U.S. Manufacturing

Meet the Team Making Eyewear for aMerica in Brooklyn

Along the shore of New York’s Upper Bay, the buildings of Industry City stand in a huddle that overlooks the Brooklyn Waterfront.

On the fifth floor, M Factory buzzes with the busy energy of an eyewear manufacturer.

This type of space is rare to see in the U.S., for a very specific reason: Most eyewear manufacturing is done in Italy or China, and always has been. This is also one of the reasons why what M Factory is doing in Brooklyn is so exciting: Crafting quality, affordable eyewear is not something typically done in the United States.

When Walmart first began working with our suppliers to reshore eyewear manufacturing, we were excited to find a revitalization project already under way in Brooklyn. There, a group of 25 Brooklyn natives is building a community of makers and craftsmen. We knew this was the right place to start our project, and today, this is where our aMerica eyeglass frames are made by hand.

In today’s age of technology-driven factory assembly, there are very few industries investing in hand-crafted products. Yet eyewear is one category in which this is a must. Even the most inexpensive pair of readers is assembled in a process upwards of 50 steps. And no machine exists to screw the temple pieces on a pair of glasses to the frame – that’s done by hand, at each step and for every pair.

Watch the video below for a look at how the team at M Factory is bringing this craft to life in Brooklyn, and keep a look out for our aMerica frames, in stores the last week of June.

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Opportunity

How My Disability is Helping Make Walmart.com More Accessible

On August 28, 2000, I began my career at Walmart eCommerce.

I began as a product copywriter, responsible for writing thousands of item descriptions. I progressed to become a senior manager on our site merchandising and customer experience team.

At the same time I was expanding my focus on customer experience, I was also losing my eyesight.

By 2015, I was in the thick of vision loss, but refused to let anyone see the battle I was fighting inside. I came to work every day without using a white cane or guide dog, because I was afraid of what people would think if they knew I had a disability. Would their perceptions of my abilities change? Would this impact my career growth?

I soon began using assistive technology called a screen reader that read all accessible content on my computer, tablet and smart phone – enabling me to thrive in a digital world. Within a matter of days, I quickly realized that for the first time in 15 years, I could no longer shop our website. Walmart.com was not accessible for screen readers. I immediately thought about the more than 20% of the U.S. population touched by disabilities and wondered how many of them couldn’t shop our site, either.

I suddenly realized that I had an opportunity to make a difference on inclusion for our associates and accessibility for our customers. It was time to take what I perceived as a liability and turn it into an asset. As I began to share my situation with a trusted HR partner, she introduced me to a colleague, and now dear friend, Russell Shaffer, who has the same degenerative retinal disease as me. Russell’s passion for inclusion and his invaluable support (along with my first guide dog) gave me just the dose of courage I needed to be able to bring my true self to work.

Nearly three years later, I can tell you that the day I stepped out of my comfort zone is the day I stepped into the most challenging, yet rewarding, job of my career. Today, I am proud to lead accessibility for Walmart eCommerce, proud to co-chair our internal group for associates with disabilities and proud to be part of a company that continues to promote the importance of diverse thought leadership as part of its overall commitment to diversity and inclusion.

I am now principal product owner of digital accessibility, and my job is educating and enabling teams across our company to build accessibility into our culture and the way we work. When we start with digital inclusion and universal design, we deliver a better experience for everyone. Walmart eCommerce is just embarking on the accessibility journey. We’re proud of the progress we’ve made and excited about the opportunity to continue optimizing our digital properties. From the audits of our site and apps to the changes we’ve made in our processes, we’re continuing to make our experience more accessible. We have also made great strides with our grocery offering, as we know how important it is to make grocery shopping easy for everyone. And, our customers with disabilities have told us online grocery pickup and delivery are making a difference in their lives.

Another key focus area is driving accessibility innovation for internal software applications, ensuring that everything Walmart builds for the accessibility of our customers is also built to make associates’ lives easier as well.

Sharing my story has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am grateful for both the personal and professional connections that I’ve made along this journey.

In addition to my day-to-day work at Walmart, I also frequently travel to conferences to speak. The thing that humbles me the most, and what makes my work so rewarding, is the fact that other major corporations are also making accessibility a priority for the benefit of their customers and colleagues. When Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Google can all sit down together over the issue of accessibility and devote their resources toward tackling this challenge, it transcends competitive boundaries and sends a clear message that people with disabilities are assets. We bring new and different perspectives to the workforce, we adapt quickly and are extreme problem solvers.

Thanks to the culture of trust within Walmart, I am really proud to be me. The me with a disability. The me that is so honored to be part of a team of associates who have leaned in and learned how to truly make a difference in so many people’s lives.

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U.S. Manufacturing

Answering the Open Call: Entrepreneurs Bring It at Walmart’s Annual Event

It was high-stakes show-and-tell yesterday at Walmart’s annual U.S. Manufacturing Open Call event.

Entrepreneurs representing more than 450 businesses roamed the halls of our Home Office in Bentonville, Arkansas, awaiting their turn to pitch everything from salsa to sportswear in front of Walmart buyers. Weaving my way through the crowd, I saw hundreds of original and inventive items and had the privilege of meeting some of the people and hearing some of the stories behind them.

A few of those people walked away with deals, a few heard maybes and others received feedback that will prepare them to try again. Here are five of my favorites.

1. Flying High. Megan Hardwick had a roller-coaster ride of a day. The business owner and mom had to pitch her Wings Cosmetics eyeliner stamps twice: once in a small room in front of a buyer, then in an auditorium filled with other hopefuls and Walmart associates. Our cosmetics buyer was sold on Megan’s invention – flexible plastic stamps that apply liquid or gel eyeliner in sharp, matching wing shapes in seconds.

Flying high after getting a deal, she was selected for a live pitch session called “Bring It,” where businesses vied for crowdsourcing to identify which products would get placement in Walmart stores. Megan’s Wings went up against Mighty Good Pizza Saver – a microwavable plastic container that keeps leftover pizza fresh – and the competition was intense, with the Pizza Saver taking the lead by one point seconds before the polls closed. Megan wasn’t out of the game though. Her Wings pulled through and the contest ended with a tie.

2. Sparking Interest. Warren Brown, a lawyer-turned-baker from the Washington, D.C., area, attended his first Open Call in 2017 and ultimately landed a deal for Don’t Forget Cake: a single-serve layer cake with frosting in a jar. This year, he presented a healthier snacking option called Spark Bites. Warren said these whole-grain snacks are gluten- and allergen-free, high in fiber, low in cane sugar and come in five different flavors. His Spark Bites were referred to another buyer in a category that better fits the product. As for Don’t Forget Cake, two flavors launched in March and will soon be available in 1,000 Walmart stores.

3. Ugly Dates Deserve Love. This story begins all the way in Israel. When David Czinn and his friend and business partner, Brian Finkel, were studying abroad in the Middle East, they both fell in love with the region’s alternative to honey: D’vash date nectar. The sweetener has been a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine for thousands of years, David said, and the duo wanted to bring it to the States – but they wanted to cut the sugar and make it environmentally friendly. Thus D’vash Organics was born. Their dates come from Coachella Valley farms in California. “We buy the ugly ones that wouldn’t otherwise be sold,” David said. The nectar is vegan, has 25% less sugar than honey and can add flavor to tea and coffee, marinades, salad dressing and much more. David, a second-time Open Call participant, said he got positive feedback and was excited for the future of this ancient delight as he prepared for more meetings later in the day.

4. Party to Go. With the summer heat just getting started, ready-to-go cocktails sound like a great idea for parties and relaxing evenings outside with friends. YUMIX has quenched the need with three flavors – Orange Mango, Margarita and Sea Breeze. Everything needed is in one bottle: Simply twist off the bottom chamber that holds the alcohol, pour into the bottle and mix. Alex Garner, founder and CEO, started the day off right when he walked out of the pitch meeting with a deal for these adult beverages.

5. The Heart of the Deal. Not everyone was at Open Call with products in tow. Businessman Ray Doustdar was back for his second year with advice and a listening ear. In 2017, Ray pitched his liquid multivitamins, Buiced – a play on “boost your veggie juice” – and didn’t immediately get a deal because the product was too big for Walmart’s shelves. Ray took the buyer’s feedback home, adjusted the size of the packaging, approached the buyer again and got his “yes.” Two flavors of Buiced, citrus and fruit punch, are now available in 3,000 stores, and the experience has been life-changing for Ray. “I knew I wanted to come back as a success story and help other people prepare for their meetings,” Ray said. “This experience has made me be better at my business,” he said, and being able to pay it forward as a mentor is important to him.

Ray said it best: “The stories coming out of Open Call are proof that the American dream is alive and well.”

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Business

Q&A: Eko Founder on Walmart Deal, Changing the Game in Entertainment

Walmart and Eko’s new joint venture, W*E Interactive Ventures, is poised to bring an exciting approach to entertainment to a much larger audience. We caught up with Yoni Bloch, the CEO of Eko, to learn more about the future of his company’s work with Walmart.

Q: For those who don’t know Eko, tell us about your technology and approach to interactive media.

A: Eko is a technology company leading the charge in interactive entertainment. We have over 15 patents that enable the creation, distribution, measurement and monetization of streaming interactive video. All these things come together as a storytelling platform that empowers participants to shape stories as they unfold.

Since 2010, we’ve created interactive content for major brands like Coca-Cola, Samsung, IKEA, Shell, Madewell and Red Bull. We’ve collaborated with artists like Coldplay, Carly Rae Jepsen, Aloe Blacc, Major Lazer and Bob Dylan.

More recently, we’ve ventured into interactive serialized entertainment. We’ve launched the comedy, That Moment When, with Sony and a reimagining of 1983’s WarGames with MGM.

With our Walmart partnership, we are excited to explore groundbreaking interactive content even further.

Q: What separates your interactive content from other entertainment sources?

A: There’s a vast landscape of entertainment sources out there; from Candy Crush to Game of Thrones to social media. They’re all valid and exciting mediums, but none combine interactivity with filmmaking.

Eko Originals are created by acclaimed Hollywood storytellers and game visionaries to harness the best of both of these worlds and give audiences greater participation than ever before. A viewer suddenly transforms into a participant creating an incredible sense of collaboration and complicity in the story itself. With our content, we suddenly have the “water cooler effect 2.0”: Instead of discussing the season finale, you’ll discuss what happened on your season finale.

Q: How do you envision Eko’s technology changing the ways that we interact with entertainment?

A: We all interact thousands of times a day. Every single person has a media playing device on them at all times (sometimes two or three). Texting, playing games, chatting—everything we do is interactive. And then video starts to play and...we lean back. Storytelling is the last medium to catch up.

But those days are over. The bandwidth is here, the hardware is here and now the software is here. Everyone’s ready to be a part of their stories, and we’re happy to give them these experiences.

We’re not changing the way we interact. We’re catching up to how we already do.

Q: Why are you passionate about audiences interacting with their media in this way?

A: Rather than sit back as passive viewers, interactivity empowers audiences to participate in stories. This drives deeper emotional connections with content, leading to unprecedented levels of engagement.

Depending on the interactive experience, participants could shape a protagonist’s decisions and personality or completely change the tone of the show—the possibilities are endless. You get drawn in when you make choices. You become more empathetic, more invested, more inspired.

Our belief is that interactivity should bring you closer to the feeling that your imagination is part of the story. Otherwise, interactivity is just a gimmick. And, we’re not a gimmick. We’re a powerful tool for self-expression.

Q: Talk about this deal with Walmart. What possibilities will this open up for Eko and Walmart?

A: This is the biggest investment to date in interactive video entertainment. It creates an unprecedented opportunity to develop premium interactive series but also to link commerce and entertainment in innovative ways that are entertaining and helpful.

By pulling in consumers to engage and shape their own personalized experiences, we are innovating far beyond the passive viewing experience of traditional digital video, branded or not.

Our partnership is part of a larger entertainment ecosystem Walmart is building. Through interactive content, Walmart will ultimately connect with its customers on a much deeper, more meaningful level. Through our partnership, we’re combining forces to bring the next generation of premium interactive entertainment to a diverse, mainstream audience.

Q: What can customers and viewers expect from this venture?

A: If you’re a gamer, your jaw will drop the first time you play a movie. If you love movies and TV, your jaw will drop when you realize you can be part of the story.

Everyone who participates in an Eko Original has the same reaction: “This is the future.”

From the moment you begin, you realize you’re on the cusp of an entirely new art form. By just participating in it, you’re part of it.

Passive entertainment isn’t going away. But interactive entertainment is here at long last. So, what can they expect? They can expect to have their minds blown.

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Innovation

You’ll Never Believe Who’s Scrubbing the Floors at Walmart

The floor of a Walmart store doesn’t get a lot of attention from customers.

That’s because when it’s in perfect condition, it’s shiny, sparkling and simply just there – gliding carts and people along and acting as the backdrop for an uncomplicated, list-checking experience.

Creating this often overlooked, yet important experience has, however, required a LOT of attention from Walmart associates. In fact, for two hours each day, an associate at each of our U.S. stores sits on a scrubbing machine to make sure the floor plays the flawless, clean-yet-invisible role.

Two hours per day. It’s time an associate would rather spend serving customers, so we’ll soon be deploying a very modern solution: the Auto-C – Autonomous Cleaner. Much like a self-driving car, this machine uses assisted autonomy technology to clean and polish floors, freeing up associates to take care of other tasks. Instead of riding the scrub machine, a Walmart associate can be tidying restrooms, dust-mopping the checkout aisles, or engaging with customers.

Available in 78 stores today and rolling out in around 360 soon, Auto-C is just one piece of technology that is making Walmart more efficient. The Auto-C is still pretty young and needs adult supervision (an associate has to prep the area and map the machine’s route), but we’re excited about the role it will play – along with the Auto-S scanning machine, Alphabot, and Pickup towers – in Walmart’s technology ecosystem.

Look for Auto-C coming soon to an impeccably clean floor near you.

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