On June 28, Walmart opened its doors for its third annual “Made in the USA” Open Call event. Almost 500 current and potential suppliers—including plenty of small businesses—met one-on-one with buyers for a chance to get their American-made products on shelves at Walmart, Sam’s Club or Walmart.com. Getting approved at Made in the USA can mean getting your product in a few locations—or thousands. Either way, it can be the beginning of something big for a small business.
How can you prepare to pitch your product to Walmart—either at next year's Made in the USA open call, or any time of year?
Walmart buyers shared their tips with me and explained what they look for when deciding what products to buy. What do buyers look for? Walmart is known for its value orientation, but that's not the whole story, says Walmart beauty buyer Raina Conner.
The three key attributes a Walmart buyer looks for:
- 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?
Costs and scalability matter too. “Everyday Low Prices” is Walmart's signature—and offering low prices requires low-cost production. However, “We will not sacrifice quality for cost,” says Walmart senior candy buyer Melody Phan Rich.
“For smaller suppliers, scalability might not be possible at first,” Phan Rich acknowledges. “But if the item is one that we believe our customers are looking for at a great price, we can develop timelines around store count expansion that aligns with [the supplier’s] capabilities.”
Don't think you need to hire a broker to pitch a Walmart buyer, either.
In fact, Dawn Henry, a senior buyer of toys at Walmart, prefers having initial meetings with the owner/producer. “The first meeting is really about the product but is also an opportunity for us to learn more about the company,” Henry explains. “If we are interested and the company needs more assistance, then they can engage a broker.”
You've got a meeting with a Walmart buyer — now what? How do you prepare for that all-important pitch?
- Be prepared. “Come with samples ready,” says Phan Rich. “If it’s a food product or 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, Conner advises. 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, Phan Rich adds.
- Share a strategy. Don't try to pitch a Walmart buyer if you've never shopped in their stores before. “It's crucial [to] understand our stores and how we merchandise product,” Conner explains. You should be able to explain how your product fits into the store's overall assortment, and even give recommendations for where it should be placed.
- Offer insights. Be able to explain why the product is important to the Walmart customer. “What need is it solving? What data do you have that shows this is a viable product and customers will care about it?” says Conner. Showing you have done your market research helps persuade buyers your product will sell.
- Keep it brief. “A pitch should take five minutes,” says Henry. “If you take too long, you risk losing interest. Leave room for the buyer to ask you questions.” The length of your pitch may vary depending on the number of items you’re pitching and how complex they are, says Phan Rich. 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 contact information. This will help the buyer remember you and your products better after the meeting," says Phan Rich.
Need more advice on how best to present your product to a Walmart buyer — or any potential buyer? Your SCORE mentor can help. Visit www.score.org to get matched with a mentor today.