an important lesson from a surprising source.
Just out of high school when she was hired, Kay was working away at a cash register when a stranger—accompanied by a group of managers—joined Kay at her register and started bagging items and chatting with customers. She wondered why this person was stealing her spotlight and distracting her customers.
“He was packing and talking to the customers and asking them, what can he do better for them? I just kind of nudged him, and I told him he was gonna have to move. Because he was taking my fame. I wanted them to see me!” Kay recalls, laughing.
She could tell the managers standing nearby were uncomfortable, but she didn’t know why.
“I didn’t have a clue!” Kay admits.
Mystery Bagger Revealed
Later in the day, after he’d finished using the intercom to thank associates and customers, the mysterious stranger looked at Kay and said something that still gives her chills.
“When he hung up and finished, he put his ball cap and jacket back on. Then he pointed at me. He said, ‘I want to see that young lady right there,’” Kay remembers. “He told me to never change. Even if you’re talking to the founder, the owner of a company, never change who you are.”
The person working at Kay’s register was none other than Mr. Sam! A very surprised Kay took his words to heart. “That is who I am. Whoever comes in, I’m still the same.”
Kay has been bringing her genuine, upbeat self into Walmart for the past 40 years. During that time, she has held many different positions and volunteered to help with the setups of around 20 different stores that were opening or reopening after a remodel. Those weeks away from Store 146 helped keep things fresh, letting Kay meet new people and explore new communities.
Kay is now a personal shopper for customers who place orders. She says she loves her job, as it allows her to connect with a variety of people.
“It's all about meeting the customers,” Kay says, noting that she tries to make sure everyone feels important. “It’s taking the groceries out to the car, and having conversations with them. Because nobody is the same, so it's something new every day. You try to uplift them when they’re having a bad day.”
Kay even met her husband of 34 years at Walmart, after he kept making repeated visits to housewares, where she was working at the time. Today, they have two children and one grandchild.
Kay is grateful for the life Walmart has helped build, helping her own a home and send her kids to college. Kay is now pursuing her education as well, through Walmart’s Live Better U program. She takes classes in business and communications and earns credits she’ll use toward a college degree.
Kay believes Walmart has taught her to challenge herself to try different things, and to be open to change. “You have to always be available to accept change, and to never get stuck in a rut,” she says.