About 100 entrepreneurs who showed up at Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, AR last week for the retailer’s U.S. Manufacturing Open Call walked away with deals to have their products sold on Walmart.com, while many others earned an opportunity to talk with buyers as they continue to develop their products.
The event attracted participants from 47 states and Puerto Rico, and featured more than 750 product presentations from about 500 entrepreneurs. Nearly half of the companies self-identified as diverse-owned, including 25% identifying as woman-owned. The event is part of Walmart’s investment in communities and job growth through its 10 year $250 billion commitment to American manufacturing.
Separately, Walmart also took the opportunity last week to tout its previously announced $2.7 billion investment in store associates and technology tools that help employees do their jobs more effectively.
The week leading up to July 4 is a pretty good time for Walmart — or really any retailer — to remind Americans just how invested it is in America’s success. The fourth annual U.S. Manufacturing Open Call event is just one aspect of a $250 billion commitment Walmart is making to American manufacturing through 2023 — an effort the Alliance for American Manufacturing has criticized in the past.
As disputed as it may be, the event does help small companies looking for a big break land sales deals. In that sense, it is similar to other startup accelerator programs like Target + Techstars. While Walmart's effort isn't an accelerator program per se, and not particularly tech-focused, it does give entrepreneurs a shot at big-time retail.
Some of those who earned fast-track sales agreements from Walmart after last week’s event include the likes of Dera Industries, which showcased its Dera-ties reusable zip ties; Decalomania, maker of an AR Wall Decal that brings products to life with the help of a smartphone viewing app; and Tidal Vision Game Meat Protector, which helps keep bugs off a fresh kill.
Though Walmart uses the event as timely, positive PR, such deals in their own small way contribute to the retailer's efforts to broaden its product assortment as it continues to battle Amazon in the marketplace. The deals mentioned will help Walmart diversify its product line-up and build relationships with startups that may show more promise as they refine product concepts.
While we’re on the subject of positive PR, Walmart’s blog post last week about its effort to invest in tech tools to help its employees is meant to achieve the same end. The tools themselves, such as the use of virtual reality headsets to immerse store associate trainees into real-life customer situations, are all very real and no doubt make associates better equipped to do their best on behalf of Walmart. But, the battle Walmart is fighting against Amazon is very much about reputation and image. Walmart is trying to distance itself in some ways from the big-box retailer consumers have come to know over the decades by putting unexpected products on its shelves and giving employees state-of-the-art training and tech tools. If Walmart can do a little better in the image battle, that could buy it some time in the bigger fight for customers.