U.S. Manufacturing

At 50 Strong, America and Innovation Go Hand-in-Hand

There’s a game that my husband, Brendan, and I play every time we go to a trade show.

We flip the products over to see where they were made, and usually we see the name of a country overseas, like China or Taiwan. When I ask the sales manager why, I usually get one standard response: “You can’t make this in the U.S.A.”

This has always been interesting to me because I know that you can make a lot out of plastics in the U.S. – my family has been doing it every day for the past 35 years! Not only is it possible, it’s work that has provided for us since my father founded Precision Thermoplastic Components, Inc. in 1982. What started out as a fun little game pushed my husband and me to address what we saw as a real need for even more American-made products. In 2012 we started our company 50 Strong in Lima, Ohio, producing U.S.-made water bottles, bottle cages, and tire repair levers for Walmart’s bike accessories department.

As the brand grew, we were constantly looking to innovate. I began to spend weeks in the housewares aisles of various stores, watching how people shopped and asking about their water bottle must-haves and pet peeves. Our designers took the responses and created a line of the top 10 bottles that folks were looking for. Innovation is at the heart of what we’re doing at 50 Strong, which means we’re dedicated to making smarter products with better manufacturing processes that we engineer ourselves.

When we started the brand, we also started the 50 Strong Foundation, our nonprofit that receives 10% of all sales to fund education for manufacturing workers. It doesn’t matter if these people are going to work for us or some other company; any time we can add skilled workers to the industry is a true benefit for the future of American jobs.

Our family is competitive, and we feel great pride being able to say that we’re making a better, smarter product with great quality at a competitive price. Partnering with Walmart is another big source of pride for us because we know that their commitment to U.S. manufacturing is as real as ours is. When a retailer is willing to develop a team to focus on finding more suppliers of U.S.-made products, that’s when you know they truly care.

The name “50 Strong” stands for the 50 states, and came from our vision to make America stronger by making more of the products that we use here, in America. For every job that we’re able to fill with an American worker, we know there will be a ripple effect throughout that person’s community. Maybe they’re coaching youth baseball, maybe they’re volunteering at church, or maybe they’re just spending more time helping their kids with homework.

The feeling of providing meaningful jobs is hard to put into words, but our mission is simple: When we start making more things in America, it’s a win for our workers, our families, and our communities.

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Business

Why Smarter Inventory Means Better Customer Service

When you’re getting ready to head to Walmart, you expect everything on your list will be ready and waiting on our shelves.

With millions of items for sale, ensuring that happens – for everything, every time – is quite a complex process behind the scenes.

Managing back room inventory – products that are stored in back rooms for days, sometimes weeks, before they reach shelves – can be a challenge. It requires constant monitoring, and can sometimes take associates away from the sales floor where they would otherwise be helping customers. So recently we’ve been experimenting with new and better ways to improve the process for everyone.

Top Stock is one of these new systems that we’re testing in stores. With it, we’ve moved a great deal of our back stock inventory to somewhere else very simple: the top shelves on our sales floor. By keeping additional merchandise closer to where it’s sold, we can maintain fuller shelves while keeping a better in-the-moment read on inventory.

I spent the first 12 years of my three decades with Walmart in replenishment and supply chain roles, so I understand the significance firsthand of how this makes storage and stocking so much easier. But there’s also quite a bit more that directly benefits customers:

  • All the extra space we’re opening up in our back rooms is making it easier for us to integrate services like online grocery pickup. While the demand for grocery pickup is obvious, finding adequate space within our existing stores had sometimes been a challenge.
  • Need something you don’t immediately see on the shelf? Waiting for an associate to check our back room during peak holiday shopping periods could soon be a thing of the past. By improving our inventory management processes, we’re bringing the products and services that customers need one step closer. In fact, the implementation of Top Stock has helped reduce our rental of temporary inventory trailers to a small fraction of what it was just a few years ago.
  • Our improvements in inventory management are getting more associates out of the back room and onto the sales floor, where they can help and interact with customers.
  • Perhaps best of all, our associates can use open back room space for career-building education. When one store in Morrisville, North Carolina, implemented Top Stock inventory management, they reduced back room inventory by 75% in two months, allowing enough new space to open an Academy for associate training.

What’s worked for our business in the past isn’t always what’s best for today’s shopper. When we commit to coming up with unexpected ways to do the small things better, we not only become smarter and more efficient, but create a big win for our customers at the same time.

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U.S. Manufacturing

In the News: Inside Our Open Call for American Manufacturing

Shrimp, hair gel, sweet potato cake.

Forbes sent a film crew to Walmart’s corporate office in Bentonville, Arkansas, to capture the excitement as suppliers pitched these and hundreds of other products at our annual U.S. Manufacturing Open Call event.

Forbes shared its inside look today. Take a look at what the big day is like for the people behind the products.

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Innovation

Uncovering How We’ll Shop in the Future

As new technology brings new possibilities, there’s been an explosion of ways to shop – smartphone apps, online grocery shopping and Scan & Go for easier checkout, to name just a few. To serve customers better, we need to stay ahead of the research that helps form the ideas that will continue to revolutionize how we shop.

I’m part of a small team that’s delving deep into research to improve the shopping experience for everyone. I’m a data scientist for Sam’s Club Technology, and I like to compare what we do to building a car: You have to start with the engine.

My day-to-day work is all about staying on top of new methods to build that engine. I look at ways we can incorporate emerging research in object recognition, detection and segmentation – technology that can make things like our Scan & Go app even smarter. For instance, instead of scanning a bar code, the app will be able to recognize products using photos taken by your phone’s camera.

Because this is such a fast-moving field, the research I work with is in its earliest stages. I might work with one algorithm today, and a couple months from now use a completely new model that’s even better than what we had before.

Tech is constantly evolving, which makes innovation essential for retailers. We have to continually adapt our business to our shoppers’ lifestyles. There’s a lot of coding, engineering and algorithm testing that goes into building something that works better than what people are used to. It’s challenging, but that’s why I’m lucky to work with such talented people.

Until I joined the team last year, I never realized the strong sense of pride that associates in the Walmart and Sam’s Club family have in what our business does. After studying at Yale, I worked in financial engineering in New York – I didn’t expect to find an opportunity to do such innovative work in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I’ve found that in the corporate world, it’s rare for a business to invest in cutting-edge research. But, from the start, Walmart has chosen to invent some of our own solutions instead of waiting for someone else to come up with them. In this new age of tech, we’re still evolving and inventing better ways to get from Point A to Point C.

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Innovation

5 Ways Walmart Uses Big Data to Help Customers

In many industries, big data provides a way for companies to gain a better understanding of their customers and make better business decisions.

Walmart relies on big data to get a real-time view of the workflow in the pharmacy, distribution centers and throughout our stores and e-commerce.

Check out the infographic below to see how Walmart uses big data to make the company’s operations more efficient and improve the lives of customers.

Whether it’s analyzing the transportation route for a supply chain or using data to optimize pricing, big data analytics will continue to be a key way for Walmart to enhance the customer experience.

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