U.S. Manufacturing

A Conversation with SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet

As the 24th Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Maria Contreras-Sweet leads the agency’s efforts to aid, counsel and protect the interests of small businesses. Recently, she spoke at Walmart’s second U.S. Manufacturing Summit, and afterward, she talked with us about Walmart’s commitment as well as her own work to help business owners thrive and strengthen the national economy.

WMT: Before the SBA, you had several roles focused on helping people gain access to opportunity, such as serving on the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission. It seems that you have a passion for this type of work - why?

C-S: As a young person watching television, what I saw shaped my views about many things, including what I wanted to do in the future. At the time I didn’t see a young Hispanic woman on television, so I didn’t know what I could truly be. We have people from all over the world who’ve come to America, so we need to embrace that diversity. [At the SBA] I want to make sure that I’m helping to build an America that’s strong and not leaving anyone behind. That’s how to create social mobility: expanding the middle class.

WMT: Tell us about your role at Walmart’s summit. Why was it important for you to attend and speak?

C-S: I wanted to be here for three reasons. One is getting the word out about our programs that I think are so rich and changing people’s lives across the country. The second is that Walmart is such an incredible player in the small business community. It was a great opportunity to be able to talk to folks here, one to thank them for the support that they’ve provided us in our V-WISE program for veteran women business owners, and also to explore ways we can work more closely together in the future. The third reason is that I wanted to hear firsthand from small businesses about what they think their challenges are, so I can ensure that the SBA continues to evolve and respond through smart, bold and accessible initiatives.


WMT: On that note, you’re leading a focus group today with a few businesses attending the summit. What’s your goal for that conversation?

C-S: I’ll give you a story. During the Los Angeles riots in 1992, many corporate and political leaders came together with the goal of building grocery stores and other businesses to help get the economy going again. I thought that made a lot of sense. But because I also think it’s important to call on the customer to see what they need, I went out into the community to ask them. They said, all of those things are fine, but what we need before any of that is a laundromat. We need to be able to wash our clothes so we can feel good about ourselves, go in and interview for jobs, and just exist every day. It’s very important to stay closely connected to our customers to gain these sincere insights and experiences. That way we can be a more responsive and effective SBA.

WMT: That makes a lot of sense. A lot of the work behind Walmart’s U.S. manufacturing initiative is about connecting with suppliers and manufacturers – coming together one-on-one to explore areas of cooperation.  As our company continues along this path, we’re interested in your perspective on Walmart’s commitment and its potential impact on the American economy.

C-S: Clearly, as the largest corporation in the world, this commitment plays a critical role in spurring economic activity. Manufacturing jobs are quality jobs. They have a great multiplier effect, and the fact that you’re having this conference here to spur more growth and connection with that sector – I think will take us a long way.

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Life

#FiveThingsFriday: News for the New Year

ICYMI: It’s two weeks into 2017, and we’re back from the holidays with these highlights: honoring a great teacher in North Carolina, hosting Clemson’s cool trophy at two stores in South Carolina, and opening even more Academies in five communities across the country.

Mr. Bonner’s Neighborhood

Michael Bonner is a second-grade teacher at South Greenville Elementary, which is located in a neighborhood with a high poverty rate in Greenville, North Carolina. Despite these circumstances, Mr. Bonner has found a voice to inspire his students through unique and fun lesson plans and activities. He’s truly making a difference in his community, so we were excited to donate $25,000 to his school on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Keep up the awesome work, Mr. Bonner!

Clemson’s Trophy Travels … to Walmart

Clemson Tigers fans in South Carolina have until 7 p.m. tonight to get a close-up look at the shiny new College Football National Championship trophy, which has been on display at Walmart Supercenters in Central and Easley this week before it goes to live forever at the Clemson University campus. Craftsmen at the Polich Tallix fine art foundry in Rock Tavern, New York, spent three months shaping the trophy out of 24-karat gold.

Get to Know Your Health Stats

If you’ve been putting off your 2017 resolution to finally start being healthy, this Saturday, Jan. 14, might be the perfect time to kick off change with Walmart Wellness Day – the country’s largest single-day health fair. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time, visit one of more than 5,200 Walmart and Sam’s Club locations to receive free glucose, blood pressure and vision screenings – and for the first time, body fat and body mass index testing. Product samples and health insurance information will also be available to help you get going in the right direction.

SCORE One for Small Businesses

For the fourth year, the American Small Business Championship is back. This annual competition celebrates small business owners and entrepreneurs from across the nation. The winners (two small businesses per state) will receive $1,000 Sam’s Club gift cards and an all-expense paid trip to train and network at an event in Dallas. Sam’s Club serves more than 600,000 small business owners each week, so their sponsorship of this program is one way they help support those members. If you are a small business owner or know someone, you can sign up here!

Academies Across America

Setting our associates up for success is a huge priority. In 2016, we opened 40 Walmart Academies, dedicated locations where hourly supervisors and department managers can receive hands-on training that combines both the classroom and the sales floor. This week, we kicked off the new year with five additional locations: Coventry, Rhode Island; Hatfield, Pennsylvania; Florence, South Carolina; Plover, Wisconsin; and Shawnee, Kansas. By the end of 2017, we’ll have 200 total locations and will have trained more than 200,000 associates.

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U.S. Manufacturing

Meet Homestar: Building a Future Through Building Furniture

Willie Grant likes to get his hands dirty – and he’s grateful to say that for the past three years, he has had the opportunity to wake up every morning and do just that.

As a maintenance tech at the Homestar factory in Statesville, North Carolina, Willie holds one of the most important jobs on the plant: He fixes the machines that make it possible to produce up to 7,000 units of ready-to-assemble furniture daily.

“My role here is to see that Homestar succeeds,” Willie says. “These are good people, and I don’t want to see anybody get hurt.”

But hard economic realities often make meaningful work difficult to come by. Willie knows from personal experience how hard it can be to lose a job with no warning. In 2008, he faced a series of layoffs because companies were shutting down their factories in the U.S. and sending the work overseas. As a family man with strong sense of responsibility to his wife and four children, he felt helpless to care for the people he loves the most.

When Willie began looking for work again, he had already lost trust in the companies offering him work – he even rejected a job offer with a factory that ended up shutting its doors to American workers only six months later.

“When you’ve been knocked down like I have, it’s really hard to build that trust in a company,” Willie said, “but I’m not a failure, I’m a provider.”

Finally in 2013, Willie’s brother told him about Homestar, a new company committed to hiring American workers and promoting employees from within. After going in for an interview, he recognized something special – and thanks to the commitment Walmart has made to source an additional $250 billion in U.S. products from suppliers like Homestar, Willie and his coworkers can again do the most important work in their lives: provide for their families. Now, they have something to work for again – something to be proud of.

“Every day is not peaches and cream, but we know we have something to fight for,” Willie said. “Walmart coming together with Homestar, it’s a great feeling … It gives us that feeling that we have security now. It gives us that drive to come to work every day and do what we do, and do it the best. Just the thought of knowing that the product we make, here in America, is on the shelves at Walmart – it’s an amazing feeling.”

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Business

3 Predictions for the Future of Retail – from the CEO of Walmart

What will shopping be like in 10 years? No one knows all the details (that’s exciting!), but one thing is for sure: it will be very different than it is today.

Editor’s Note: This piece by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon was originally published Jan. 6, 2017 on the World Economic Forum’s website.

History is clear about that. In the mid-19th century, most people in the U.S. were shopping at small markets. They would tell the manager what they wanted, and then wait for the item to be retrieved from the back or from the supplier. After that came the urban department store, supermarkets, then strip malls and discount stores.

Today, the pace of change is rapid. Ten years ago most customers were reading about the original iPhone, and wondering whether it would be useful. Now they expect to order something on their mobiles, have it delivered or pick it up in store – often on the same day, in a few hours, or even in a few minutes.

It’s up to retailers to adapt to these changes – and in some areas even lead the way – or they’ll fall behind and disappear.

Here’s what customers can expect their shopping experiences to be like 10 years from now:

1. Customer empowerment and even greater influence
Customer satisfaction has always been the number one goal for retailers, and in the future, customers will be more empowered than ever to drive the change they want, as they get more control over their shopping experience.

Technology – the internet, mobile and analytics – is being used to do anything and everything a customer doesn’t want to. Customers want to explore. But they need to have easy access to items they choose to use all the time. The historic trade-off between price and service has been altered by technology and customers expect to save time and enjoy the experience while saving money. They’ll fulfill their everyday needs – items like laundry detergent, paper, light bulbs, grocery staples and shampoo – in the easiest way possible through a combination of stores, e-commerce, pick-up, delivery and supported by artificial intelligence. Customer desires – think emerging fashion, fresh produce, and items they’ve never seen before – will still be fun to explore in stores as well as with technology (think virtual reality).

Retailers that provide a truly unique, enjoyable experience and prepare their associates to provide excellent service will have the advantage. At Walmart we already see the value customers place on personalization and convenience, through our success with grocery pick-up and delivery in several markets around the world.

With the growth of the internet of things, customers will enjoy an increasingly connected or “smart” shopping experience through a network of connections linking the physical and digital worlds into an ecosystem of devices, including vehicles, stores and software. The internet of things, drones, delivery robots, 3D-printing and self-driving cars will allow retailers to further automate and optimize supply chains too. Both sides of the equation – demand and supply – will change dramatically.

In addition, customers will continue to demand transparency around pricing and the supply chain. They’ll have less time to research the products they buy – but they’ll care even more about how they are sourced. They’ll choose to shop with retailers who provide that transparency so they can feel good about the items they purchase. This will require retailers to work with manufacturers to source items responsibly and sustainably. Retailers who do this and share the information will further earn customers’ trust.

2. I’ve seen what you have and I want it, too
Customers all over the world now know, and can see, what people in other countries have, and they want access to it all. And they want it now. Chinese customers want access to Louis Vuitton bags from France and milk from Australia. Not long ago on a visit to Nigeria and Ghana, I asked one of our local store managers what his one wish would be. His answer: “I want you to put a Walmart Supercenter like the ones you have in the US right here and let me run it. My customers and my family have seen what you have and we want it, too. We want those items at those prices.”

As Tom Friedman taught us, the world got flat and now it’s moving fast. The world needs inclusive growth provided in a sustainable manner. People are demanding it.

3. Shared value
With all these changes, retailers will only survive if their business creates shared value that benefits shareholders and society. Social and environmental sustainability will be engineered into our systems, and that will strengthen the communities in which we operate, which will in turn appeal to customers. These changes, however, will require new levels of cooperation and collaboration between retailers and NGOs, governments and educational institutions. Basically, we’ll design retail and other businesses so that all stakeholders (as many as possible) benefit: customers, associates/employees, shareholders, the communities we serve and those in the supply chain.

At Walmart, we’ve already found that investments in training, education and wages for our associates have resulted in higher customer satisfaction. Our customers want our associates to have a great life and they want to see that reflected in their attitudes and the service they provide.

When it comes to environmental sustainability, retailers and policy-makers face new challenges with the increase in packaging waste and emissions that comes with the growth of e-commerce. Shipping packages one at a time is not only wasteful and environmentally unsustainable, it isn’t cost-effective. The demand for convenience will force retailers to come up with new ways to ship items – in batches vs. one at a time – that are better for business and the environment.

While all these changes pose big challenges for retailers, they also represent unprecedented opportunities to innovate on behalf of customers and create new job opportunities for retail associates. I can’t think of a more exciting time to be in retail, to be at the forefront of change and part of an industry that has the potential to provide a better life for millions around the world.

This piece draws on a new report, Shaping the Future of Retail for Consumer Industries, which can be read here.

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Opportunity

In His Free Time, This Truck Driver Takes to the Skies

When Matt Barrett isn’t hitting the pavement in his Walmart big rig, he’s flying sky high!

Matt’s favorite pastime is operating a hot air balloon, a hobby he started several years ago alongside his wife, Jessica.

How does a truck driver decide to take his navigating skills to the skies? We caught up with Matt to learn more.

Q: How long have you been a truck driver?
A: I started driving trucks more than 17 years ago. When I heard that Walmart was a good trucking company to work for, I started looking here. It was tough to get on at first because the truck drivers never want to leave! I was originally hired in the St. James, Missouri, area but was eventually transferred to Bentonville. I was really excited about the move because I could be much closer to home. I’ve been driving for Walmart for almost 10 years now.

Q: What is your job like on a day-to-day basis?
A: I drive for both Walmart and Sam’s Club, but my route varies. My schedule is consistent, though, which I really like. I drive for six days and then am home for two days.

Q: Tell us about your first experience with a hot-air balloon.
A: One day my wife asked me if I wanted to go to a glow, an event where several hot air balloons inflate after dark and burners are ignited periodically to make the balloons look like huge light bulbs. I went to the event and was hooked. I bought my first balloon and got my pilot’s license just a few months later.

Q: Can you share more about the process of flying?
A: Here are the answers to the questions I get most from people:

Is the balloon lightweight? No, not at all. The hot air balloon weighs more than 700 pounds.

How many people does it take to operate a balloon? I usually have a crew of three: my wife, Jessica, my son, Luis, and me. And I couldn’t do it without their help. They help me get the balloon ready, and when I get in the air they have to load the equipment up and start following the balloon in our truck.

How do you ensure a balloon is working properly? Each balloon has to be inspected every year or every 100 hours of airtime, whichever comes first.

Q: What’s your favorite part of flying a hot air balloon?
A: I love giving rides to people who have never done it before. It’s the best feeling when they say riding in a hot air balloon was on their bucket list. How cool is it that I helped someone do something they’ve always wanted to do?

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