Walmart On the Street: Shareholders Edition 1

Every June, thousands of associates from Walmart locations all over the world are invited to Arkansas for our annual Shareholders meeting. And all of them have a story. Read on for personal perspectives from a few of this year’s attendees.

Watch the replay of the 2014 Walmart Shareholders Meeting 

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A Day Worth Bookmarking for One Elementary Library

As an elementary school librarian, I have the unique opportunity to directly impact 300 students, every week.

So I’ve worked hard to turn my library into much more than a place to simply check out books. It’s a space for hands-on exploration, discovery and – more than anything – fun.

A few weeks ago, that meant getting out tubs of colored pencils, markers and stacks of paper to map the various Native American tribes one grade was learning about. There was even quite a bit of excitement around the thought of creating our own “maker space” – an endless collection of buttons, bags, cans, string, magnets, glue, cardboard and other materials students can build and tinker with. This hands-on space could serve as a vehicle for generating conversations around their ideas.

But, with paper, pencils, staples, books and other core supplies already accounting for so much of our library’s limited budget, money is a significant hurdle. And I’m not alone.

On average, teachers spend $490 of their own money to buy school supplies for their classrooms. So I was in absolute shock when someone from Walmart walked into my library. Walmart tallied votes from parents and students across the nation and – as part of its recent Commander in Teach(ers) program – surprised 20 teachers with gift cards for $490 to help with school supplies.

I felt like I was floating on air as I looked at all of the students. I knew what this gift was going to mean for them. I’ve already used the card to purchase some basic supplies and some new books I knew our students would be excited about. But it also gives me a little more freedom to think outside the box. That maker space idea is a whole lot closer to becoming reality.

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Walmart Driver Delivers a Win at National Championships

He practices nearly every day, honing his skills and aiming to be the best in his field. He’s won numerous competitions, most recently being crowned a national grand champion.

But he’s not an athlete; he’s a truck driver. And the National Truck Driving Championships are his big bowl game.

Mike White of Nineveh, Indiana, has been driving professionally for 39 years, the last 26 of those for Walmart’s private fleet. On Aug. 13, after four days of hard-driving competition in Indianapolis, he was recognized as the most skilled and most knowledgeable in the country.

The 79th annual competition, hosted by the American Trucking Associations, was a nail-biter until the very end. “When my name was called out, it floored me. I didn’t think I was even going to make the top five,” let alone be named the champion, Mike said.

Competitors are made up of the winners in eight classes of competition from 50 state trucking associations’ Truck Driving Championships. Each driver must undergo a written examination, personal interview, pre-trip inspection test and a skills test.

Mike credits his exam and pre-trip scores with getting him into the top five and landing him the 3-axle class title. His run on the skills course put him over the top, securing his bid for overall grand champion.

It’s a game of inches. Mike faced 15 challenges, like maneuvering his big rig within 18 inches of a barrier and rolling between two tightly spaced rows of tennis balls attached to wood stands – bump any of them and lose points, and possibly the title. There was also a “road kill” challenge where drivers had to get the right front tire as close as possible to, but not touching, a rubber duck sitting in the roadway.

“It was such a surprise – that was the best part,” Mike said of his big win. “This wasn’t just for my home state of Indiana; it was for me, my family and Walmart.”

It’s also a nod to Mike’s commitment to safe driving. Drivers must be accident free for at least a year prior to the competition. Considering that Mike has been to nationals six times, it’s clear that safety on the road is his priority.

Despite having about 36 competitions under his belt and now the ultimate award, Mike isn’t ready to quit. He’s looking forward to defending his titles in 2017.

That attitude doesn’t surprise Jennifer Gray, regional safety manager for Walmart, who witnessed Mike’s winning moment. “Mike is the true face of our professional Walmart driver, and I have been blessed to be able to work with him for the past four years,” she said after the competition. “He has always had his eye on that prize of being a grand champion one day.”

Geno Bell, senior director of transportation for Walmart, seconded that.

“I’ve known Mike White for over 10 years. He’s a true professional, mentor and a great ambassador of the culture for our private fleet,” Geno said. “Mike practiced and studied hard for the ATA competition, and to see him win it all was AMAZING!”

Mike has earned more than just praise from his leadership – he’s also getting a new semi in the color of his choice.

“Walmart is so proud of their drivers who achieve awards for their expertise in safe driving,” Jennifer explained. “We have a wonderful program to recognize these associates and to also allow the motoring public to recognize when they are sharing the road with one of our safe driving champions.”

It takes time and expertise to earn a personalized truck. The honor is reserved for associates who achieve 3 million and 4 million Walmart safe driving miles, as well as those who are named ATA grand champion or ATA Driver of the Year.

In the meantime, like a seasoned athlete, Mike is back in training mode preparing for the next round of competitions.

“I have a big hill to climb and a lot of people after me,” he said.

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#FiveThingsFriday: Cleaner Stores, Higher Sales and Purveyor of Fine Mangoes

ICYMI: Cleaner stores and higher sales … it’s definitely no Vudu. However, all of these are in the news this week, along with retail’s most marvelous mangoes, Chef Robert Irvine’s delicious new dishes and a new focus on food safety.

Cleaner. Faster. Friendlier.

I mentioned our training academies a couple of weeks ago, as well as how they were a part of a larger investment in our workforce. A $2.7 billion investment, to be exact. New York Times reporter Neil Irwin mentioned it as well this week in this article about how that investment is starting to show positive returns. The wage aspect of Walmart’s commitment to its associates has gotten a fair amount of conversation, but equally important are the training and education components. If our associates know how to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, they’ll be able to provide the best customer service possible. I hope you’re noticing these changes in your local stores, too!

A New Brand of Celebrity Sidekicks

What do celebrity chef Robert Irvine and your parents have in common? They both want you to eat your veggies, bub! Signature Sidekicks is Irvine’s line of four fresh-cut vegetable dishes that are available exclusively at Walmart. Pop into your store and pick up a bag of Garlic Balsamic Broccoli, Sesame Ginger Stir Fry, Braised Collard Greens, or Provencal Ratatouille. (Speaking of Sidekicks, do you remember the Sidekick, the precursor to today’s smart phones?)

A Step Forward for Food Safety

On Wednesday, we launched the Walmart Food Safety Collaboration Center in Beijing. The center is part of a $25 million investment over the next five years for food safety research in China. And that’s not the only news from China: Doug McMillon sat down with Bloomberg News to discuss a range of other things happening.

It’s an Honor Just to be Nominated

But it’s even better when you win 2016 Mango Retailer of the Year! We have so many people to thank: Our associates that put mangoes on our shelves, our customers that keep coming back to buy mangoes, the farmers that grow these delicious fruits … Oh no, they’re playing the “hurry up and finish” music, so go watch this video on how to slice the mango you just bought.

Now Playing on Your TV

Vudu Movies on Us lets you stream thousands of movies and TV shows for free with limited commercials. If you haven’t checked out the lineup, there’s some pretty good stuff: True Grit, School of Rock, Mad Max, and Point Break. Sounds like your weekend plans are set.

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#FiveThingsFriday: Malibu Comes to Arkansas, and a Birth Story Worth Checking Out

ICYMI: Rum, a new baby, a lost locket and pumpkins a-plenty. Oh, and the largest single-day health event in America. It’s an odd list with one thing in common – it’s all news in the world of Walmart this week.

If You Like Pina Coladas…

Arkansas got a bit more tropical this week when Pernod Ricard began bottling Malibu Rum at its plant in Fort Smith. This reshoring effort will bring an additional 6,000 man hours to the plant over the next year, which translates into more hours for existing workers and additional seasonal and full-time employment. An estimated 150,000 cases will be bottled in the plant that also produces Kahlua Liqueur, Seagram's Gin and Smithworks Vodka. Cheers!

Price Check on Bouncing Baby Boy

On Sunday morning, our Payson, Utah, store inadvertently hosted a reenactment of the 2000 film “Where the Heart Is” when customer Cecelia Rivas went into labor when she was checking out. Customers and associates helped Cecelia deliver baby Matias right there at the cash register. Mom and baby are doing well, and the store will be welcoming them back for a proper baby shower soon.

More Wellness for Your Weekend

This Saturday, October 15, every Walmart store in the U.S. will be hosting Walmart Wellness Day, the largest single-day health fair in the country. From noon to 4 p.m., local time, you can get free blood glucose, blood pressure, vision screenings (where available), product samples and information on health insurance options. We’ll have lots of companies in store handing out free samples, from Dannon to Johnson & Johnson. And since no exciting Saturday is complete without a round of shots, we’re also offering low-cost immunizations.

Lost, But Found

Tampa associate Pamela Martini made it a personal mission to reunite a heart-shaped locket she found in her store with its rightful owner. Customers lose lots of items in our stores, but Pamela knew that this piece of jewelry was different; it had a man’s name and two dates engraved on it, and the inside contained ashes. She searched online, posted to Facebook, talked to customers, and even reached out to her local news station. Her determinedness paid off when she was able to reunite the locket with the woman who owned it.

It’s the Great Pumpkin … Farmer!

Sarah Frey has been supplying Walmart with pumpkins for about 20 years. She got her start with us when she was still a teenager helping out the family farm. Her business has grown from 80 acres to about 15,000, and she’s expanding beyond the bright orange gourds you pick up for Jack-O-Lanterns. Sarah is introducing Pumpkins of the World, exotic pumpkins aimed at cooks. We’re all familiar with the canned pumpkin used for Thanksgiving pie, but have you heard of Jarrahdales or Chioggias? No, we didn’t make those up, but they could be the next big food trend. Fun fact: Did you know that the pumpkins you carve up for Halloween are known as “jacks”? Store that one away for your next trivia night.

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