The Supply Side: Iranian immigrant finds American dream as a Walmart supplier

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 215 views 

Zoya Hajianpour of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., joined the ranks of Walmart suppliers nearly one year ago. An entrepreneur whose passion is designing products that can improve everyday life, Hajianpour said she formed Zoya Inc. in 2001 after completing her degree in specialized industrial design.

She holds over 16 patents for her designs and made a name for herself selling to QVC and Amazon, but it was Walmart that gave her the first opportunity to be in brick and mortar.

“I didn’t want to pitch to Walmart until I had everything right,” she said. “I have loved Walmart ever since I saw the first one after moving to the U.S. in 1982. Getting my products into Walmart is the ultimate for me.”

It was important for Hajianpour to manufacture in the U.S. after having already tried manufacturing in China and not being happy with the results. She was eager to onshore production where it could be more easily tracked.

“I am somewhat OCD about my products, and I like to see where they are at every stage of production,” she said. “I even attempted to do some of the manufacturing myself, but it was too expensive so I shut that down.”

After looking across the country for manufacturing capacity for three of her designs, Hajianpour said she found it close to her home in south Florida.

“I interviewed the manufacturer and worked out a deal, so I had that done before I ever met with Walmart,” she said. “Then I researched everything I could find about becoming a Walmart supplier. I followed all the directions on Walmart’s website.”

Last spring, Hajianpour went online and completed the application for the annual Walmart Open Call event and submitted four of her products. Within a few weeks, she said Walmart notified her of its interest in three of the four items and gave her three appointments for the Open Call day in mid-June.

“I was over the moon, and I wanted to make the most out of my three appointments. So I did all the legwork ahead of time, getting my vendor ID and credit credentials so when I met with buyers we could talk about the products,” Hajianpour said.

Hajianpour met with a buyer for organizers to pitch her Shelf Pal that is designed to attach to a towel bar or shower door rack and serves as a caddy to hold soaps, shampoos, razors, sponges, etc. The product had already sold well on QVC, but the buyer still wanted to test the product in about 100 stores to start.

“The buyer really liked it but thought it best to start slow which was fine with me. I got the congratulations banner and couldn’t have been happier,” she said.

Hajianpour said the Shelf Pal is slated to hit 100 stores this July, and she’s excited to see how customers will respond. The product will sell for $7.99.

The big win for Hajianpour was at the second buyer meeting where she pitched Easy Box, an organizer that helps consumers manage the mess on their desks, bathroom counter, kitchen, garage bench or even their car.

“The buyer loved this product so much they ordered it for 2,570 stores,” she said. “We shipped the product in the middle of March to fulfill the first order. These sell for $3.99, and they are located in the stationary department. But the buyer sees an opportunity for cross-marketing for back-to-school.”

The organizer can be attached with the Velcro straps, or it can be mounted to a wall with a screw or nail. She said the Easy Box is compact and has lots of uses. Eager to see the product on the shelf at her local Walmart, Hajianpour said she could hardly wait to check it out.

“I looked online, and it showed they had the product in the store. So I rushed down there and could not find it,” she explained. “I asked the store clerk, and they said it was likely there. But the display was not yet set up. Two days later I went back and still didn’t see it. I waited for two weeks, and when I went back to the store, there was only one left. I couldn’t believe it.”

Hajianpour said the third item she pitched to buyers last year was a spill-proof coaster. She said the buyer for that product was not there, and she didn’t get an indication Walmart wanted the product.

“That was fine because I had plenty to do to get the Easy Box shipment and getting ready for the Shelf Pal test market,” she said. “It took me several months to get everything set up. I had to get EDI ready, a requirement for suppliers for transmitting data electronically, and I wanted to ensure the product quality was top of the line.”

Hajianpour said she employs eight people at Zoya, and Walmart is her largest customer. She said the manufacturer does the shipping for her and is a great partner.

A serial entrepreneur, she is excited to hear about this year’s Open Call because she submitted an application to re-pitch the Spill Stopper coaster. She also plans to pitch a handle for walking multiple dogs that’s easy on the wrist, a handle for carrying multiple shopping bags, and a combination stamp and stencil product for crafting.

“We will see if Walmart is interested in any of those other items,” she said. “I recently moved the production from China on the Doggie Pal product. I found a plastics manufacturing facility here to do that work, and it’s working out much better.”

Hajianpour said she bootstrapped the inventory investment to do business at scale with Walmart, even though she had opportunities to finance it.

“I knew it was going to take some upfront capital, and fortunately I was able to cover that cost on the front-end. We have finance options if we need them to grow the business further,” she said.

Editor’s note: 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.

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