U.S. Manufacturing

Growing Beyond Europe, Korona Candles Lights Up U.S.

Poland – 4,630 miles away – is an unexpected place for a U.S. manufacturing success story to begin. But in the small city of Wieluń is where the story of Korona Candles started in 1992.

Today, a new chapter is being written in Dublin, Virginia, at the company’s first production facility in the States.

Back in Poland, the company started the manual production of candles with a team of about 20 workers and several basic machines. It was very labor intensive, Agnieszka Fafara, the company’s president and CEO, explained.

Ignited by the desire to manufacture top-quality candles, the company invested in automation and attracted more skilled employees in the process. Korona experienced tremendous growth in its hometown, building up to 900 employees.

“We are one of the most automated, advanced candle manufacturers worldwide,” said Agnieszka, who joined the company in 1999. “Our objective is to bring a luxury into the mass market. We’ve learned how to mass produce with very high standards,” she said, resulting in quality products that are affordable for the average person.

But what made a well-established Polish company decide to take a risk by opening a manufacturing facility in the U.S.?

From Europe, they’d supplied about 20% of their production to customers in the States. Moving that production to the U.S. wouldn’t be easy – Korona had to consider the costs, finding the right location, buying equipment and hiring new employees – but the reward would be better and faster customer service.

After careful planning, Korona had some meetings with Walmart in 2012, “and suddenly we were setting up production in Virginia,” Agnieszka said. Korona had been supplying tea lights to Walmart since 2010. In fact, Agnieszka was the original salesperson on the account.

The Virginia facility opened in 2014 with 50 employees and Agnieszka at the helm. In a little more than two years, that number has nearly tripled to 155 full-time workers plus 15 or so temporary employees. The Dublin facility produces 3.5 million tea lights every day, and a large percentage of those end up on the shelves at Walmart stores.

Korona’s impact on Virginia’s Pulaski County shines a light on the benefits of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. Twenty years ago, that region was dominated by the furniture industry, then textiles. But as companies moved production overseas, factories closed, the unemployment rate skyrocketed and places like Dublin saw an increase in abandoned warehouses.

Not only has Korona infused new life into Dublin’s industrial zone, it also offers stability. “With the demand for our consumer goods, we can provide a safe and stable environment long term. Employees can stay here forever if they like it,” Agnieszka said.

When asked what the future looks like for Korona, Agnieszka was quick to say “we’re here to stay”. The company has invested $22 million in the Dublin facility with the objective of expanding it. “It will take time,” Agnieszka said, “but in a five-year perspective we can have another 50 or 100 people employed.”

And a new chapter will begin.

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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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