Jun 30, 2022 - Business

Bentonville hopefuls pitch products at "Open Call" event

Hopeful entrepreneurs and Walmart employees mix at noontime during the company's annual "Open Call" event.
Hopeful entrepreneurs and Walmart employees mix during the company's annual "Open Call" event. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

Hundreds of entrepreneurs from L.A. to Sterling, Virginia, converged in Bentonville this week with hopes of being handed a golden ticket.

  • Like Willy Wonka's, this admission has the potential to change lives.

Unlike Wonka's chocolate tour, however, this means the holder returns to their own factory and ramps up — fast.

What's happening: Walmart kicked off its 9th annual "Open Call" event this week in which U.S. small businesses pitch their products directly to buyers.

  • Products could end up being sold at Walmart or Sam's Club stores, Walmart.com or Walmart Marketplace.
  • It's the first time the event has been held both in-person and virtually.

Why it matters: The company said in March it plans to spend an additional $350 billion over the next decade on items made, grown or assembled on U.S. soil.

  • It estimated the investment will help generate 750,000 new jobs nationwide, many within small businesses.

Details: "Open Call" is Walmart's largest sourcing event, and this year more than 1,100 entrepreneurs were invited to participate — the most in its history.

  • Companies that made the initial cut got 30 minutes to pitch their products, often to teams of buyers.
  • Some walk out of the meeting with a yellow piece of paper that read: "I got a deal."

What they're saying: "It's huge. It's absolutely huge," Gonen Yohananof, owner of Mary Tylor Naturals, told Axios about getting a deal.

  • The company agreed to place its all-natural hand soap in 1,000 Walmarts — 10% of its footprint — in various markets. To date, Mary Tylor products have been sold online only; Walmart is the first retailer Yohananof has pitched.
  • He recently spent $1.5 million to expand his operations in Fort Myers, Florida, and plans to increase his workforce of 12 by 35 more in the near future.
Allister and Denise Hill show off a deal ticket with Walmart.
Allister and Denise Hill got a deal. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

Denise and Allister Hill had three pitch meetings for various products from their LA-based Affirmation Effect.

  • They got a deal for their line of scented candles that have affirmations like "Victorious" or "Grateful" printed on the label.
  • The scope of the deal is yet to be determined, they said.

What to watch: Walmart plans to announce how many deals were awarded later Thursday.

Disclosure: Reporter Worth Sparkman is a Walmart shareholder.

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