How Entrepreneurs Landed Deals to Place Their Products at Walmart Stores
The city of Bentonville, Arkansas, was a bit more crowded than usual on June 13, as hundreds of hopeful entrepreneurs flocked to the birthplace of Walmart.
The hallways and offices of its headquarters, aka the Home Office, were at max capacity and buzzing with entrepreneurial spirit for the retail giant’s fifth annual Open Call event.
Over 450 business owners turned out to pitch their locally made products to Walmart buyers, with hopes of landing a deal to get their wares on the retailer’s shelves.
Walmart started the Open Call event back in 2013 after announcing a commitment to purchase $250 billion in American-made products by 2023. The company estimates that the initiative will create up to 1 million new jobs in direct manufacturing and the support and service sectors.
Kicking off the all-day extravaganza, Walmart’s chief marketing officer Tony Rogers spoke about the importance of products that are made, sourced and grown in the U.S. He added that 85% of people surveyed support locally made goods.
The business owners in the crowd — hailing from 46 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia — were ready to make the pitch of a lifetime.
A Shot at the American Dream
With such a vast turnout and 750 scheduled meetings, the mix of products ranged from gourmet popcorn to reusable mason jar lids to natural skin care products.
The participants weren’t all first-timers; some were existing suppliers pitching to get their products in more stores.
Each supplier met with a buyer for at least 30 minutes to talk about their product, with the opportunity to get a deal on the spot.
Kinna Thomas, a senior buying manager for Walmart, explained what the meetings entail.
“We’ll talk about the background of the company, where they are in their journey as a supplier, whether or not they’re in manufacturing facilities already and what their costing model looks like,” said Thomas. “Depending on where the supplier is on their journey, they can get a yes or no immediately, and we can know whether or not we want to put you in one store or 4,400 stores.”
For a small business, just getting on the shelves of a single Walmart store could mean a major breakthrough.
Suppliers who pitched a well-received product left their meetings with a blue and gold ticket.
If a supplier wasn’t offered a deal, they still walked away with some valuable advice on how to improve their product or manage costs.
Vendors with non-perishable products got a silver lining that was even better: the opportunity to sell their products on Walmart.com.
A Hundred Walmart Winners
Over 100 entrepreneurs left Arkansas with smiles on their faces, having gotten the green light to move on to the next step in the process. Some even got deals right then and there.
Before her pitch meeting, Michelle Liddle, owner of Rochester, New York-based The Perfect Granola, said it would be a dream come true to have a product she made show up in Walmart stores.
“This means everything… It’s hard to get on the shelf, especially the largest retailer in the world,” she said. “So to have this type of opportunity and get a meeting with the buyers could be huge success and growth for us.”
Liddle’s enthusiasm didn’t go to waste: The Perfect Granola got picked up for 1,000 Walmart locations.
Another winner of a blue and gold ticket was Play Kids Tea, an herbal tea geared toward children and owned by longtime friends Esther Farkas and Rachel Hughes.
“We really are just two moms who started doing this at home and had a kitchen recipe that we wanted other moms to try,” said Farkas. “To go from our kitchens in Brooklyn to Walmart stores is an incredible journey and we couldn’t be more excited.”
Any budding entrepreneurs who think their American-made product has what it takes can start planning for next year.
Registration for Open Call can be found on Walmart’s website. A selection committee will choose businesses based on the information provided and where that business is on its journey, according to Thomas.
And don’t stress, you’ve got an entire year to perfect your pitching spiel.
Kaitlyn Blount is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.