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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U.S. Manufacturing

Making Your Favorite Jeans Better for the Planet

Almost everyone has a favorite pair of blue jeans. The ones that fit like a glove, your go-to pair for any occasion.

As we know them today, jeans were the invention of Jacob Davis and his friend, Levi Strauss, who patented the pants in 1873. Since then, jeans have become a huge part of American culture, from cowboys to rebels and rock stars, to hipsters and heads of state. They are a fashion statement and a wardrobe staple.

Blue jeans were once America’s most popular export. They are no longer widely manufactured nor dyed in the U.S. and, while blue jean manufacturing has evolved over the years, the indigo dyeing process has not. Most countries still use the same methods established in the early 1920s.

So, why does this matter? While indigo is a natural, non-toxic dye, the chemicals used to make the color stick to cotton fibers are quite harsh, and the process requires thousands of gallons of water to rinse the chemicals out later.

Recently, the Walmart Foundation, through the Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund, supported a project at Texas Tech University where researchers are using a foam indigo dyeing technique on cotton fibers. According to Texas Tech, this method, which uses a frothy foam dye designed to penetrate the entire fiber, eliminates the use of harsh chemicals and reduces water and energy usage by nearly 90%. This innovation could be a game changer for denim manufacturers by lowering costs and reducing environmental impacts.

This project’s potential is just now unfolding. And it’s part of a broader effort to grow local economies, and ultimately, create more jobs in communities across the country.

Watch the innovative foam indigo dyeing process in action and hear from the people at Texas Tech University who helped create it.

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Opportunity

These Vets Helped Each Other - Now They Pay it Forward

For veterans leaving the military, transitioning to civilian life can be a challenge, but Jarred Crabtree and Jeff Kowalik are determined to make it a little bit easier.

The two met in the U.S. Army, where Jeff was Jarred’s lead drill sergeant in basic training. An injury sent Jarred home earlier than he’d anticipated, but the two kept in touch over social media. When Jarred learned his former drill sergeant was leaving the Army, he knew he had to reach out.

Jarred had made the transition from military to civilian life twice before. After a time in the Army and seven years in law enforcement, he had become a market manager for Walmart’s Oklahoma City stores. He was still at Walmart when he rejoined the Army and met Jeff in 2010.

“When I injured myself, it was devastating,” Jarred said. “But the group of veterans when I came back was so supportive, I immediately felt better – like I could put all my energy and skills back into my job here.”

After 18 years in the Army, Jeff was medically retired and having the all-too-common experience of struggling to find...

Posted by Walmart Today on Sunday, July 30, 2017

Jarred wanted other veterans to experience the same kind of support and community he had, so he invited Jeff to come tour one of his stores in Oklahoma City, where they had several developmental co-manager positions open.

“I couldn’t think of anyone better for the role,” Jarred said. “I remembered Jeff’s leadership skills and his ability to lead diverse groups of people. He had the skill sets we needed.”

During his 18 years in the Army, Jeff had never had to look for a job. “When you leave the military, you have to remember how to do everything again,” he said. At Walmart, Jeff had to learn a new lingo and a new role, but he said it goes hand in hand with what he learned in the military. “The leadership, how hard you have to work, the service – there’s an honor behind what you do here.”

Jeff and Jarred are passionate about having other veterans join their teams at Walmart. They know the value veterans bring: professionalism, adaptability, teamwork, problem solving and ingrained leadership skills.

“If you want a job, all you have to do is come apply. You don’t have to start at the top, but with dedication and hard work, you’re going to move up,” Jarred said. “There’s so much opportunity, and it’s not just on the sales floor. With all the positions we have, whether it’s in operations, support, merchandising – when people realize what’s available, they’re amazed. You can lead people, and that’s what Jeff and I get to do every day.”

Now, Jeff mentors his team members at Walmart and in the broader veteran community. He works with the Veteran Support Foundation, which supports various veteran projects across the country, including helping homeless and disabled service members. He also maintains the veterans’ appreciation board at the front of his store, a photo display that recognizes associates who have served in any of the military branches.

“There’s a brotherhood and sisterhood that ties you together,” Jeff said. “When I came to Walmart, it was extremely heartwarming to know I had someone like Jarred, who was also military and also a leader above me who I could learn from.”

Jeff and his family have since moved to Houston, where he’s a co-manager of a Walmart supercenter, and his wife Jennifer is an assistant manager at another supercenter nearby. Meanwhile, Jarred was promoted to a director of implementation and sustainment. That means he’s now the main point of contact for Walmart’s central division of stores to ensure they’re operating successfully. But both veterans are taking what they learned and continuing to encourage other veterans around the country.

“Don’t give up,” Jarred said. “That’s the biggest message I’d want to get across to other veterans: there’s something out there for you. Ask questions. Don’t just apply online – come visit the store. Come talk to us, because you’ll find more people like me and Jeff who want you working with us.”

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Heritage

The Valentine Love Story Behind the Walmart Brand

Before a fledgling family-run retail chain flourished into what it is today, there was a simple and sweet love story.

On Valentine’s Day in 1943, after serving a year of active duty in the Army, Sam Walton married his wife, Helen, in her hometown of Claremore, Oklahoma.

In his book, “Sam Walton: Made in America,” Sam says on an April night in a bowling alley in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he noticed Helen Robson – his future bride – who just happened to be on a date with another fellow.

After she took her turn and rolled her ball down the alley, she saw Sam with his leg up over the armrest of an old chair, with a smile on his face. She recalls Sam’s greeting as being rather “corny.”

Helen said Sam asked if he had met her somewhere before. It turns out Sam had dated a girl Helen knew in college. Instead of asking for Helen’s number, Sam initially asked Helen for the other young woman’s number. However, according to Helen, soon after that encounter, Helen and Sam started dating.

Both Helen and Sam have said they instantly fell in love with each other. Sam said Helen was “pretty and smart, and educated, ambitious and opinionated and strong-willed – with ideas and plans of her own.” After dating for a little while, by the time Sam was called up by the Army for active duty, he said two things were very clear to him: He knew who he wanted to marry Helen, and knew he wanted to go into retail.

From there, the rest of their story went down in the retail history books. “I always told my mother and dad that I was going to marry someone who had that special energy and drive, that desire to be a success,” Helen said. “I certainly found what I was looking for, but now I laugh sometimes and say maybe I overshot a little.”

To commemorate their anniversary, The Walmart Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, honors their love every Valentine’s Day with a special flower display.

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Innovation

Your Shopping Trip Just Got Easier with This New Store Assistant

Smartphones have become a vital part of our lives, helping to make virtually everything faster and more convenient. No matter what we’re doing these days, relying on our favorite apps is almost second nature.

That’s why we’ve been applying this kind of thinking to shopping, by building tools and features within the Walmart app to save you time on everything from prescription pickups to merchandise returns. But we also know that we can do even more. This week, we’re releasing a handful of new and improved features to the Walmart app that not only help you get in and out of the store quickly, but also help you before you ever leave the house.

All of these new features come together under something else that’s new: a totally re-imagined experience for in-store shopping called Store Assistant. Next time you visit your local store and open the app, you’ll notice that the Walmart app transforms into Store Assistant. All of the tools you need to make shopping fast and easy, such as Walmart Pay, will be right at your fingertips. We’ve also made the product search bar and the scanner easier to find, so you can quickly read reviews, find items in store and double-check prices.

Pretty neat, right? Now, let’s dive into the other new features that are part of Store Assistant:

  1. Smarter, Better Lists: Eighty percent of Walmart customers make a list before coming to the store, so we’ve made list-building within the app more convenient for you – like the ability to enter a custom term like “milk” (in other words, no need to pick an exact item match) and check item stock at your local store. The total cart – plus tax – will now be calculated as you make your list, allowing you to see the cost of your basket before even stepping foot inside the store. Store Assistant makes your list easily accessible, so you can see what aisle the items are located in, as well as cross off and add items as you go.
  2. Improved Store Navigation with Store Maps: We’re creating a map unique to each and every one of our stores – and with over 4,700 of them, this is going to be a real game-changer. These maps will help you find where an item is located, down to the aisle and shelf area. Store Maps is already available for a handful of stores, and we’re rolling it out to the rest of our stores just as fast as we can.
  3. Even More Store Information: You can now easily check whether a store has a department like a Photo Center or Auto Care Center and see department hours and phone numbers. We’ve also taken this a step further by adding other valuable information – such as checking for things like Rug Doctor availability – to make your store shopping even easier.

Of course, these are just the updates we’re launching this week; there’s much more to come. Imagine dropping pins on a store map tied to the location of items on your list, enabling you to plan your route through our stores, or the ability to book services like an oil change in advance. Imagine even smarter lists … maybe so smart that you’ll hardly have to make them!

We’re building a shopping tool unlike any other in retail – and one that makes virtually every element of the store shopping experience faster and more convenient for you. We’re excited about the Walmart app updates we’re launching this week, but we’re even more excited about what’s to come. With the Walmart app, shopping our stores is seamless, easy – and pretty darn cool.

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