We get it. You have your product, your packaging, and you know you’re ready for Walmart. Who wouldn’t want to see their product on the shelves of the world’s largest retailer? But with an acceptance rate of only 0.33% for small manufacturers, making that dream a reality can seem elusive and near impossible.
Up against odds that are 16 times harder than getting into Harvard, you’re going to want to know every possible way for your product to get in. By identifying all these avenues, you’re one step closer to seeing your brand in Walmart.
1) The Main Application
Walmart has a direct link where you can apply to be a supplier year round. Although this may initially seem like a huge relief, this route is actually the least likely to get results for your business. It’s the equivalent of sending out your resume on Monster.com. Sure, it works for some people, but you’re now in a fierce competition with everyone around the globe applying, as opposed to making a personal connection. While you may be confident that your product will stand out above the rest on its own, it’s simply better if you’re able to narrow the competition pool.
2) Get a Sales Rep
The most reliable way to get your products into any brick and mortar location, including Walmart, is to hire a sales rep, also called a manufacturers rep. Think of a sales rep like an agent. If you move to Hollywood to sell your screenplay, the best way to do that is to find an agent to represent you and sell it for you. Yes, you can email it to a bunch of assistants and hope that someone reads it, but getting an agent who can cut the line for you and directly pitch to studios is the fastest, most effective way to sell your script. The same is true for sales reps.
Imagine a sales rep who has known a Walmart buyer for the last twenty years. They play golf together, and they chat a few times a week. Now imagine the difference between that person pitching your product to the Walmart buyer, versus them meeting you for five minutes in a day where they see 100 new products. Even if your product is absolutely killer, that personal connection means everything when it comes to getting shelf space. It used to be an arduous and exhausting task to get a sales rep, but now there are sites that let you create a profile for free and talk to reps with decades of experience.
3) Become a Local Purchase Supplier
Another way to cut out some of the competition is to start small, as a local purchase supplier. Not every Walmart sells the exact same thing, sometimes only a few stores will carry a particular product because of regional differences or because a product is being tested out. You can find out if your local Walmart has this program by just calling in or walking into the store and asking the manager. Just a note, however, store managers are not buyers, and you’ll still be required to submit an online application before consideration.
By applying to be a local purchase supplier instead of going national right out of the gate, many of the hurdles are lowered. Walmart is going to be more willing to take a risk on a few stores and see how your product does before expanding it to all stores. If your product has any qualities that would make it more popular in specific regions (i.e., selling snow tires), make sure you start with stores in areas that would be most likely to have interested customers.
Also, just an FYI, local purchase suppliers cannot be in the following categories: apparel, infant/toddler, toys, jewelry, ladies accessories, pesticides, chemicals, flammable material, audio, video, and publications, newspapers, and alcoholic beverages.
4) Become a Diverse Supplier
Walmart has a program that aims to help businesses owned by groups of people that historically haven’t had an equal footing in the business landscape. If your business is a U.S. privately held company that is 51% or more owned and operated by a minority, veteran, disabled veteran, person with a disability or a member of the LGBT community, then you qualify to apply for the supplier inclusion program.
Not only does Walmart aim to get these businesses on the shelves of their stores, but they also provide scholarships to the Tuck Executive Program at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH. You can apply here, and If you’re accepted, your profile is accessible to hundreds of merchants, sourcing and business leads throughout Walmart stores.
5) Attend the Annual Walmart Open Call
If your products are made in America, a great way to get them into Walmart is to attend the annual open call event. At the open call, you’ll go to Walmart’s home office in Bentonville, Arkansas and meet face-to-face with Walmart buyers. It’s a two-day event that gives information to potential suppliers and is stacked with networking opportunities. Deadlines for the open call applications can be found here.
No matter which way you choose to go, getting your stores into Walmart is going to be a challenging process that tests many areas of your business. As always, good business rules apply. Making sure that your company is running as smoothly as possible, and that your products are dynamite are going to be the real differentiator for success.