You have your product, and you’ve always dreamed of seeing it on Walmart’s shelves. This is a fantastic dream to have for your business, but unfortunately, if you’re not adequately prepared, it won’t become a reality. The truth is that there are dozens of steps in your business’s journey before you get that coveted Walmart purchase order. While it may take a lot of hard work and ultimately some luck to get on the Walmart shelves, there’s a ton of preparation you can do to give your product its best fighting shot.
Do You Look Ready?
In the world of products, it’s fair to judge a book by its cover. If you walk around Walmart or any other store, you’ll notice that every item looks professional. Nothing is chintzy or homemade; each item looks so good that consumers would assume a big, responsible corporation is behind it.
To increase your odds of a Walmart buyer being interested in your product, your business needs to exude professionalism as well. Three main categories affect your company’s image, and it’s important to come off like a responsible business owner in all of them.
1) Your Product + Packaging
This is the most important category, because, well duh, it’s what’s the customers will see, and ultimately what the Walmart buyers will be most focused on.
- Does your product solve a problem?
- Is something similar already sold at Walmart or competitors?
- Does it have a big enough target market to justify being at Walmart?
- Is your product made out of high-quality materials?
- Does it look valuable, or ‘worth the price?’
- Is it obvious what the product is?
- Does it explain who the customer is?
- Does it explain why it’s better than the competition?
- Does it look professional and match your brand?
- Does it have all the legally required information?
If you’re not sure whether or not your product and packaging are ready for big retail, hiring a sales rep might be your best bet. Many sales reps double as consultants and have affordable hourly rates so you can show them your product directly and get expert feedback.
2) Website + Social Media
It doesn’t matter what your product is; it’s expected that every legitimate company will have a website and most likely a social media presence as well.
- Is your website a .com, and not a weird .blog or .biz?
- Is it hosted somewhere paid, or does it have a bunch of spammy ads?
- Is it simple to navigate, and showcases your product?
- Does it follow basic design standards, no flashing animations, no yellow text on green background, no music or sound effects?
- Can your product be found on at least Facebook, and preferably a few others like Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn?
- Are your posts relevant to the product?
- Do they have engagement? (Likes, comments, etc.)
- How many followers do you have?
3) Your People
At the end of the day, businesses are still groups of people. This means the same social rules that apply to the rest of our lives also apply here.
- Are you polite? Confident? Interesting?
- Are your response times good?
- Do you give educated and informed answers when asked questions?
- Do you seem overwhelmed, or like you’d be able to handle a challenge?
Do You Fit The Profile Of What Walmart’s Looking For?
No retail store is ever going to tell you exactly what they’re looking for, but there are general guidelines they release which can point you in the right direction.
Are You Unique?
Walmart gets hundreds of supplier applications every week. To get picked for the shelves, you have to stand out.
There are two ways to stand out. The first is to have a product that no one else has. This means something truly inventive that you’ve patented, that no one else has ever seen before. It’s not enough to have a new knife that’s a little bit better than the rest of the knives out there. However, if you have a knife that warms up butter as it spreads, or some other innovation, your chances of getting in increase dramatically.
The other way to stand out is through branding. Walmart stocks Starbucks coffee because it has brand recognition, not because it’s the best coffee in the world.
If you have both of these things, all the better. Something like the Squatty Potty falls into this camp. It was a genuinely new invention, and gained viral brand recognition through social media and Shark Tank.
Are You Proven?
Walmart is not interested in products with no sales history. They want products that have been sold in other locations so that there is proof this product will sell.
If you haven’t sold your product somewhere else yet, make that your goal before Walmart. Start with local retailers; they’ll give you a chance to test your product in the market, and you will gain valuable knowledge about customer reactions that will allow you to make adjustments as needed.
A good rule of thumb is that Walmart only wants to be responsible for a maximum of 30% of a company’s sales. It doesn’t want entrepreneurs entire business riding on sales from Walmart.
Are You Part Of A Product Line?
If buyers are going to invest in you, they want to know you’ll expand if sales are good. If you have an idea for a product line instead of a single item, you’ll be more appealing because in the long term your brand will improve and sales will increase.
Do You Meet The Minimum Standards?
Walmart has a set of minimum standards. These are mostly detail oriented checklist-type things, but they’re worth taking a look at because without them you don’t have any shot at getting in.
The things they’re looking for include:
- Tax information
- D&B Registration
- Nothing explicit, gambling themed, or military and police related
- Evidence that safety standards have been met
Do You Know How To Apply?
There are several different routes you can take to get on Walmart’s shelves.
1) The Main Application
Walmart has a direct link where you can apply to be a supplier year round. The most direct, but also the most competitive. You’ll have to stand out among tens of thousands of other applications.
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. 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 some sites 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 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.
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.
Are You Ready For A Yes?
Be brutally honest with yourself: is your business ready for Walmart? Here are some questions you’ll have to be prepared to answer if you do manage to get that yes:
- Are you ready to significantly lower your prices?
- Do you know precisely what your margins are, and how to lower them to accommodate new prices?
- Are you ready to double or triple your current production without any delays?
- Are you sure your manufacturer will be able to keep up, both with timing and quality consistency?
- Do you feel comfortable negotiating with Walmart lawyers to make sure you get fair terms?
- Are you ready for your other suppliers to be angry if they find out you’ve lowered your prices for Walmart but not them?
- Are you ready for the disappointment if your product gets on shelves but doesn’t sell?
Although Walmart can be a game changer, there’s no shame in not being ready. Think about it like applying to college when you’re in the 2nd grade. If you don’t get in, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you; it just means you need to grow and learn before you apply again.
Getting a product on the Walmart shelves is a great goal for any business, but don’t let it define you. Even if you decide not to apply to Walmart, trying to achieve the standards they have for products is a great goal, it never hurts to be following successful business strategies.