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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Business

Meet the Mother-Daughter Team Behind the Season’s Happiest Planner

There’s something about fall that feels like a second New Year. With back-to-school season in full swing, we’re all gearing up with new schedules and new goals to carry us through December.

Most of the time, those new goals are a clear signal that it’s time to get organized – and maybe even a little inspired. That’s something mother-daughter duo Terri Gick and Stephanie Fleming have been doing professionally for almost 20 years in their hometown of Fountain Valley, California.

When Terri and Stephanie first launched their brand of scrapbooking accessories, Me & My Big Ideas, it was just a small operation carried out of Stephanie’s own garage.

“At the start, we were just looking to start something new,” Stephanie said. “My mom was in the craft industry for 25 years and had just sold her company, and we both wanted to do something creative and to start a business. We saw that scrapbooking was on the rise and there was a need for a product – fun, decorative stickers – that just wasn’t out there.”

Over the last 20 years, the business has grown from a small, out-of-home venture to a full business operation in a 60,000-square-foot facility. After hiring a designer to develop their first 12 sticker designs, Terri and Stephanie quickly realized the importance of investing in their niche community of women with a dual passion for organization and inspiration, and decided to expand their team.

“Something we’ve done really well – as neither of us is an actual artist – is build an amazing team of designers,” Terri said. “It’s helped us forecast what the contemporary creative woman is doing, and ways in which we’re able to participate in her journey. We ask ourselves, ‘Is there a missing piece in the market we could fill to help that person live creatively?’”

The two have since expanded their product line to include The Happy Planner, a product that’s on our shelves now and through the fall that’s chock-full of customizable calendars to get you organized according to your goals and positive mantras to keep you going when your days get full.

“It’s a product that combines a love for creativity with a need for organization,” Stephanie said. “Our customer base is about 98% female, and as female entrepreneurs, we’ve found that we have the ability to forge an instant connection with them. It’s a real blessing.”

For Stephanie, that engagement with passionate customers has been one of the most rewarding aspects of building her business. She’s become personally invested in the growing community of creative women looking for engaging ways to organize their lives, even speaking to a convention of 1,300 women looking to connect.

“Through our business, we haven’t stopped at making a product or even just a brand – we’re able to become a part of the culture and connect with some really amazing women with similar interests. And that’s really special.”

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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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Innovation

Meet Waymo, Your New Self-Driving Grocery Chauffeur

Think back 10 years ago when shopping online for your groceries seemed like something only the Jetsons did. Today, it’s everywhere. Walmart is leading the way with more than 1,500 locations with hundreds more to come just this year.

Now, think about self-driving cars. They still seem really far off to me … but they aren’t. They’re on roads today, without drivers.

We’re always thinking of ways we can serve our customers now and into the future. And we’re looking at different technology and capabilities that keep customers loving the time-saving, wallet-saving service that is Online Grocery for years to come. So, enter a small pilot project we’re running with Waymo, formerly known as Google’s self-driving car project.

Waymo is a self-driving technology company with a mission to make it safe and easy for everyone to get around – without the need for anyone in the driver’s seat. They’ve safely self-driven over 8 million miles on roads across 25 U.S. cities already. We’re working with them on an online grocery pilot project – limited to a group within Waymo’s 400 daily users known as "early riders"– that will run out of one Walmart store in Chandler, Arizona.

Those in the pilot simply place an Online Grocery Pickup order at walmart.com/grocery. Our personal shoppers get to work meticulously picking customers’ orders based on their pickup times. Waymo does the rest. They transport customers to and from pickup, and all the while, those customers can text, nap, work... you name it.

The purpose of all of this: to learn. While giving customers a unique experience with amazing technology, we’re learning how we can make Walmart Online Grocery Pickup even more convenient. Waymo’s experience, industry leading technology and mission on safety is helping us enter this space in the right way.

We’re excited to see what this pilot and the future hold.

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Life

Video: How This Special Olympian Found Her Power

Elizabeth "Liz" Hubert, 22, is a seasoned competitor.

She got into powerlifting about eight years ago. Since then, she’s competed at state, national and world events with the Special Olympics. Most recently, she represented Oklahoma at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games held July 1-6 in Seattle.

When Liz isn’t training, she works in the bakery at the Catoosa, Oklahoma, supercenter. She was one of at least 14 associates who participated in the games this year. Her fellow Walmart Special Olympians ranged in age from 21 to 51 and competed in a variety of events, including softball, bowling, shot put and running.

Liz competed for four golds this year in deadlift, squat, bench press and overall combined. It was a weighty goal – she can lift more than 200 pounds in the deadlift alone.

Watch below to follow Liz on her 2018 Special Olympics journey.

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