Oct 25, 2023 - News

Walmart welcomes 700 U.S. businesses to pitch products

Television star Mike Rowe talks with Kathryn McLay, CEO of Walmart International.

Star of "Dirty Jobs" Mike Rowe talks with Kathryn McLay, CEO of Walmart International. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

Mike Rowe, star of reality TV show "Dirty Jobs," and Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders were in Bentonville Tuesday to kick off Walmart's 10th Open Call event.

  • The annual gathering brings small-business owners from across the U.S. to Bentonville to pitch products directly to buyers.

Why it matters: Merchandise reviewed today could end up on shelves at Walmart or Sam's Club stores, Walmart.com or Walmart Marketplace.

  • The company estimates its planned investment of $350 billion through 2030 on items made, grown or assembled in the U.S. will help generate 750,000 jobs nationwide.

How it works: This year, more than 700 entrepreneurs were invited to the event, both in person and through virtual meetings.

  • The companies will get 30 minutes today to pitch their products, often to teams of buyers.
  • About 1,000 meetings are scheduled, as some businesses may have more than one product or also be pitching to Sam's Club or Walmart.com.
  • Some will leave the meeting with a deal to sell their products through the retailer — a "golden ticket."

Last year, businesses pitched products from scented candles to cosmetics, from plastic flag holders to on-the-go period kits.

The intrigue: Not all products the company buys will sell in all stores. Some are of interest to specific regional customers, or the quantity a vendor is able to produce may be limited.

Catch up quick: Rowe, who provided a longer interview that was seen by vendor hopefuls but closed to the media, spoke briefly about his experience as a Walmart supplier:

  • A Dirty Jobs cleaning product launched in 2012 and, with Rowe pitching it in Bentonville, won placement in all Walmart stores.
  • He didn't elaborate in the open meeting, but his comments implied sales haven't met expectations.

"I learned a lesson that I had already learned a dozen times in my own industry," he said.

  • "Do the thing you can control. I think about how 'Dirty Jobs' snuck onto the air and how so much of it happened organically and authentically … I realized I wasn't giving [the product] the same shape."

Walmart provided a day of programming to help small-business owners get comfortable with the home office and prepare for their meetings today.

Between the lines: Buyers expected to see a lot of food and pet products at this year's Open Call, said Jason Fremstad, senior VP of supplier development and sourcing for Walmart International. He gave two simple pieces of advice for those heading into pitch meetings:

  • Tell the buyer what's special about your product and focus on differentiators.
  • Be realistic about your ability to deliver — don't overcommit.

The bottom line: Even if an entrepreneur doesn't land a deal at the event, they're leaving with contacts at Walmart and some ideas of what they need to do to improve their product, Fremstad said.


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