Opportunity

Meet Sam’s Club’s New President & CEO, John Furner

Today, John Furner begins his new role as President and CEO of Sam’s Club. Starting as an hourly associate in 1993, John has climbed the ladder of opportunity with our company, with roles at both Walmart and Sam’s Club, including assistant store manager, assistant buyer, store manager, district manager and buyer before being promoted to vice president in 2006. Since then, he has held leadership roles in operations, merchandising and sourcing, in addition to an expatriate assignment with Walmart China. We sat down with John before his first day to learn a little more about him and his priorities for Sam’s Club.

Your journey through Walmart and Sam’s Club sounds like it has involved quite a few moving trucks and new business cards. Can you share some of the highlights?

It’s been an amazing ride and it all starts with your typical “boy joins rock band, rock band breaks up, boy needs job, boy gets job at Walmart” story.

It was 1993 and I was in college and also part of a fun little band on the side. The band broke up, so I needed to find a new job to help pay for some of my expenses. My dad worked for the company and he loved it, so it made my decision easier. I applied for a position as an hourly associate at the Walmart Supercenter in Bentonville, Arkansas, got the job and did whatever needed to get done in the store. 23-plus years, 16 or 17 jobs and three countries later, I feel like I’ve learned the business of Walmart U.S., Sam’s Club and Walmart International from the bottom up. With the support of my wife, Brandy, and our four kids, I’m honored and excited to be stepping into the role as President and CEO of Sam’s Club.

Along the way, you served as Chief Merchandising and Marketing Officer in China. How did you use your merchant experience to serve a new customer?

I’d been traveling to China for quite some time as part of my buyer roles in the past and thought I knew the country. But after moving there, I quickly discovered I wasn’t as prepared as I’d thought. You learn to appreciate the complexity of life in a foreign country and how to successfully navigate, both personally and professionally, through dense population centers and different mindsets. Under Greg Foran’s leadership, our goal was to simplify the business with a keen eye on assortment, pricing and store operations. The generational divide in China is extreme compared to what most people think and our customers have very disparate points of view on things like assortment. For example, some customers put a priority on food security while others were looking for more global products. We knew we had to get that right if we wanted to strengthen our business. When my assignment was over, I was proud of the changes we made, and I’m thrilled to see how the business has continued to grow in stores and online.


How did you know that Walmart was the right place for you?

My father worked for Walmart from 1977 until 1994 so Walmart has always been in my blood, but I never had any plans to follow in his footsteps. Then my mother got sick, and I watched the way Sam and Bud Walton took care of my family. It was in that moment I knew how tremendously important people were to Walmart. I also knew I wanted to work for and with the organization that had provided so much support to my family. As I transition into this new role, I’m going to do a lot of listening, especially to the associates closest to our members. Like Sam said, “listen to everyone in your company.”

Where will your focus be on your first day in this job?

I’m going to be focused on simplifying the business and thinking differently. We have a lot of hard work and new opportunities ahead of us and each associate at Sam’s Club will play a role in getting us there. I’m thinking about it in terms of three big areas:

1. People – We need to engage everyone, at all levels of the company, in the fight we’re in. We need to put our members first and have everyone pulling in the same direction.
2. Product – The products we sell have to be the hero. People don’t shop our clubs for the beautiful buildings – we have concrete floors and steel racks. They come to us for great items, and we must get that right.
3. Digital – I’m committed to accelerating our digital transformation. We saw tremendous growth last year with SamsClub.com, Club Pickup, and Scan & Go. We must continue to move with speed in this space and use member data and insights to quickly adapt and meet the needs of the increasingly digital consumer.

What’s your favorite thing about shopping at Sam’s Club?

Have you tried the Member’s Mark Sea Salt Caramels yet?

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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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Opportunity

Surprise, You’re Promoted! Meet Associate Tanaka Chikerema

When Tanaka Chikerema walked into Bud Walton Arena on Friday morning, he was already anticipating the moment he would walk on stage in front of thousands of his fellow associates –he just never expected that Greg Foran, CEO of Walmart U.S., would offer him a promotion when he did.

It’s pretty unusual for a CEO to promote one of his field associates on stage in front of an international audience. But then again, so is the path that led Tanaka from the capital city of Harare, Zimbabwe all the way to a stage in Northwest Arkansas.

“I was seven when my mom moved to the U.S.,” Tanaka recalls, “and I was just starting high school in Harare when she called and said it was time for me and my brother to move to Plano, Texas.”

In Zimbabwe, Tanaka’s mother, Dorcus, supported her family as a geography teacher. But economic hardships that still affect the country today created a system of poverty and crime, and she knew that even with a college education her children wouldn’t get the opportunities they deserved if they stayed in Harare.

Over the next seven years, Dorcus earned her nursing degree overseas while supporting her family with the income from three jobs.

“We were all living in one house together, my grandparents, cousins, brother and me,” said Tanaka. “To send any of us to school, there had to be a choice about who it was going to be. My mom knew that if we stayed in Harare, there was a good chance we could end up on the streets or getting into trouble.

“She always told us, ‘I just want you to stay focused. I just want you to have goals and stay on track.’”

When Tanaka graduated from high school in Plano, his mother’s words stuck with him. A job as a part-time truck unloader at his local Walmart quickly advanced as his managers recognized his potential. Within a year, Tanaka was promoted to supervisor. The words of his first mentor, Joe Riviera, still stick with him today: “If you show up and give 110%, it will pay off. It will always pay off.”

And it did. On stage at Walmart’s Associate Meeting, in front of thousands of his colleagues, Tanaka was promoted to a store support manager and recognized for the hours of energy and focus he’s dedicated to the company.

“It humbles me to think about how good my life is now,” Tanaka said, “and how much further I have to go. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that my mom was always right: ‘Get ready for the future, because you never know what it might hold.’”

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U.S. Manufacturing

Diary of a Dairy Farm: Meet the Dirksens, Who Supply Milk to Walmart

Growing up in rural Ohio, Tina Dirksen doesn’t remember picking up many things at the store. Aside from toothpaste, her family’s farm produced everything else that their 14-person household needed.

Modern life is a bit different, she explained, but it’s clear that she means that only with regard to her family’s shopping habits. A lot of her life actually remains the same: She’s still in the farming business, with multiple operations that produce pork, grain, corn and dairy. And she’s still a part of a big family, today the mother of eight children who all love animals and the land.

“I ask them what they want to do in the future and each one of them tells me they want to farm,” she said. “They know no other life. They truly enjoy it.”

While the Dirksens somehow find time to do their own gardening, canning and butchering some of their own meat, Tina says they make two trips to their local Walmart per week. So when the opportunity arose for them to sell milk to Walmart’s new dairy plant in nearby Fort Wayne, they were excited. They would be shipping their milk just a short distance, and by working directly with a retailer, they could oversee more details themselves.

“It totally made sense to me,” she said. “Farming is changing, and the dairy industry as a whole needs more outlets for their milk. This new plant offers that.”

Local farmers like the Dirksen family are critical to Walmart’s entry in to milk processing. Nearly 30 farms across Indiana and Michigan have signed up to provide milk to the 250,000-square-foot state-of-the-art plant, which began construction in 2016 on the heels of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture’s strategy to increase the volume of dairy processing locally. In opening this facility, Walmart joins a majority of other grocery retailers who run their own milk processing operations.

For the Dirksens, doing business in dairy is an investment for the future. Their 8,000-hog pork farm provides the majority of their income, while any profits the dairy farm produces are put back into improving it alone. Tina keeps up with industry innovations and implements those that are beneficial for the cows, the business and the environment.

“Sustainability is accountability,” she said. “If you don’t make a farm that is sustainable, it won’t be very profitable to you. It’s not something that we take lightly.”

The Dirksens care equally about their relationships with the people and the animals who work for them. While Tina’s responsibilities on the farm are mostly administrative, she oversees veterinary care for the cows and has been known to help out her employees by even babysitting their kids once in a while. Her family even spends time with cows on their off hours – they’ve had a pet, a Jersey cow they named Good Golly Molly, for 7 years.

“What I love most about farming is that it provides us the opportunity to do what’s best for our family,” she said. “To us, working with Walmart is an exciting adventure.”

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Life

Nailed It! Associates Show Spark with Creative Manicures

It’s tough to stand out in a crowd of 6,000 people – tougher, still, if half of them are wearing matching T-shirts.

As associates from all over the world converged on the University of Arkansas campus for Walmart’s 48th annual shareholders meeting week, many found creative ways to distinguish themselves. South African associates wore exquisite beaded headbands, and Argentines accessorized with their country’s flag.

One tactic many associates used for showing their individuality: nail art. From solid tips in Walmart colors, to artistic takes on the Walmart spark, to Insta-worthy designs featuring sequins and glitter, there was no shortage of creativity on display.

Rita Wright from store 592 in Derby, Kansas, always has her nails done and says her customers notice. For shareholders week, she went with bold azure polish, with the exception of her ring fingers, which sported a glimmery gold.

Kari Bickel is a department manager in jewelry, and it shows in her strong accessories game. Since she is often reaching into the jewelry case to help customers at store 5360 in Titusville, Pennsylvania, she wants her nails to be on point. Kari painted the Walmart spark on her thumbs and pinkies.

Different takes on the spark were a big trend in associate nail art, and some associates took store pride to the next level, adding their store numbers to their tips.

Ashia Sanford had one of the week’s most daring nail looks: pink and yellow with all manner of sparkle. From “fishtail” sequins (which resemble scales) to an “S” shape for shareholders, Ashia’s nails reflect her bright and vibrant personality.

“I have a standing appointment every other week with my nail lady,” Ashia says. “I do a different design each time. My regular customers always make a point of asking, ‘Ashia, what’d you get this time?’ They really seem to enjoy it.”

As an overnight customer service manager at Neighborhood Market 3052 in Vancouver, Washington, Ashia does a lot of stocking and work near the checkout area. When she returns home, she will probably shorten her nails so she can use her hands at work more easily.

But for shareholders week, she wanted to go all out. “This week is really special,” she says. “And I wanted my nails to reflect that.”

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