Mike Rowe, infant catheter to relieve gas, part of Walmart Open Call

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 2,436 views 

Prospective suppliers gather in Walmart's home office auditorium on Tuesday (Oct. 24) to hear more about becoming a vendor for the retail giant. The pitch meetings take place all day on Wednesday.

Walmart hosted more than 600 potential suppliers at its 10th annual Open Call event on Tuesday (Oct. 24) at its corporate offices in Bentonville. Included were several suppliers like Proud Source Water and Beyond Green compostable cutlery, who landed previous deals.

Walmart is still the largest U.S. retail importer by volume despite the fact that two-thirds of items it sells in stores are made, grown or assembled in America. As a major grocery retailer, the food and consumables are mostly made or grown in the U.S. Walmart has said it continues to seek U.S. suppliers for general merchandise items such as linens, bicycles, televisions and furniture.

Harry Moser, founder of the Reshoring Initiative, gives Walmart high marks on its latest $350 billion commitment to buy products made or assembled in the U.S. through 2030. He said over the past 10 years, he estimates Walmart has more than 150 purchase orders that created new American manufacturing jobs through Open Call and other initiatives. Reshoring Initiative estimates Walmart’s efforts support around 300,000 direct manufacturing jobs in America and up to 1 million total.

While the retailer promotes its reshoring efforts, Walmart has also been criticized for pushing jobs overseas — especially to China — by focusing on lowering costs in all parts of the supply chain. U.S. suppliers could not compete with the vastly lower wages in China, Vietnam, Mexico and other countries.

John Furner, CEO of Walmart U.S., spotlighted San Antonio-based Beyond Green, who got a deal last year to make Great Value compostable cutlery. Rudy Patel, a founder of Beyond Green, told Talk Business & Politics they pitched the product in June 2022 and worked with Walmart to make its privately branded cutlery that is a sustainable product.

The cutlery got into stores in August, the company said. Patel said his father ran a plastics business for single-use polymers. When the father retired, Rudy and brother Achyut used the leftover polymer to make biodegradable products like dog-waste bags and compostable shopping bags, which they pitched to Walmart last year. While at Open Call last year, they did not get a deal, but they were asked about making biodegradable cutlery for Walmart’s private brand, and it hit stores in just four months.

Mike Rowe, “Dirty Jobs” creator and host, was in attendance as a guest, former supplier and also a hopeful supplier who will pitch his Knoble whiskey to a buyer team on Wednesday.

Rowe said the whiskey came about because he met a distiller in Columbia, Tenn., and decided to buy up his inventory because he loved the flavor and could see marketing it through the Dirty Jobs reboot during the pandemic. His goal was to share a drink with the hardworking people he met.

“I bought all the inventory he had and thought it would last me six months, but I started selling online, and we sold out in four days,” Rowe said. “I had to get more. It sells great and I use the proceeds to fund scholarships for his foundation that provides college funding based on work-ethic and willingness to work in the trades.”

Rowe said he named the whiskey Knoble, after his grandfather Carl Knoble who was a mentor and McGyver-type, who could take a watch apart and put it back together blindfolded. He also said “Dirty Jobs” came about because his mom called him just before his pops turned 90 and said it would make his grandfather’s day to see him on TV doing real work. At the time, Rowe had failed to make the Baltimore Opera as a singer and was rejected as a host on the shopping channel QVC. Rowe said he worked for CBS hosting gigs with an occasional acting role.

“I loved my pops and wanted to make him happy, so I contacted the San Francisco sewer department and asked if I could shoot a video trying to do their work for a day. Somehow the Discovery Channel saw the video and wanted to make it a series,” Rowe said.

Rowe said he found that he made a better guest than a host. Over the series, he had 350 different assignments and every time, it was his first day on the job. He said the show opened his eyes to the everyday people who follow their passion and other times follow opportunity but they find passion and joy in the jobs they do.

Rowe said he got a “Dirty Jobs” cleaning product into Walmart stores 13 years ago, but it didn’t stay on the shelf because he was not passionate about that business. He said the real work begins when “you get on the shelf.” He cautioned the room of entrepreneurs to show their passion but not to overreach.

“Tell the truth, but make sure your plan is fungible and open to change,” Rowe said. “Don’t get ahead of your skis, and make sure you can service the business you get. I don’t really believe in cookie-cutter advice. It may be the enemy of this country today. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I will say that opportunity in the U.S. is not dead, even if we are told it is. This room is proof of that.”

Rowe said you never know you might meet when you enter a room, but he met Lucas Levine of Frida, who was there to pitch a catheter that helps infants relieve gas. Rowe laughed and said Levine and his team saw an opportunity to solve a problem for parents and got to work trying to solve it, and that’s American ingenuity at its best. Frida already has several products at Walmart, including a snot sucker for infants.

Frida CEO Chelsea Hirschhon told attendees to lead their presentation with the problem they are trying to solve, saying that’s insight she’s learned over the past decade selling into retail.

Walmart held supplier education sessions in the afternoon following lunch and time for networking on the property and wished all the attendees the best of luck before their pitch meeting with buyer teams on Wednesday.

“What makes a merchant meeting is the enthusiasm you have for your product. Make sure it’s a product customers want now and know your true cost and the components that comprise it. We owe the customers a low price,” said Latriece Watkins, chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., who oversees the buyer teams handing out the golden ticket on Wednesday.

Megan Crozier, chief merchandising officer at Sam’s Club, told attendees to think about what makes a good item that comes at a disruptive price and solves a need for customers. Sherry-Lee Singh, senior director of supplier inclusion, reminded the attendees that Walmart is looking for diversity in its supplier base and will work to ensure success on the products it chooses tomorrow.

“When you are successful, we are successful, and our customers win,” she said.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders opened the event by welcoming the attendees to the Natural State. She said Arkansas is proud to be home to the largest retailer and commended the giant for all its contributions to support jobs while also serving millions of customers each day.

“Walmart is for the next product that changes the face of retail. This is an amazing event that asks you to think outside the box,” Sanders said.