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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Community

Why Supporting the Military is Gary Sinise’s Mission

The tragic events surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States left actor Gary Sinise asking himself, “What can I do to support our military?” He found the answer in doing what he loves: entertaining.

Although not a veteran himself, Gary became a vocal supporter of American servicemen and women. He began touring with the USO across the U.S. and to military bases abroad, and eventually brought musician friends along to perform. What started as a group just playing together for fun turned into the Lt. Dan Band, named after Sinise’s memorable Vietnam War veteran character in the movie “Forrest Gump.” In the past 13 years, the band has played hundreds of shows, including a recent concert that Walmart sponsored to recognize Medal of Honor recipients.

In 2011, his personal mission to champion wounded heroes, their families and children of the fallen led him to establish the Gary Sinise Foundation. The organization is home to a variety of programs that offer support, raise awareness and provide necessary resources to wounded heroes and active-duty service families. Watch as Sinise shares more about his mission and offers advice on how anyone can support our nation’s military and their families. 

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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

From Leading Soldiers to Leading Walmart Associates

Following in my father’s footsteps, I joined the Marines before I finished high school.

After returning home from two tours of duty in Somalia and Iraq, I found that similar to many veterans, I struggled with the transition to civilian life. Initially I thought I had only two options: police officer or fireman. I decided on becoming a patrolman, but there were a limited number of openings, and the salary would have made it difficult to support my family.

After much research, I decided to work in retail. I took my first position with Walmart not only because of the secure salary but also because Walmart seemed to be a company that offered equal opportunity to every kind of person. Just like the military, I would be able to prove my abilities and possibly be rewarded for high performance.

Several months after separating from the Marines, when I felt the desire to rejoin the military, Walmart encouraged me to return. I joined the Army National Guard and was eventually called back to Iraq to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I was a lead sniper, in charge of training more than 200 Iraqi policemen and 15 Americans. I was responsible for teaching them everything from leadership to gathering intelligence in a combat environment.

My part in the deployment ended after mortar rounds landed preceding a serious firefight in which I suffered several injuries after mobilizing my men to safely return to camp. I was awarded the Bronze Star with valor for my leadership; however, my recovery took months of surgeries. Today, I’m legally blind in my left eye, and still have some memory issues from a traumatic brain injury. But through all those difficult times, my managers at Walmart were really supportive. They helped me work around my limitations and even flew me to Kansas City to receive the Sam Walton Hero Award in front of 5,000 people.

After my recovery, I learned how to translate my military background to the business world even further. It may sound very different, going from staff sergeant to running a grocery department, but leadership skills remain constant. It’s all about establishing routines, simplifying things for associates, leading them and understanding them. Because of that, I’ve been able to grow my career.

I was recently promoted to Fresh Operations Manager and lead more than 1,000 associates. I work in the field, teaching and training fresh operations in our stores and have remained committed to our troops by supporting Walmart’s initiative to hire veterans. I work with HR to help them understand the different military ranks and how that translates to jobs. In the last five years, Walmart has hired more than 100,000 veterans and we’re a stronger company because of it.

I like to stay involved in supporting veterans in any way I can. I co-founded Helping Hands for Freedom, a nonprofit that supports the families of wounded and fallen soldiers. Most soldiers and their families lack the kind of support I was fortunate to receive from Walmart, so we do everything we can.

It’s great knowing I work for a company that supports my involvement with veterans. My plan is to continue to grow within the company and move up to senior leadership on the grocery side of the business. I want to continue to move forward with my development and growth so I can continue to lead and develop associates across our company.

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Innovation

Checking Your Grocery List, and Getting it Right

People want to save money and time, so it's no wonder online grocery shopping sounds so appealing. Open your browser, click the grocery items you need, and let someone else do the shopping for you – right down to loading them in your trunk, right?

That’s exactly why Walmart will be expanding its online grocery service to nine more new markets this month, such as Columbus, Ohio; Omaha, Nebraska; and Raleigh, North Carolina. But our customers want more than just the ability to click and shop from the comfort of their own homes or workplaces. They want to know the perfect tomato – or better yet, banana or avocado (because those can be especially tricky) – finds its way into their grocery bag every time.

Before we began expanding the service to more markets, we worked tirelessly for quite some time to pilot and modify our online grocery service – and that’s because we’re committed to getting it right every time. The key to how we build a trusting bond with customers rests with our managers and, most importantly, our personal shoppers. We select only the best of the best for this critical role, and each associate undergoes rigorous training.

Selecting great produce and meat is essential. Personal shoppers not only learn the art of selecting these items by look, but also by touch and smell. For example, when a customer selects strawberries, our personal shoppers peek through each side of the carton. Similarly, finding the perfect pineapple or cantaloupe requires extra time – and we make the time. When our personal shoppers are gathering frozen and refrigerated items, they work quickly to select those items and return them to a designated, temperature-controlled holding area to ensure quality is not compromised.

But all the training in the world can’t account for everything. That’s where personal relationships matter.

Our promise to customers is that we’re not just here to gather their groceries. We learn their names.  Over time, we’ll get to know whether they prefer softer or firmer avocados, because we understand that texture makes a difference if you’re adding a slice to a salad or mashing it for guacamole. And as we get to know our customers more, we can begin to know which customers are fans of yellow bananas, and which opt for slightly green for a longer shelf life.

We’re in the business of saving our customers money so they can live better. In our eyes, taking grocery shopping off a customer’s growing to-do list, while ensuring quality and convenience every time – that’s definitely living better.

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