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

Offering Customers More at the Door

Of all the aspects that make up a great shopping experience, there’s one that sets the tone right away: The first few steps inside the door.

We’ve been working to welcome customers to an improved Walmart for some time now, and of the countless details we’ve taken a look at, a key piece has been better utilizing an important role – our greeters. Last year, we launched a pilot program that in many stores, moved our greeters from action alley back to the front door, and in others, introduced a brand-new position: customer host, an associate who greets customers, but also checks receipts where appropriate, assists with returns and helps keep entrances clean and safe.

The reaction was positive. In stores with the new customer host role, customers said they liked easily spotting someone to go to for help and advice. Part of this is because our customer host stands out by wearing a yellow vest.

This pilot program was successful so we’ll begin rolling out these changes to all of our U.S. stores by mid-summer.

We know a one-size-fits-all-approach to our door coverage won’t work for our more than 5,000 stores. To help ensure each store has the coverage it needs, we’re using data on safety, security and shrink risks to guide us on  how best to staff our entrances. Where our data tells us the risk is higher, we’ll add the new customer host. We expect to fill about 9,000 of these new hourly positions that are specially trained to both welcome customers as soon as they walk in and also help deter would-be shoplifters.

Greeters are a big part of our company and culture, and that’s why in the majority of our U.S. stores we will continue to rely on them to be the helpful first face customers see. In stores where we alternatively have customer hosts, we’re giving our current greeters the ability to apply for these new roles, other positions at their store or Walmart locations nearby. During the pilot phase, more than 80% of the affected associates were able to find new positions – including many promotions. For those who didn’t choose to stay, we offered severance pay, which we continue to offer as we move this program nationwide.

Providing customers with an excellent first impression is part of Walmart’s broader strategy to ensure simpler, more convenient shopping.  Focusing more on our greeters is one of a whole host of details we’re looking at – it just happens to be a very visible one.

While the number of stores in the pilot phase of this program was too small for us to glean exhaustive data, we’re confident that taking it to a larger group of stores will continue to support the progress we’re making in customer experience.

And knowing that our customers are truly feeling the difference? That’s the kind of first impression we’re working hard to turn into a lasting one.

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U.S. Manufacturing

Creating Jobs Through What We Buy

At Harvard’s Social Enterprise Conference this weekend, the topic on top of everyone’s mind was how to solve big problems. Attendees talked about many ways to create change: whether it’s through launching a startup, investing in green energy, or innovation in education.

I spoke about Walmart’s commitment to buy $250 billion over 10 years in products that support American jobs. Through this commitment, we are empowering our customers to help create jobs and be agents of change through what they buy. 

Since we launched our commitment, we’ve worked with hundreds of suppliers to encourage them to manufacture or assemble their products here. As a retailer, we don’t make anything, but we’re big and want to use our strength to help others. We’ve made good progress.

In some cases we’ve agreed to longer-term contracts to give suppliers the confidence to grow their business in America such as our commitment to Wadley Holdings which makes patio furniture in Wadley, Alabama. With a population of just 700, the company recently added 50 full-time jobs to the region as a result of our commitment and is planning to add an additional 50 jobs next year. 

Or you can start small and grow with us. Take Ed Mueller, founder of Carolina Gumbaya of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He started selling his South Carolina seafood gumbo at 17 area Walmart stores. Today, Ed’s gumbo has grown to 137 Walmart stores over five states.

Duncan Berry, founder of Fishpeople knows very well what can happen when you have an idea to create American jobs. He told the audience about how his seafood company is making a difference for the fishermen in the Pacific Northwest. Surprisingly, 90% of the seafood caught in American waters goes overseas for processing. He wanted to change that. And he has. Starting last year he signed a deal with Walmart to sell his sustainably caught and processed fish at our stores. He’s created jobs in Oregon and is doing it sustainably too.

Duncan’s story is inspiring and we’re looking for others to do the same.

For the third year in a row, Walmart is opening its doors June 28 to more than 500 manufacturers and inventors during the company’s “Made in the USA” Open Call for products made, assembled or grown in the U.S. There are no hoops to jump through – no phone calls or pre-pitch meetings. During the event, suppliers will meet with the company’s senior leaders and buyers at our headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, to pitch their products for Walmart stores, Sam’s Clubs and Walmart.com. We’ll also have learning academies for our suppliers on topics ranging from the changing customer to how best to work with Walmart. Registration opens March 15 at www.walmart-jump.com.

In a year where everyone wants to create opportunity in their communities, we’re proud to provide customers and entrepreneurs the chance to do that through what they buy at Walmart.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt of Michelle’s post that was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

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Opportunity

The Family Tree That Flourished at Walmart

When I applied for a part-time job at Walmart 22 years ago, it was to earn a little extra money for the holidays. It really was as simple as that – or so I thought.

I quickly came to love the people I was surrounded by. Walmart was new to California at the time, so I didn't know a lot about the company. But what I did know was that the people I worked with at my store in Anaheim made it fun. They were like family and that mattered to me.

What began as an opportunity to earn a few extra bucks during the holidays immediately became a full-time job. As I continued to grow my career, my kids grew up with Walmart. They would always stop by after school, so everyone got to know them. The store manager even nicknamed my son, Anthony, the “Tuna Helper,” because he once vowed to help us sell every box of Tuna Helper on the shelves.

Fast-forward more than two decades, and Anthony has gone from Tuna Helper to holding the keys of a supercenter in Irvine. My heart swelled late last year, when Anthony was named manager of his very own store, because he has lived and breathed Walmart since he was a kid. He began as a photo lab associate while attending college and – after a few years away from the company – returned to serve as department manager, assistant manager, co-manager and more at a variety of stores.

But Anthony’s success is just the beginning of our family’s story.

When my brother-in-law lost his job of 30 years, he became a hardware department manager at a supercenter in La Habra. My daughter works as a pharmacy tech in La Habra, and my youngest, Aerin, could very well follow in our footsteps. Even I have to admit that all this could seem a bit made up, but the story that takes the cake is the fact Walmart set the stage for Anthony to meet his future wife and start a family of his own.

I’ll never forget the day Anthony – then a photo lab associate – told me he had a crush on a girl working in the shoe department. So, after talking with Heather’s mom, who also worked at the store, I decided to take a spin by to meet her. We struck up a conversation – and I may or may not have urged her to check out the young man in the photo lab. Several years later, Anthony and Heather are happily married Walmart associates, with two beautiful children.

It really doesn't get any better than that. From day one, Walmart has provided my family and I with much more than jobs. It’s where we’ve found opportunities to grow individually and together. It’s where we continue to make memories we wouldn't trade for anything.

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Health & Wellness

Walmart Associate Conquers North Pole Marathon

Some people will go a long way to support charity. For Dorn Wenninger, vice president of global food sourcing for Walmart U.S., not even the North Pole is too far.

Dorn was one of 56 runners from 21 countries who participated in the 14th annual North Pole Marathon on April 9. Dubbed the “World’s Coolest Marathon,” the 26.2-mile race not only challenges endurance athletes with its snow-covered, icy terrain and bone-chilling weather, it also supports a variety of worthy causes with hundreds of thousands of dollars raised each year.

Crossing the finish line after five hours and 17 minutes, Dorn captured first place and secured his spot in an exclusive group of 428 people worldwide who have completed the marathon since 2002.

This year’s competitors ran to raise money for a variety of causes worldwide. Dorn, who has been with Walmart almost six years, serves on the boards of two nonprofit organizations: Cobblestone Farm in Northwest Arkansas and Amigos de las Americas. He will continue to raise money for Cobblestone Farm, which produces organic produce that is then donated to local food banks.

“I’m passionate about healthy eating, farming and produce,” he said.

His passion also extends to running. In January, he participated in a marathon in Trinidad and Tobago, where the temperature was 130 degrees warmer than the lowest temperature he experienced while at the North Pole.

Knowing that running on snow and ice would be different, he trained for the North Pole event on dirt and gravel trails. But the terrain wasn’t his only concern. With temperatures between -25 and -43 degrees Fahrenheit, his respiration froze and built up on his face mask. He used three different masks throughout the five-hour run and ended up with early signs of frost bite on his nose.

His North Pole adventure was supposed to last one and half days, but a crack in the runway prevented Dorn from flying out for three days. Despite the delay, he said the trip was an amazing experience.

Running is a great way to deal with stress, he said – even on 6 feet of ice floating on 14,000 feet of Arctic Ocean. It also can have a positive impact on other areas of life, from personal to business.

“Achieving the seemingly impossible helps demonstrate that almost anything is possible, even when others don’t believe it is,” he said. “Determination, focus and persistence go a long way in achieving goals.”

Dorn never imagined he’d win the North Pole race, but with that victory in hand, he now has his eye on a few other challenges just as difficult – or more so.

“It's incredible what people are capable of when they put their mind to it,” he said. “The thought of running a marathon at the North Pole sounds so extreme that it's virtually unbelievable. I welcomed the challenge of proving, to myself, that it is possible.”

Photos courtesy of North Pole Marathon.

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