By  on June 6, 2005

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Wal-Mart’s struggles with its reputation, sluggish sales and stagnant stock price tempered the customarily festive annual shareholders’ meeting, which was replete with the national anthem sung by Jessica Simpson, performances by Jon Bon Jovi and Garth Brooks and raucous cheers.

“We’d better be ready to be better,” said president and chief executive officer Lee Scott, addressing 20,000 shareholders, analysts, suppliers and Wal-Mart associates at the five-hour session in Bud Walton Arena at the University of Arkansas. “Because today we’re the focus of one of the most sophisticated, most expensive corporate campaigns ever launched against a single company…. A coalition of labor unions and others are spending over $25 million to damage this company. That’s a lot of money and a lot of firepower scattered across the U.S.”

Scott added, “We are going to stay the course, and this company is going to continue to grow.”

Chairman Rob Walton said the board of directors and the Walton family were “frustrated” by the stock price, which has been flat for the past five years. He defended Scott’s performance. And he acknowledged mistakes.

“I know you’ve gotten a little bit more of a job than you anticipated five years ago,” Walton said. “But we’ve appreciated the way you’ve approached the job, the integrity and standards you’ve brought to it.”

Wal-Mart stock closed at $47.35 per share Friday in New York Stock Exchange trading, close to its 52-week low of $46.20. The company on Thursday reported its same-store sales increased 2.5 percent in May, at the low end of its forecast of a 2 to 4 percent boost. Chief rival Target, in contrast, said sales went up 5.1 percent, ahead of the 3 to 5 percent estimate.

Still, the $285 billion company has the opportunity to add 4,000 more Supercenters in the U.S. to its current total of more than 1,800, and already has 900 approved building projects in the pipeline, Scott and chief financial officer Tom Schoewe said.

Wal-Mart has come under attack on issues ranging from employee wages and benefits to store expansion and development. The company has countered with an advertising campaign and by being more proactive in getting out its message, including providing more access to the media.

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