The Supply Side: Fayetteville entrepreneurs gear up for Wal-Mart’s fourth ‘Open Call’

by Kim Souza ( 543 views 

Hugh and Nicole Jarratt of Fayetteville have enjoyed success pitching their inventions to Wal-Mart Stores at the retailer’s “Made in the USA” Open Call, getting contracts for three separate items — taco plates, double dipper bowls and wader socks, a seasonal item.

Wal-Mart was interested in another product pitched last year, Hugh Jarratt said, but the timing didn’t work for the apparel buyer.

During the event, potential suppliers have the opportunity to meet with the company’s senior leaders and merchants to pitch their products for the chance to have them sold at Wal-Mart, on and Sam’s Club.

The Jarratts are attorneys by trade and inventors by nature. They have applied to present another product at the Open Call on June 28. Hugh Jarratt said Wal-Mart will notify applicants beginning May 26 of their appointment times, and they are eager to hear. They declined to share what their latest invention is until patent protection is granted in early May. They did say it’s in a completely different category from their other products so this will be a brand new buyer acquaintance for them. (Talk Business & Politics-Northwest Arkansas Business Journal will report on that item once the couple gets patent clearance.)

The Jarratts recently had their annual line review for the taco plates, which Wal-Mart contracted to buy in its inaugural Open Call in June 2014. The couple said the taco plates are now sold in 4,000 Wal-Mart stores across the country — every supercenter in the continental U.S. The plastic taco plate and its complementary double dipper bowl, which was Nicole Jarratt’s invention, are selling well.

“The line review with our buyer went very well,” Hugh Jarratt said. “The taco plate sales are up 27%, above the goals set by Wal-Mart. The double dipper bowls just got into stores in March, and the initial 188,000 have sold through. And now we are replenishing the stores as needed.”

The couple praised a local manufacturer — Polytech Plastics in Prairie Grove. Nicole, attorney and now stay-at-home mom to their two young sons, said she has been everything from packer to troubleshooter for the couple’s products sold in retail. Having a local manufacturer has been invaluable, she said.

Earlier this year, when Polytech was running double dipper bowls for the initial Wal-Mart order, she said it was a Saturday night, and her parents were in town. So they got a babysitter and set out to have an adult dinner and movie — which was a rarity for the busy couple. While at the movie, Hugh got a text from Polytech co-owner John McCutcheon, who was running into trouble getting the labels on the double dipper bowls to adhere to the products coming off the production line.

“I hailed an Uber ride back to the house, got into my truck and drove down to Prairie Grove to see what could be done,” he said. “We had only a few days to get this order shipped, and we didn’t want to miss the initial order. We couldn’t have a product ship with labels peeling off. That would have been a catastrophe.”

Nicole said she got on the phone to the label makers in Texarkana, which is owned by family friends. Over the next 24 hours they figured out the product was too hot coming off the line for the label to properly stick.

“Polytech reset the heat levels, and the catastrophe was averted,” she said. “We shipped out on time and in full, which is very important to Wal-Mart. You know it takes nearly two years to get the products into the stores once the contract is given at Open Call. It’s a marathon, and it requires due diligence throughout the process. Wal-Mart has been so great to work with us, and our plastics manufacturer Polytech now takes care of the production, packing and shipping.”

The Wader Socks — made in North Carolina — were picked by Walmart U.S. in 2015 and were a seasonal item that sold well in the Southern stores. But, the Jarratts said a hiccup in the corporate buyer realm postponed the product making it to the Northern stores ahead of hunting season. The retailer did not pick up the socks for a second year, but the couple said the product does well online and in outdoor specialty stores.

Nicole pitched a ladies’ boot sock, but found out quickly the lead time for apparel is two years. She said the buyer really liked the product she pitched in the summer of 2016, but said the earliest she could give an order for winter socks would be late 2017 or early 2018.

“I am not giving up on the boot socks, because the buyer told me it was one of the most innovative products she has seen,” she said. “I am hopeful to get a contract on them in the coming months. Those socks would also be made in North Carolina.”

The boot socks were an invention out of need, which Nicole said was the same for the wader socks, taco plates and double dipper bowls. She said the couple just invents things to make their lives easier and then tries to see if there is a market for their ideas.

The Jarratts say doing business with Wal-Mart has been a surreal experience, and sometimes they still can’t believe they are Walmart U.S. suppliers, all made possible because of the first Open Call in 2014.

The Open Call came four years ago after Wal-Mart pledged to buy an additional $250 billion of U.S. made products over a 10-year period. With this initiative, Wal-Mart also has vowed to help suppliers onshore production where possible, helping to create more U.S. manufacturing jobs around the country.

While there have been some naysayers about this initiative, Harry Moser, founder of Chicago-based Reshoring Initiative, praises Wal-Mart for the work it’s done to help support more U.S. manufacturing jobs since 2013. He said Wal-Mart’s initiative has been the largest driver of reshoring jobs in the manufacturing sector.

Since 2010, the creation of more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs have been announced, representing more than 30% of the 939,000 manufacturing jobs added from the low of February 2010 until March 2017, according to Moser.
Editor’s note: This story was first published in the May 1 edition of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.