U.S. Manufacturing

Constructing the Future of U.S. Manufacturing

With K’NEX, Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys, children can build from their imaginations and open their minds to the worlds of science and engineering. As my company created these products for kids, many years ago our minds were opened to another complex subject: the math behind producing them in the United States.

Since 1992, our subsidiary The Rodon Group has helped K’NEX Brands make this a reality, manufacturing more than 32 billion bricks, rods and connectors at our plastic injection molding facility in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. We sell many of these toys at Walmart. So when the company announced its $250 billion U.S. manufacturing commitment, we were thrilled – because we were aligned with a retailer that’s acting on a cause we’re passionate about.

Last August, we attended Walmart’s first U.S. Manufacturing Summit, meeting with state representatives and connecting with like-minded businesses on the challenges of making more products domestically. Now that it’s time again this year, I’m excited that we’ll not only be attending, but playing an even bigger role.

This Thursday, I’ll be speaking on stage with Jim Stephen, CEO of Weber, at the second annual U.S. Manufacturing Summit, and I’m eager to share K’NEX’s story as well as some practical advice for other companies. While the case for manufacturing in America has been presented by many, some businesses remain skeptical that there are advantages. And we know firsthand the journey isn’t always easy. For example, although we quickly saw the major upside of bringing products to our customers faster, we discovered there were several minor supply chain details we weren’t up to speed on, like the proper thickness of a box, the ideal inks for packaging, and others that we had to replicate in a cost-efficient way.

Offstage, I’m excited about the connections we’ll all make. At The Rodon Group, we not only make toys – we also make about 5 billion parts a year for industries from home construction to food and beverage. So we’ll be sharing those details with companies who are interested, and we’ll also be seeking our own partners, too: We still import our toy motors, and if we can find a company at the summit that can make those domestically, we’ll reach 100% U.S. production on virtually every K’NEX item.

Given that I’ve said last year’s summit was like LinkedIn for U.S. manufacturing, I’m confident that those connections will be made for not only K’NEX, but hundreds of other companies assembling their dreams right here in America.

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Business

With 25 Years in the Can, We’re Toasting Sam’s Cola

Excitement is bubbling in our beverage aisles this summer as we celebrate a major milestone for one of our first private brand items.

Sam’s Cola is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. I’m part of the beverage team who worked to refresh the taste of this iconic item ahead of this anniversary. Along the way, I found some interesting things.

While the ingredients have stayed the same, we do occasionally tweak formulation to ensure we’re delivering what customers want. The formula hadn’t been updated for some time until recently, when third-party testing showed it could use tinkering. It’s all about how our customers see quality.

While today’s customers are used to seeing retailers provide store-brand options, Sam’s Cola was a very new thing in 1991. The soda was one of three private brands launched in our grocery business.

Mark Clark, a member of the original carbonated soft drinks team for Walmart U.S. who now works in dry grocery and global food sourcing, once said, “If it hadn’t have been for the success of Sam’s American Choice [the soda’s name at the time], there’s a good chance we wouldn’t have done Great Value.”  He’s right.

Sam’s Cola paved the way for our private brands that customers love, like Great Value, Sam’s Choice and Marketside. Our private brands play a big role in how we help people save money without sacrificing quality. Plus, coming up with exciting new items within our private brands assortment is one of the reasons why I love working at Walmart.

Our founder, Sam Walton, was hesitant to go into the private label soda business. When the team approached him about launching what was then Sam’s American Choice, he had two requests: First, it had to be as good, if not better, than the national brands. Second, it had to be priced at a great value to the customer. Today, we still deliver a great item worthy of his name.

The idea started brewing when David Glass, then our chief executive officer, noticed a price and quality gap between national brands and other items on the market. He tasked merchants to come up with a unique-tasting soda that would please customers and help them save money.

Dallas Dobbs, who was also part of the original team, said it wasn’t easy breaking into the soda business in those days.

“Our job is to sell what the customers buy. We don’t create demand; we satisfy it,” explained Dallas, who is now a senior buyer.

The flavors were difficult to come up with, Dallas says, but the team ended up developing a high-quality product – and they did it with amazing speed. It took just three and a half months to go from pitching the idea to putting the product on store shelves. And, can you believe Doug McMillon, our current president and CEO, was the very first merchant for Sam’s Cola?

I’m particularly proud that ever since that first can, Sam’s Cola has been made in the United States. Sam was passionate about supporting U.S. manufacturing and approved production of the original cola in Columbus, Georgia. It launched in 2,300-plus stores with three versions: Cola, Diet Cola and Caffeine Free Diet Cola. Today, this customer favorite is sold in more than 4,600 Walmart stores across the U.S.

Look for special packaging featuring the original Walton 5 &10 store and Sam Walton’s pickup on large packs of Sam’s Cola through October and help us celebrate the 25th anniversary of a product that continues to be made with the customer in mind.

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U.S. Manufacturing

Helping Customers Make a Difference with Their Dollars

Today, at our home office in Bentonville we hosted our annual U.S. Manufacturing Summit and Open Call where we met with our suppliers and hundreds of potential suppliers who were here to pitch their American-made items to sell at Walmart. More than 2,000 people were registered to attend this event, and we had 800 buyer meetings scheduled as part of Open Call.

The Summit and Open Call are part of our $250 billion commitment to buy products that support American jobs. It’s having a tangible impact on communities. We’ve seen factories re-opened and jobs created in communities across America. And our customers love it because when they buy products made or assembled here, they can impact communities and be agents of change, too. They can create jobs with what they buy! This is no small thing to a busy Walmart customer. They can make a difference with their dollars.

In addition to creating jobs with what they buy, our customers can also do their part for the planet when they buy items made here. Here is a cool example: A company called Eco-tech is taking our icing containers that our in-store bakeries use to ice cakes – and they are recycling them to make pet bowls and even Easter baskets.

I love that model! It helps us run an everyday low cost business but also delivers great products for the customer that are sustainable and made here.  

And because we are making items closer to the customer, that’s fewer miles items have to travel. Once we have completed this initiative, we will have taken 2.5 million shipping containers off the water by making products closer to the point of sale.

Walmart is proud to lead this initiative. Making products here in America matters to Walmart, it matters to me and it matters to our customers. Working with our suppliers to find innovative products is what makes merchandising so fun. Look out for these great  items on our shelves and make a difference with your dollars.

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U.S. Manufacturing

One Man’s Role in Preserving a National Pastime

When Darrell Davilla isn’t helping manufacture camping gear, he’s putting it to good use.

Darrell started enjoying the outdoors when he was a young man. And now nothing makes him happier than taking his grandkids camping on the shores of the lakes around his home in Wichita, Kansas.

He treasures the cold mornings, brewing coffee and cooking for the whole family. “Making breakfast is my favorite part,” he said, patting his stomach, “as you can probably tell.”

As much as he enjoys passing on the traditions of outdoor recreation to his grandchildren, Darrell appreciates his part in keeping alive the tradition of excellence associated with his company, Coleman. “To work for a world-class company that is a top name in the outdoor business … it means a lot.”

An inventory controller, Darrell started working at Coleman when he was just 19 years old. This is his 37th year at the company that makes everything from tents to stoves. From lanterns to furniture, all the way to apparel.  And he’s incredibly grateful for such a firm foundation on which to raise a family.

Whether he’s on a forklift, getting parts into the hands of the men and women on the assembly line, or on a computer, keeping track of inventory, Darrell feels good that quality camping gear, the very gear he uses himself, is making its way to families, often through Walmart stores.

He also appreciates that when Coleman brings manufacturing to the U.S., and when Walmart buys from U.S. companies like Coleman, that it means more jobs all over the country.

From Darrell’s perspective, that translates into more people who have the luxury to take their families on adventures in the great outdoors. Keeping traditions alive, like cooking over a roaring fire.

It’s a cherished part of Darrell’s camping trips with the grandkids.  “Except for making s’mores,” he said. “I’m not too good at that.”

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U.S. Manufacturing

A Fond Farewell to an American Craftsman

After nearly half a century of making pacifiers and sippy cups, Dick Gates is stepping away this year.

At NUK headquarters in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, Dick Gates has been an integral part of designing and manufacturing baby products since 1970, when he started as a stock handler, and in just a few years, became the youngest supervisor in the company’s history.

He loved being part of a process that guaranteed quality and safety for the mothers and children all over the country, and especially in his own back yard.

“I go to church every Sunday and see my product being used,” he said, proudly.

Understanding the value of what his company was making, Dick dedicated himself to learning the nuts and bolts of the process, going to engineering school and taking night classes until his qualifications allowed him to join the engineering and product development team. He went on to develop the mechanisms that are still being used at NUK right now. Producing thousands of baby products every day, many of which are shipped immediately to Walmart.

With NUK’s dedication to keeping local jobs, and Walmart’s commitment to U.S. manufacturing, Dick gained the peace of mind he had always craved. The assurance that he would always have a job. Knowing he could put down roots in this community, confident that he wouldn’t be pulling his kids out of school and moving to another town.

“Walmart’s not going any place,” he said, “and that gave me an incredible sense of security.”

That feeling of safety allowed Dick to think of NUK headquarters as his second home. And to think of his colleagues as family. 

He enjoys his nine-mile drive every morning, watching the sun come up over the tops of the trees. He’s the first one there every day, so he turns on the lights and starts the coffee pot.

“I’m at work, but I’m at home,” he said.

He says it’s a bittersweet feeling, retiring from the company after 45 wonderful years. But he knows that the products and processes he has developed, as well as the spirit he has invested in this company, will go on for a very long time.

“It’s not just for me.  Not just for my son or my daughter.  It’s for generations to come.”

Dick’s legacy will live on in another very special way. His daughter now works on the assembly line at NUK. The child whose first possession was a NUK baby bottle manufactured by her dad is now carrying on the work of the man who made that bottle with loving care.

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