U.S. Manufacturing

In the News: Inside Our Open Call for American Manufacturing

Shrimp, hair gel, sweet potato cake.

Forbes sent a film crew to Walmart’s corporate office in Bentonville, Arkansas, to capture the excitement as suppliers pitched these and hundreds of other products at our annual U.S. Manufacturing Open Call event.

Forbes shared its inside look today. Take a look at what the big day is like for the people behind the products.

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Community

The Delivery That Saved the Day for One Florence-Affected Community

Fielding phone calls. Answering emails. Organizing an airlift. Just a typical day for your average Walmart market assistant.

On Sept. 18, Misty Amos, who works as an assistant for Walmart stores in the Eastern region, received a call from Walmart’s Emergency Operations Center.

Days before, Hurricane Florence had ripped through North Carolina’s coast. With flood waters rising, over a hundred people had evacuated their homes and found refuge in a shelter in Fairmont, North Carolina. One problem: The surrounding roads were flooded, leaving the shelter completely cut off from food and supplies.

The 145th Airlift Wing of North Carolina’s Air National Guard had decided to deliver much-needed goods to the shelter via Blackhawk helicopter, but they needed supplies. They called Walmart for help, and that’s where Misty came in.

Misty’s Market Manager was out of the office leading a team of associates who were helping a local store return to normal so when the National Guard request came her way, it was up to Misty to help mobilize associates to help on the ground. She worked with a local store manager to collect supplies for 130 men, women, and children – including a 4-week-old infant who was refusing formula but would accept whole milk.

First, the associates at store 2058 in Raleigh loaded up carts with food, toiletries, underwear and baby supplies. They were even able to find shelf-stable whole milk for the baby. The team boxed the items, grouped the merchandise into pallets, and loaded it all into a U-Haul, which they then delivered to the Air National Guard at Raleigh-Durham Airport.

Meanwhile, a local Sam’s Club was also on the case. Club associates moved with speed to load a Red Cross vehicle with donations for the shelter.

Wait, were the Walmart store and Sam’s Club duplicating efforts? Was there going to be more merchandise than the helicopter could handle?

No problem, said the Guard unit. We’ll just organize a second drop.

It’s a good thing they did. Right before the second chopper took off to make the delivery, the Red Cross reached out to say that not too far from the shelter, a medical facility was in desperate need of blood donations. The Red Cross was able to add blood supplies to store and club donations, and the helicopter made a slight detour to deliver blood, too.

Maybe the most surprising part of this story? This whole mission – from the time the call came into the Emergency Operations Center to the time the helicopter touched down in Fairmont – took four hours.

Yes, you read that right. Four hours.

This is just one example of partnership during this multi-state disaster. Misty set her coworkers into action, and by working cross-functionally with the public sector and NGOs such as the American Red Cross, Walmart associates were able to make a meaningful difference to neighbors who had suffered unimaginable loss.

Misty and her team were able to deliver a bit of dignity to the families at the shelter. When asked about the airlift, the 23-year associate downplays her efforts. Having worked for the company during Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, and Maria, she knows disaster recovery has become an integral part to the way we do business.

“We’re Walmart,” she says, “It’s just what we do.”

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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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Innovation

How VR is Transforming the Way We Train Associates

If you’ve ever tried on a virtual reality (VR) headset, you’re familiar with its ability to recreate real-life experiences. Even a rollercoaster ride simulation has the potential to make your stomach drop.

VR tech has taken everything from journalism to pro football quarterback training to the next level. And last year, Walmart introduced VR to the world of employee training and development by using the technology to upgrade training at Walmart Academies nationwide. With the huge success of that program, the company is now providing Oculus VR headsets to all stores in the U.S. to bring the same level of training to more than 1 million Walmart associates.

“The great thing about VR is its ability to make learning experiential,” said Andy Trainor, Walmart’s senior director of Walmart U.S. Academies. “When you watch a module through the headset, your brain feels like you actually experienced a situation. We’ve also seen that VR training boosts confidence and retention while improving test scores 10 to 15 percent – even those associates who simply watched others experience the training saw the same retention boosts.”

Starting next month, VR training will begin its launch across the country, sending four headsets to every Walmart supercenter and two units to every Neighborhood Market and discount store. With more than 17,000 Oculus Go headsets in stores by the end of the year, every associate – including those on the floor who interact with customers the most – will have access to the same training that their managers and department managers do at the Academies.

Brock McKeel, senior director of digital operations, worked with Andy to bring VR training to associates, and said there are already more than 45 activity-based modules using industry-leading software provided by STRIVR. STRIVR’s platform delivers realistic, repeatable and scalable training content, which helps associates learn information more quickly and retain it better.

“We are entering a new era of learning, and Walmart continues to lead the way,” said Derek Belch, CEO of STRIVR, which worked with Walmart on its initial launch of VR in Academies last year. “The power of VR is real, and when offered as a cornerstone of learning and development, it can truly transform the way an organization trains its people.”

Walmart plans to use VR to train associates in three main areas: new technology, soft skills like empathy and customer service, and compliance.

VR training is particularly helpful for learning new tech. In a pilot test this summer, 10 stores used VR for training on new Pickup Tower units in their stores. VR is allowing associates to be trained before the towers are even installed – no teachers required. This will be key as Walmart continues to roll out new tech to stores.

Adrian Carthen used the VR training to learn about the Pickup Tower when it came to her store in Stockbridge, Ga., this summer. She said it “went beyond hands-on.”

“I’m a gamer, so I was excited to use it,” she said. “It felt like you were actually loading the tower. And I could train any time that I wanted and it was done in just a few minutes."

Instilling confidence is exactly what makes VR so effective as a training tool. Because the effect of VR training is like an experience in real life, associates have the freedom to make mistakes and learn by “doing,” all while in a safe environment.

“Walmart was one of the first companies to benefit from VR’s ability to enrich employee education, and its applications will only grow from here,” said Andy Mathis, Oculus’ head of business partnerships. “What makes it so compelling is that costly, difficult, or otherwise-impossible scenarios and simulations become not only possible, but immediately within reach.”

But beyond the investment in innovation and associate training, VR technology helps teach skills that enrich the careers of associates across the U.S.

“Yes, we’re focused on helping people do their jobs better every day. But the training we’ve designed is also hopefully training for life,” McKeel said. “That person walks out of their store with new skills and more confidence than they had before – that’s the passion behind this project.”

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Innovation

Walmart’s Custom Apps are Enabling a Workplace Refresh

The moment Rissa Pittman walks through the doors of her Walmart supercenter in Rogers, Arkansas, it’s her responsibility to choreograph all the moving parts that make up a great shopping experience.

Like all store managers, making sure she has the right people on her team is the biggest part of that success. But ensuring they’ve got the right tools to do their jobs is a close second.

Walmart recently introduced a suite of custom-built apps for associates to use in-store, allowing them to manage a variety of routine activities directly from a mobile store device. From the moment a product arrives in the back room to the second a customer finds it on the shelf, an ecosystem of data gives associates new visibility that helps them make informed decisions quickly, thus allowing them to take on more ownership of their work.

They’re also a huge benefit for customers. With associates equipped to work smarter on the sales floor and behind the scenes, these apps give shoppers the benefit of even faster service and more personalized attention when they go to a store. I visited Rissa and her team to see how they’re using these apps to take customer service into the future.

PlanIT
We’ll start with Rissa’s favorite: the PlanIT App. Basically, it’s the information hub that associates use to stay up-to-date on company and store announcements.

“Running a Walmart store takes a lot of skill,” Rissa said, “and PlanIT gets us organized, prioritized and connected.”

PlanIT helps store managers focus on efficiency. They can use the app to notify department managers of projects that need to be done that day and specific tasks required. The app also empowers all associates to receive information directly from Walmart’s home office that was previously provided only to management.

The Receiving App
With the simple scan of a truck ID, the Receiving app tells back room associates exactly which products have just arrived at the store. Not only does this eliminate time previously spent manually reviewing inventory, it also simplifies the planning process required to know which items need to head to the sales floor.

“One of the biggest parts of great customer service is making sure the right merchandise is on the shelf when customers need it,” Rissa said. “This entire process, and making sure that it’s done right, starts in the back room.”

The Downstock App
Once merchandise is on the shelf, associates need to make sure it’s available throughout the day for customers to find. You may have seen our Bossa Nova shelf scanner, technology that roams the aisles, automatically gathering data to identify items that are out of stock and where to find them in the store. That information is then directly sent to associates through the Downstock app, eliminating the amount of time spent on mundane tasks and allowing more time to be spent helping customers find what they need.

The Price Change App
Price changing is another time-consuming task that we’ve addressed, one that sometimes required associates to spend minutes walking back and forth between aisles to locate items. With the Price Change app, information about product price changes are categorized by aisle so that associates receive them in the order they should be made, creating an efficient path through the store. Accurate pricing allows customers to make informed decisions on the products they want, and the Price Change app increases accuracy while drastically minimizing the time associates spend on the task.

The Availability App
The Availability app gives associates insight into how their store is performing over time. It automates information about products that are out of stock and shows the associate specifically what time the out-of-stock occurred. Knowing this lets associates compare the store’s performance before and after outs occur and determines the root cause – such as staffing issues, shelf capacity or product availability.

“Our leadership tells us all the time that we should feel empowered to become merchants in our stores,” Rissa said. “The Availability app helps associates understand their merchandise and their customers better.”

The Claims App
When customers return a product to the store, there are a number of options associates have for handling the merchandise. The Claims app outlines the best options available for a product, in the order they should be considered. More specifically, can the product be sold at a clearance price, can it be donated or does it need to be disposed of? The app removes the guesswork out of managing returned products.

“It makes it simple to stay in line with our health and safety standards,” Rissa said, “and even helps our store reduce waste because we know exactly which items can and can’t be donated to food shelters.”

The Sales App
The Sales app updates a store’s sales numbers in real time so that associates know how their designated areas are performing against the previous year, down to specific products. With information about top-selling categories in each department, associates are motivated to track their accomplishments so they can stay competitive with other stores in their market.

A Custom Ecosystem of Data
Sharing more information with associates empowers them to make smarter, quicker decisions in their stores. The end result? People who have the tools to own their work – and more customers who walk away satisfied. For Rissa and other store managers, staying connected throughout the day makes it easier to run a more efficient store.

“These apps are about efficiency and organization. Running a Walmart store takes a lot of skill, but with the apps provided to our associates, we’re better connected to everything we need to be.”

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