Wal-Mart welcomes 550 hopeful suppliers, pushes support for U.S. manufacturing

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,126 views 

The Open Call stage in 2017.

The home office of Wal-Mart Stores in Bentonville was buzzing Wednesday (June 28) with more than 550 hopeful suppliers eager to pitch their products to buyers for a chance to get on the retailer’s shelves.

Jason DeYoung, executive with Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Dera Industries, was among the hopeful. His product the Dera Tie, a reusable, plastic tie or ligature, was among those featured at the event. In recent weeks Wal-Mart asked its employees to vote on one product and Dera Tie was the winner. Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer, told DeYoung his product was voted in by company employees but he still had to go to his buyer meeting to work out the details. The product is said to have “a bazillion uses.”

Wednesday’s event combined the retailer’s fourth Open Call with its U.S. Manufacturing Summit.

Wal-Mart Stores CEO Doug McMillon told the group he just “wanted to buy items all day and walk up and down the halls saying “yes.” He also said Wal-Mart continues to work to “make every day easier for our customers. We want every single stakeholder in the supply chain to do well and prosper which we refer to as shared value.”

He touted several suppliers working with Wal-Mart to create more U.S. manufacturing jobs. Lifetime Products makes folding tables, chairs and kayaks for Wal-Mart and recently added 500 new jobs in Utah and broke ground on a new facility in Knox County, Tenn., that will bring 500 jobs to that community. The 720,000 square-foot facility in Tennessee is a $115 million investment for Lifetime.

Lifetime is not a new supplier to Wal-Mart. Cindi Marsiglio, vice president of U.S. sourcing and manufacturing, has told Talk Business & Politics that using existing suppliers and helping them grow is less cumbersome than relocating production from offshore.

McMillon also spotlighted a small company that two years ago was new to Wal-Mart. Sarah Duran and Brad Pearsall were sitting in the Open Call audience in 2014 ready to pitch their Broo shampoo. He said six of their products are in 900 store today. The shampoo is made from craft beer, causing McMillon to joke that there are other ways to infuse the benefits of the ingredients rather than drinking them.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was also a featured speaker who said his agenda including pitching Arkansas to various companies looking to expand or move their manufacturing.

“I am so proud of Wal-Mart and Doug and the competition they are engaged in and competing in e-commerce on the global stage and the difference they are making in partnerships and leadership in furthering U.S. manufacturing,” Hutchinson said.

He said Wal-Mart’s leadership in supporting U.S. manufacturing is making a positive difference. He is also proud that Arkansas is leading the nation in foreign direct investment, up over 40%, which indicates that companies recognize Arkansas as a good place to do business.

Bratspies highlighted Dorel Juvenile, one of his favorite child car seat suppliers, that has a facility in Columbus, Ind. He said the company spent $21 million to expand production and now makes 550,000 car seats annually for Wal-Mart. This investment created 700 new jobs, which are being relocated from abroad.

Dan Bartlett, executive vice president of corporate relations, spoke about the overall impact of the Wal-Mart’s 10-year, $250 billion investment in buying U.S made products. He said roughly 1 million jobs will be supported from this endeavor, with 250,000 of those being direct jobs and 750,000 indirect or service-related jobs that support the manufacturing.

John Bassett, chairman of Bassett Furniture in North Carolina, also spoke about the possibilities for U.S. Manufacturing.

“If you don’t think you are going to win, you are, ladies and gentlemen going to lose,” Bassett said. “In 2003 we told our people we are going to stay in the U.S. (amid furniture companies moving offshore). We had our doubters, but I didn’t grow up quitting on America.”

He said leadership can change attitudes and the when the going got rough, ownership took less and invested more to keep the plant running. He said it wasn’t long before workers believed  they could make it last in America. Bassett said it took 6 to 8 weeks to get furniture made overseas. He reduced the time from order to delivery to 7 days and changed the way dealers ordered, paid and reduced their inventory overhead. He said while competitors were floating the ocean, he was making and delivering furniture in 7 days.

The most important thing for any company facing challenges to do is “not panic,” he said

“Things are going to change – even for Walmart – don’t panic. Think your way through it because everyone in your organization is watching you,” Basset told the retail leadership.