Last week, I was in Bentonville, Arkansas. Have you ever been there? I haven't. And I was excited to go. Walmart and Sam's Club are headquartered in Bentonville and give the town its storied history.
I was there to lead the pitch to Walmart and Sam's Club for a client. It was such an interesting and positive experience that I knew I had to share it with you! Whether or not you intend to sell to Walmart or Sam's Club, this experience is still worth reading about.
Note: I'm not a Sales Rep. I attended these meetings as an outsourced Director of Sales. In fact, it is common I work with Sales Reps on behalf of a client.
I'll start with the meetings. We had 3 Walmart meetings and 2 Sam's Club meetings. We met with both the Senior Buyers and Buyers for our categories. Within 20 minutes of our first meeting with a Walmart Sr. Buyer, we received a commitment for Feb 2016. My client laughs when she tells this story, but the commitment came so fast I didn't believe it. I actually asked the Sr. Buyer to clarify, "So when did you say you will be making decisions for the February assortment?". His response, "I just did. Your brand is in our assortment." OH!
I've never known a merchant to make a decision that quickly. I knew we had pulled together a compelling, data-driven and brand-driven business case. I know we proved how we made good business sense for Walmart. But I was stunned by how quickly the decision was made.
And that was in our FIRST meeting with Walmart. In the next Walmart buyer meeting, he told us he would take whatever items were passed over by the first Sr. Buyer. Did I hear correctly? They are fighting over who gets which items?
Later that evening, we received a congratulatory note from the EVP of Grocery Merchandising. Another unbelievable moment.
Our meetings with Sam's Club went similarly, but we have some follow-ups before a commitment will be extended.
My amazement aside, we really did work hard to make these opportunities happen. It wasn't luck. It was a combination of good business strategy (hats off to my client) and presenting a story that took into account the perspective of a retail buyer.
How Did We Get "Business Award" So Quickly?
- Preparation. We visited several stores to analyze their assortment, pricing and placement. In turn, we formulated opinions and recommendations to facilitate easy decision making. We packaged our recommendations so they were ready to execute. It takes the ambiguity out of working with us and our products - and makes it easier for the buyer to say yes.
- Presentation. This brand, while a fast moving consumer good, is very visual and design-oriented. We played to these strengths by building a Retailer Pitch Deck that told a compelling visual story. Our presentation templates are available for purchase.
- Forecasts. We didn't have the luxury of sales history. This brand is not currently selling in any other retailers. So we compensated with syndicated sales data. We dug into IRI data, pulled sales trends, measured the performance of our competitors, built forecasts, recommended deletions, and drew implications for how this would help Walmart's and Sam's Club's business. We provided this analysis to prove the rationale behind our recommendations in #1 above.
- Personality. Because I was there, the founder of the company could delegate the "business-talk" to me. This enabled her to focus on demonstrating her passion and knowledge of her products. It's a little bit of a "good cop, bad cop" approach, but it works. It would be hard for one person to play both roles - unless of course you already have a split personality. HA!
- Credibility. My client has a background in law and finance. She did not have expertise in consumer products or category experience prior to starting this company. So it was important to her to establish credibility by building a team that filled her gaps. While we did not mention I was previously a buyer at Target (well, that came out once), having me there to speak the buyer's language, ask the right questions, and read between the lines made her company seem far more experienced than it is. This company just launched in May and still has a lot to learn.
As a former Target retail buyer, it was a treat to visit Walmart's Home Office. Throughout my 4 day stay at Walmart, I found myself constantly comparing Walmart and Target.
Target Vs. Walmart: My Observations
- Target and Walmart buyers think similarly. They use the same decision framework to select brands and vendors. Both think quickly and smartly. I do give Walmart a higher rating on taking risks on new brands and initiatives. Walmart is slightly more cost-driven than Target when negotiating with vendors, but not as much as you'd think. They don't beat you down mercilessly on costs as I assumed. They just look for opportunities to gain cost efficiencies. I can appreciate that.
- Neither Target nor Walmart have figured out omnichannnel merchandising. In fact, its my experience that Target is a little more ahead of the game in aligning store merchants and .com merchants.
- Both retailers are prideful. Walmart is proud of their humble and small-town roots. In fact Bentonville has been largely preserved as a small-town with the exception of DCs, some corporate business parks dedicated to Walmart or its suppliers and Walmart's experimental store formats. You don't see much in the way of chains or franchises until you exit Bentonville's town line. Walmart's home office is a retrofitted old high school. It looks like a converted warehouse to me. No windows on the main floor. All functional and a little depressing to be honest.
- Target is on the other side of the spectrum. Fancy HQ buildings towering in downtown Minneapolis, artwork on the walls, a light show beaming from the top floor of their highest building like a beacon for the city dwellers to see at night, and fashionably dressed employees dashing about.
I loved my visit to Bentonville. It has a charm and really explains why Sam Walton did the things he did. My experience has really turned around my opinion of Walmart. I highly encourage you to make the trip one day if you can. Its not easy to get there but it gives you a new perspective on their company.
Next up, we head to Target HQ in Minneapolis. Two brands, two days, and three meetings. We have two line reviews and a final round pitch for Made to Matter 2016. If you don't know what Made to Matter is and you're a natural/organics brand, make sure to check out the video in this blog post about Sustainability.