More than 1,100 hopeful suppliers took part in Walmart’s 9th Annual Open Call pitch held in Bentonville on Wednesday (June 29). Walmart and Sam’s Club held almost 1,200 meetings Wednesday with buyers where entrepreneurs pitched products for a spot in a Walmart store.
Walmart said it’s the largest class of Open Call participants ever selected to present at the event, which has been held virtually for the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, Walmart said 60% of the businesses making pitches identified themselves as a diverse-owned business.
“The entrepreneurial spirit is contagious, and that energy is a big part of what makes Open Call so much fun,” said Scott Gutche, Walmart’s senior director of U.S. manufacturing.
Walmart said the event helps to make dreams come true for those who get the coveted gold card on Wednesday. While Walmart buyers use various methods to source products for stores and online, the Open Call event is the largest of its kind. This year, Walmart also offered Open Call participants early access to list their products on Walmart’s Marketplace. The company said 4,500 entrepreneurs applied to sell on the Marketplace, listing more than 13,000 products ahead of the in-person event.
SCHOOL SUPPLIES, FUNNELS
Eric Held from New York-based Michael Roger Inc. got a gold card and go-ahead from Walmart on several of the company’s recycled/eco-friendly school and office supply items from the designer Decomposition Book, to pens, pencils, folders and other like items. They will be coming to 500 Walmart stores by early 2024. It was Held’s first time pitching at Open Call.
Held said Walmart wants several products it could offer at a value price point that still has a designer look and feel with a green footprint. He said the products are already being sold at Target and in select Whole Foods stores. He said the Walmart order for 500 stores will create more jobs for the manufacturing arm of the company in its facilities in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Indiana.
“We just decided to try Open Call this year and we were surprised by the invitation to attend this event,” he said. “I have made lots of sales calls for our products but I have never been to an event quite like this one. It’s been great to receive feedback from other entrepreneurs and the buyer teams have been very open with their expertise as well.”
Hailing from Leroy, Mich., population 305, Michael Earnest and Joe Crane received two gold cards by 10 a.m. Wednesday. They represented Tec Products with a flexible funnel made from recycled rubber that can flex 360 degrees. It will be made for Walmart under the Hyper Tough private brand and go into more than 4,700 stores by March of next year. Earnest said the product design was made in-house, is manufactured in Leroy and will continue to be made there, adding 10 to 15 more jobs from the new business. Tec Products already sells the funnel online at Amazon and in automotive stores in Michigan.
Tec Products also pitched a bucket grip that fits a typical 5-gallon bucket that Walmart also wants. Crane said the product will likely be integrated with Walmart’s new Pro-Pail product as an accessory add-on in 300 to 400 stores to start, with the ability to scale as a sales warrant. Crane said Tec Products holds patents on both products. The product is already sold online on Amazon.
The Tec Products representatives said they made the drive from northern Michigan in a branded van and were having a great time in Northwest Arkansas for the event. It was the first time either of the men had been to Bentonville and it was the first time their parent company, Leroy Tool and Die, would make products for Walmart.
Brian Baer and Alan Hall of Zone Protects from Decatur, Ala., pitched three of the company’s 41 products. Baer is a chemical engineering graduate of the University of Arkansas and his daughter is a sophomore there. As CEO and co-founder of Zone Protects, Baer said the products are already selling well on Walmart.com. Early Wednesday, the team picked up its first gold card on the Zone Realtree Invisible Hunter Defender Insecticide spray. Baer said the company makes all the products in-house and Walmart suggested 100 stores to start. Those stores will be in the busiest areas for hunting.
Brothers Sami and Rami Mubashen of Bastrop, Texas, are the first to market with their fully recycled golf balls, which they harvest from ponds and neighborhoods surrounding golf courses. Since July of last year, the brothers said they had picked 32,000 golf balls for their products.
BasTex, their company, got a gold card to sell recycled-golf balls in 50 stores to start. While the business is already growing with 16 full-time employees and 12,000 square feet of warehousing space, the brothers said Walmart needed 40,000 balls a week for 100 stores, and the company’s entire weekly harvest is 60,000. The brothers opted to start at 50 stores and use that revenue to help expand the harvesting capacity so they can eventually scale up to 100 stores.
“We saw a gap in the marketplace for a reliable and consistent product. We began to solve that problem and Clean Green Golf Balls was born. We have doubled our business in a year’s time to $4.5 million in sales,” Sami Mubashen said. “We are eager to see how far we can take the company with this new Walmart partnership.”
George Zalucki of Clearwater, Fla., is a retired fireman, turned entrepreneur. He pitched the Hinge Hero to Walmart and also got a gold card. He said the product is made in Florida and he’s eager to work with Walmart to figure out how many stores will start with the product, which is already sold on Walmart.com, Amazon.com and HingeOutlet.com.
BEIGNET MIX, EAZY PEAZY
Micah and Heidi Stampley of Fayetteville, Ga., were ecstatic to get their Beignet Mix into Walmart stores. The couple is originally from southern Louisiana and they ran a Creole restaurant in Georgia from 2017 to 2019 when a family tragedy sidelined the business. Micah said the Beignet mix is the same recipe the couple used in their restaurant and the one customers continued to ask for after the closing.
Orleans Foods got a deal to sell a 12-ounce beignet mix in Louisiana stores. The company works with a co-packer in Pearl, Miss., on the product. Heidi Stampley said the company is working on other creole products for retail from recipes handed down from their families. She said having the restaurant was a great training ground and test market that now is paying off.
Aundrea Dumas knows a thing or two about running an eatery as a bakery owner for several years in the Atlanta suburb of Stockbridge. Her company, Eazy Peazy Cakes, was also a hit with Walmart buyers Wednesday as a category-first for the dairy department. Dumas explained that her product is sold in the dairy case as a premixed cake mix.
“All you do is shake the bottle, pour and bake. The product has a shelf life of 3 months in the fridge and 6 months if frozen,” she said.
Her company has five flavors and Walmart wanted all five but in a smaller packaging that also includes the frosting and other toppings. The product is being sold in a 16-ounce bottle on Macys.com and on QVC. Dumas said so many people wanted the cupcakes when she closed the bakery that she started furnishing them with the batter mix and they loved the option.
“With so many families eating at home and being very busy this is a real timesaver for a great dessert. Or for those who only want to make one or two cupcakes, they don’t have to use the whole bottle at once. Walmart wants a smaller bottle given the limited shelf space in dairy so I can easily make that happen,” she said.
Prior to the pandemic, Dumas had a frozen crab/shrimp cake product called Shrab Cakes that was sold in 1,000 Kroger stores and Costco. Dumas is a civil engineer who loves to run the business, sharing recipes handed down from her mom and grandmother.
Dumas said she applied to Open Call after her representative from WBENC (Woman-Owned Business Enterprise National Council) encouraged her to do it. After two reminders, Dumas said she did it just to appease her friend.
“I forgot about it and then when the invitation came, I could not believe it. This is a great day for Eazy Peazy Cakes,” she said.
Walmart said it will update the media Thursday with the total number of deals handed out Wednesday.