Opportunity

From Football to Retail: Virtual Reality Debuts in Associate Training

Inspiration can come from surprising places. Take college football, for instance.

You’d probably never guess that one of Walmart’s newest training tools got its start from an associate watching the University of Arkansas football team practice. But that’s exactly what happened.

Brock McKeel, senior director of central operations, saw how the athletes were interacting with the virtual reality (VR) technology during practice, putting them in real-life scenarios to test their skills and reactions. He talked with the team and one of the coaches – all confirmed VR had helped them improve performance on the field. After seeing the university’s success, Brock had an idea: This could easily be applied to our Walmart Academy training for store associates.

Imagine you’re a new Walmart store manager and you’ve never experienced a Black Friday. Wouldn’t it be helpful to understand the dynamics of such a busy day before you ever had to actually manage your associates and customers through it?

Using the same technology as the football team, we incorporated VR into 30 academies and we used it to train our associates to handle situations from the everyday, like managing the fresh area, to the rare, like Black Friday.

VR allows associates to experience a lifelike store environment to experiment, learn and handle difficult situations without the need to recreate disruptive incidents or disturb the customers’ shopping experience.

Ultimately, everything associates do is geared toward giving customers the best experience. Through VR, associates can see how their actions affect that. It’s helpful for associates to see mistakes in a virtual environment and know how to deal with them before they experience it in real life and don’t know what to do.

From our test, we’ve seen that associates who go through VR training retain what they’ve learned in those situations better than those who haven’t. Because of the promising results, we’ll be rolling out this training to all 200 of our Academy facilities by the end of 2017. That means, the over 140,000 associates who will graduate from academies each year will have VR as an integral part of that experience.

“When they said we were going to be using VR for training, I thought it was brilliant,” said Sean Gough, Academy facilitator at our Broken Arrow, Oklahoma store. “From cashier to lawn and garden, to electronics or fresh – there are just so many areas where I think this training would be so helpful.” As we test and learn from using this technology, we’re sure to find more and more ways to apply it.

When Sean first tried the VR training, he was able to virtually transport to another store and see how they were running things. It gave him a different perspective, which he felt would be great for store managers to experience. As a manager, you don’t usually have time to travel to other stores to see how things are done, but this technology would allow them to travel to a store across the country without even leaving their own store.

“I feel really proud that Walmart would invest so much in training, particularly at the level they have,” Sean said. And he is proud to play a part in this investment. As an Academy teacher, Sean helps others be leaders and experts in customer satisfaction. He enjoys seeing the associates he’s taught pass on that training, because this helps create futures for others.

Sean sees a great sense of pride from the people going through his Academy. As associates see all of the technology and enthusiasm we put into making them better, it encourages them, makes them feel good about their job – feel good about working for Walmart. Sean commented, “I think people leave my class thinking 'Walmart cares and they take care of me.'”

What’s so great about using VR? Well, it’s really easy to use – as easy as using a smartphone. It creates a passion about learning because we’re trying something new. And associates are better able to retain what they’ve learned.

Yeah, it’s cool. But it actually works. And it’s all thanks to a little football.

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Sustainability

Affordable vs. Planet-Friendly: You Shouldn’t Have to Choose

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just walk into a store and be confident the items you purchased were produced in a way that had the least amount of impact on the planet?

While that’s not yet a reality for many consumers, Walmart is trying to get there faster.

Last April, Walmart launched Project Gigaton, a project that invites our merchandise suppliers to join us in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the products they make and the way they make them, taking 1 gigaton (yes, that’s really a word - a billion metric tons) of emissions out of the atmosphere. That’s equal to all the emissions produced from all the homes in California over three years.

Greenhouse gas emissions are compounds that trap heat in the atmosphere and make the earth warmer. When the earth is too warm, it can cause many long-term issues that affect everyday things like the way we grow certain foods and source certain resources.

Not only does Project Gigaton encourage suppliers to remove emissions, it also encourages them to explore ways to improve their products, such as making packaging more recyclable, using less energy, saving customers money and reducing waste.

Taylor Farms is a supplier that makes prepackaged salads and fresh-cut vegetables for our Marketside private brand. With their chopped salads and stir fry kits, they found a way to reduce food waste by using the whole crop, meaning that 100% of the edible veggies get chopped up and nothing is discarded in the production process.

Taylor Farms has been dedicated to the development of new harvesting methods, engineering automated harvesting machines. In comparison to harvesting by hand, the uniformity and consistency of automated harvesting leads to higher yields and shipment of 100% usable products to their processing facilities. In addition to Taylor Farms, we are excited to have a growing number of suppliers joining Project Gigaton, working on things like reducing pesticides and fertilizers needed to grow food, making factories more efficient or using renewable energy like solar or wind turbines.

Walmart also recently announced we’ll further our efforts to reduce chemicals of concern, like formaldehyde and phthalates, from consumable products sold in Walmart and Sam’s Clubs U.S. stores by 10% by 2022, becoming the first U.S. retailer to set a time-bound reduction goal. This applies to items like household cleaners, cosmetics, skincare and infant products, among others.

I’m proud that work like this puts us in the company of other organizations doing great things. Walmart was recently recognized on Fortune’s Change the World list, as one of 50 featured companies making social benefit part of their core business.

No one should have to choose between products they can afford and products that are good for the environment. As more of our suppliers join in our goal to sell products that are good for people and the planet, it will become easier for more families to buy products they know are produced as sustainably as possible.

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Opportunity

How Tech is Powering New Paths for One 23-Year-Old

At the age of 23, Luis Gomez is already doing the kind of work he’s always dreamed of.

Three years ago, Luis was a college student and working as a Walmart cashier, with an IT job on the side to make extra money. He took the first step toward his goal of working in tech for Walmart and applied for a job in server operations at the home office. Today, he’s a cybersecurity associate at the David Glass Technology Center.

“The biggest piece of advice I have for anyone just starting out in their career is to take every opportunity that comes your way,” he said. “If you’ve never done something, try it anyway. We’re all moving forward.”

Check out this video to see how a career in tech is not only powering Luis’s dreams, but is inspiring his family and co-workers to do even more for theirs.

Looking for tech jobs like Luis’s? Check out our careers site to see what positions are currently available.

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Community

In the Aftermath of a Disaster, Food Banks Help Communities Heal

It’s hard to prepare yourself to visit a community that’s been affected by disaster.

The week after Hurricane Harvey hit, I visited the Houston area to help Feeding America member organization, Houston Food Bank, with relief efforts. Despite learning as much as possible about the hurricane’s impact before I left, I was still shocked by what I saw – the good and bad alike.

Driving around the neighborhoods, I saw entire contents of people’s homes piled curbside. It had all been ruined in the flooding and needed to be discarded. I met several people who told me through tears that they’d lost everything – including Rosalba, a mother who, along with her five children, rode out the storm in a pickup truck, praying for safety as the water rose. The house she had been renting was no longer livable. With nowhere to go, Rosalba and her family had been sleeping in that same truck, parked on the front lawn of what remains of their home. Her landlord said the home would take six to nine months to renovate, so Rosalba was desperately trying to find a place for her family to live in the meantime.

I met Rosalba at a local food pantry that was distributing supplies and food to hundreds of people impacted by Harvey. She and her daughter were there to pick up ready-to-eat meals and toiletries to help them get by. They were extremely grateful for the support in this unexpected time of need.

When I visited The Houston Food Bank, it was overflowing with donations and volunteers. There were boxes upon boxes of donated supplies waiting to be delivered. I was there only five days after the food bank re-opened, and already, more than 5,000 people had been through its doors to volunteer. The community – and country – is truly banding together to help people rebuild.

Feeding America’s network of food banks reaches every county in every corner of our nation—making us uniquely prepared to respond in the event of a disaster. Within hours we are able to quickly deploy trucks and other solutions to help in communities where we already operate. From preparing for disasters before they hit, to responding during the disaster, to supporting families and communities through recovery, we offer food and hope for families as they seek to return to normalcy.

Food banks in Texas have provided essential supplies to people in need, including water, boxes of food and personal hygiene and cleaning items. They’ve also provided support to transitional shelters. Food banks farther away have helped, too, by pitching in to offer product, vehicles and other assistance as needed.

For me, it was humbling to be in Houston – meeting storm survivors and volunteers and seeing firsthand how much of a difference the Feeding America network was really making in people’s lives. It reminded me why I am passionate about the work that we do.

Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have been instrumental in relief efforts. Their commitment of over $37 million for hurricane response over the past few months includes specific contributions to Feeding America and its member food banks to help those affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. With this support, we’ll be able to help even more food and supplies get to communities in need.

Even with this outpouring of support, there’s still so much more to be done. For thousands of families like Rosalba’s, it will take time to recover. But I’m hopeful that with continued support, everyone who has been impacted will be able to get back on their feet a little sooner.

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U.S. Manufacturing

RedHead Wine is Raising a Glass to Family Traditions

Family traditions can tell us so much about where we come from, and play a big part in who we become and what we bring to the world. I come from a family of winemakers.

My grandparents, Dominic and Michele Sergi, both emigrated from Italy at the age of 14, bringing the tradition of winemaking with them to Lowellville, Ohio. My grandfather started out by buying California grapes from railcars just outside of Youngstown, Ohio, which he used to make wine to share with his friends and family. My father, Frank Sergi, learned the craft from him. Frank and my mother, Ruth, opened a winery and bistro in Youngstown called L’uva Bella (“the beautiful grape” in Italian), and it still successfully serves the community today.

For me, I wanted to create something of my own that would bring people together the same way my family’s winery does. I spent four years at Cornell University learning enology and viticulture, the study of winemaking and grape-growing, and working with our team at L’uva Bella. With a passion for the industry and a technical expertise, I created my own wine label, RedHead Wine. I’ve been very fortunate that I got it right and consumers enjoy its unique blend.

After months of selling it at local stores and regional outlets, I learned first-hand how rewarding sharing something you’ve made yourself can be. I knew I wanted to do more of it. When I heard about Walmart’s U.S. Manufacturing Open Call event, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to put our product on more shelves and on the tables of more people – something that Walmart’s size could help me accomplish.

In June, I presented my RedHead Red Blend to their buyer and was approved to test it in all 150-plus stores in Ohio. As of today, it’s available in 30 stores throughout Ohio and we expect to expand into Michigan stores in early 2018.

As a result, we are expecting additional growth at L’uva Bella winery, with the potential to increase production by almost four times and create new jobs for us in Youngstown.

I’m so grateful this new opportunity allows me to leverage my passion for wine and share our RedHead brand products with even more people. It’s personally fulfilling and rewarding to make a product that contributes to the celebration some of life’s happiest moments and often plays a part in bringing people together.

Growing my business and extending the legacy of my family’s artisan craft is a journey that has opened many doors for me, and I truly can’t wait to see what happens next.

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