Does your small business have what it takes to sell products to Walmart?
In 2013, Walmart pledged to purchase approximately $250 billion in products by 2023 that support the creation of American jobs. Every year since then, the mega-retailer has held an annual “Made in the USA” Open Call event.
At Open Call, both current Walmart suppliers seeking to expand their product mix and non-Walmart suppliers seeking to get their foot in the door meet one-on-one with Walmart buyers. Last year, entrepreneurs representing more than 450 businesses attended Open Call to pitch everything from salsa to sportswear, all hoping for the same prize: a chance to get their American-made products on shelves at Walmart, on Walmart.com or on Jet.com.
Getting approved at Open Call can mean getting your product in a few locations—or thousands. Even if you don’t get approved, many small business owners get valuable advice about improving their products and motivation to try again another year. Whatever the outcome, attending Open Call can be the beginning of something big for a small business.
Is your product qualified for Open Call?
There are a few hoops to jump through before you apply for Open Call.
- The Federal Trade Commission determines whether products qualify as “Made in the USA”. Find out more about the FTC’s specifications for American-made products.
- Products presented in Open Call must be certified as American Made via Walmart’s certification process.
- Businesses participating in Open Call need to meet Walmart’s requirements for suppliers.
How can you prepare to pitch your product to Walmart?
Whether you’re pitching at Open Call or are lucky enough to get a meeting with a Walmart buyer outside of this event, you need to know what Walmart buyers look for. Price is important, but not the whole story. The three key attributes a Walmart buyer looks for are:
- Does the product solve a key customer need?
- Does the product quality exceed my customers’ expectations?
- Does the product provide good value for the customer?
To prepare for that all-important pitch:
- Be prepared. Come with samples ready. If it’s a food product or an item that needs assembly, make sure you have the selling unit and the finished product at the meeting.
- Know your cost. Be prepared to offer your best price upfront. If buyers think you’re trying to pitch them something that’s too expensive, they’ll lose trust in you. Starting with the lowest cost helps the buyer understand the value of your product and make faster decisions.
- Share a strategy. Don’t try to pitch a Walmart buyer if you’ve never shopped in their stores or on their websites before. You must understand the stores and how they merchandise products. Be able to explain how your product fits into the store’s overall assortment and suggest recommendations for where it should be placed.
- Offer insights. Be able to explain why the product is important to the Walmart customer. What problem is it solving? What data do you have that shows this is a viable product that customers will want to buy? Showing you have done your market research helps persuade buyers your product will sell.
- Keep it brief. The length of your pitch may vary depending on the number of items you’re pitching and how complex they are. However, most supplier meetings last about 30 minutes, including any questions the buyers may have. Keep that timeframe in mind as you plan your presentation.
- Be memorable. In your short presentation, include images, costing, your business’s history and your contact information. This will help the buyer remember you and your products better after the meeting.
Open Call is working
Currently, approximately two-thirds of Walmart’s U.S. merchandise spending is for items that are made, assembled, sourced or grown in the U.S. By 2023, Walmart estimates, its commitment to American-made products could create 1 million new American jobs over the life of the Open Call initiative.
The application process for this year’s Open Call has closed, but you can sign up to get updates about next year’s Open Call. Applications are typically accepted beginning in March.
Need more advice on how best to present your product to a Walmart buyer — or any potential buyer? Your SCORE mentor can help.