U.S. Manufacturing

Competitive Edge: Fan Gear Scores Big for American Jobs

Anywhere you go in America, there’s a sense that folks have a strong connection to the places they came from. We always root for our home teams.

Sports can create a bond that makes people feel close to home, even when they’re far away. At WinCraft, we manufacture licensed sports equipment for teams in the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, Team USA, the NCAA and over 500 colleges and universities. It makes sense that, for American sports like these, every team’s products can be made in the U.S.A.

When Walmart announced its commitment to help create American jobs through buying more American-made products, we knew it was something WinCraft needed be a part of. Supported by their initiative, we’ve built a brand-new manufacturing facility in Winona, Minnesota, and created over 70 more jobs for the wonderful people in our town. WinCraft employs over 675 people in Minnesota, Iowa, Washington and Florida.

Check out this video to see our WinCraft team spirit in action.

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Innovation

More Than a Store: The Tech Bringing You Even More Items

I can’t count how many times I’ve started to shop on my phone or in an app, then moved over to my laptop so I could see everything better.

Shopping on a phone is super convenient, but sometimes that small screen doesn’t give me the in-depth detail I need for certain types of purchases.

Turns out, a lot of customers do that, too. “Our electronics department associates noticed that customers were using store display laptops and tablets to purchase from Walmart.com,” Nicole Clendeninn, a senior project manager of merchant technology at Walmart Labs, recalled. Just like me, they wanted to use something bigger than a phone screen to shop. Others used the store displays because they didn’t have a smart device with them. From these simple observations, came an even simpler idea: Walmart.com in-store kiosks.

The solution launched in just five stores almost a year ago and has since grown to 50 locations. Each of these stores has 1-2 kiosks, usually near customer service or the electronics department. The kiosks allow customers to shop all products on Walmart.com (minus Marketplace items), pay how they want – even cash, if they like – and ship it to store or their home.

Nicole’s team didn’t stop there. They used this same technology to enable associates to help customers make online purchases from anywhere in the store. Associates already use a handheld device for their daily tasks, so Nicole’s team added a new app that allows them to assist customers with Walmart.com merchandise on the spot.

Let’s say you’re looking for a laptop. With this new app, an associate can pull up reviews on his or her handheld device so you can see which one has the best reviews. Once you’ve made your choice, that associate can check you out right there or take you to a kiosk to let you pay without a card. Same thing goes if you can’t find what you’re looking for in the store – they can help you find it online, show you the reviews and help you check out.

Not every store will get a kiosk, but the team is working to get the associate-facing app on all their handheld devices.

Watch this video to see how the kiosk came to life.

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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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Community

An Amazing Way to Add STEAM to Girls’ Career Dreams

It might just be that I am a mom of three children (ages 8, 4 and 2) who is always looking for fun yet affordable things to do, but I am noticing more and more hands-on learning opportunities such as “maker spaces” popping up in schools and institutions throughout the country.

Northwest Arkansas is no different. It's exciting to see so many STEAM – an acronym for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics – concepts embodied in current popular culture, inspiring confidence in young women in particular.

Learning becomes deeper and longer lasting when it involves creativity, discovery and community. That’s why I’m so excited to help support Walmart and the Walmart Foundation in their giving efforts. Through my job as a senior grant manager for the Walmart Foundation, I get to be part of helping organizations like the Scott Family Amazeum, who are working to break down the intimidation factors of STEAM in hopes of inspiring the next generation of engineers, coders, scientists and beyond.

Just this last month, at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, Proctor & Gamble and Walmart joined the Amazeum and other local organizations to host the first Always Live #LikeAGirl STEAM Day for 100 young girls from the region, who were encouraged to explore STEAM careers.

But let me share a little bit more about the impact STEAM education is having on my own daughter, Kenzy. This past spring, like many children in Northwest Arkansas, she and her 2nd grade class attended an Amazeum Unfield Trip, which is a program supported by a $1 million grant over three years from the Walmart Foundation to fund admission for students in Benton and Washington counties.

This wasn’t your traditional school museum visit, but rather a hands-on learning experience for both the students and teachers, inspiring curiosity and discovery at every turn. Kenzy loved exploring the world of water at the Nature Valley Water Amazements, but being able to create something uniquely her own in the 3M Tinkering Hub renewed her interest in her school’s afterschool coding club. Who knows? It might have even ignited a lifelong interest in a STEAM career.

Innovation is all around us and sometimes it takes us slowing down to see it or be inspired by it. Watching my kids discover has encouraged me to incorporate more STEAM into my own lifelong learning. STEAM education develops life skills like logical reasoning, collaboration, creativity and communication while building character traits like confidence, self-esteem, imagination, persistence and motivation. These are the very life skills and character traits I am seeing my daughter develop through her interactions with STEAM education.

Without creativity, the world would be a lot less interesting, and without the curiosity to discover, we wouldn’t push ourselves a little more or strive for the impossible. In a world being transformed by innovation, I’m grateful for my kids who are a constant reminder for me to not be afraid to embrace my own creativity, be a little more willing to go down the journey of discovery but most importantly to foster community with those around me.

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Life

#IShannanYou: The Associate Love Story That Has Netflix Viewers Swooning

It’s a classic love story: Boy meets girl, falls madly in love and proposes to her in front of millions on one of 2018’s most popular Netflix shows.

Okay, so that’s probably not how it happens for most of us. But, for William and Shannan Mahnken, it’s all part of their real-life love story that started five years ago after they met at a Walmart assistant store manager training session in Woodstock, Georgia.

The Netflix reality show reboot, “Queer Eye,” has taken pop culture by storm. The show’s “Fab Five” – Jonathan, Karamo, Tan, Antoni and Bobby – have won over viewers’ hearts across America by taking the show beyond its basic premise and diving into conversations about identity and self-confidence that inspire viewers and participants alike.

Before Shannan submitted William to be one of the makeover contestants on the show’s second season, the grocery department manager was a shy aspiring actor and screenwriter who named ’90s sitcom character Frasier Crane as his style icon. In his own words, “I was hiding behind my beard and all that hair.”

It’s not always easy to embrace your full self or wear your heart on your sleeve, but despite William’s reserved personality, he had a great time on set. “The guys are all so great,” William said. “They just walk up to you like they’ve been friends with you forever. I felt so comfortable.”

Bonding with the Fab Five even helped William feel comfortable enough to seek their help in planning his proposal to Shannan. He set to work with Karamo, the “Queer Eye” culture consultant, to craft a grand proposal that would sweep her off her feet.

“I was trying to think of a word that meant more than love,” said William, “and eventually I realized that there was no single word or phrase that could describe how I feel about Shannan. I decided that the only way I could describe it was with her name.”

That’s right. William invented a new way to say, “I love you” – and he did it using his future bride’s name. “I Shannan you.” If you haven’t seen the episode yet, I highly suggest grabbing a box of tissues beforehand.

Last month, William and Shannan finally tied the knot in a small sunrise ceremony on the beaches of Amelia Island in Florida. Since the show aired, the lovebirds say that although married life is a little different, the couple have stayed pretty true to who they are. They now work together as department managers at the same Walmart store in Cornelia, Georgia, and William continues to create short films and act when he can.

So, what was the biggest lesson he learned on the show?

“Confidence is a big one,” he said. “I learned how to open up to people. I don’t feel hidden anymore; I feel like I can open up to people about who I am. If I feel myself reverting back into that old pattern, I remember something that Tan said to me: ‘You’re not doing this for yourself, you’re doing it for her – the person you love.’ I think about that and it inspires me to be the best version of myself.”

Photos courtesy of Netflix.

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