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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Heritage

Remembering Don Soderquist, Retired Walmart COO

Walmart’s culture – defined by our core values of service, respect and excellence – has always been key to our success.

That culture lost a very significant champion this week, as Don Soderquist, a key member of our company’s leadership team until his retirement in 2002, passed away.

Don joined Walmart in 1980 as executive vice president of administration and logistics and was a driving force behind our company’s growth. In fact, he led us through a period of significant progress from 1988 to 1999 when he served as vice chairman and chief operating officer. During his tenure, the company’s revenue increased from $1 billion to more than $200 billion.

Don epitomized the term servant leader. He was always thinking of others, provided great feedback and was encouraging to so many people. He had a deep passion for integrity, and it was Don who drafted our original core values. Don became known as the “Keeper of the Culture” after our founder, Sam Walton, passed away because he not only helped define our values – he lived out our culture and spoke passionately about it year after year. He truly believed that ordinary people could do extraordinary things when they worked together, and he taught the beliefs and values that supported that conviction for the rest of his life. Even after his retirement, he invested his time and energy into many associates who still work for the company.

After retirement, he established The Soderquist Center for Leadership and Ethics in Northwest Arkansas to provide values-focused development training to future generations of leaders. In 2005, he wrote the book “The Walmart Way” to teach others how to apply the lessons that made Walmart successful to their own lives and careers. He was also involved in numerous charitable organizations and served on several corporate boards.

Don touched so many lives here, and he will be dearly missed by his family and all of us at Walmart.

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U.S. Manufacturing

One Big YES! for Products that Support American Jobs

If a product is made in America, or if it supports American jobs – Walmart wants it on our shelves.

That’s the message we delivered Tuesday at our fourth U.S. Manufacturing Summit. Entrepreneurs from more than 40 states crowded into four buildings across our Bentonville, Arkansas campus to participate in 800 pitch meetings with our Sam’s Club, Walmart and Walmart.com buying teams.  As always, it was awesome to spend the day with people of all backgrounds united in the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurism.

Walmart has been on this journey since January 2013 when we announced our commitment to purchase an additional $250 billion of goods that support American jobs. This year was extra special, because we had a big surprise for our Open Callers. It was one beautiful word: “YES!” We said YES to virtually all items presented. If it can ship safely to a customer’s home, then we are, at a minimum, listing it on Walmart.com. Of course, many items will also be available on store shelves – in some cases just 40 stores, or 4,500 depending on customer demand and available supply. Whether you’re a family-owned start-up or a longtime supplier looking to expand production, the chance to sell YOUR product to the 140 million Americans Walmart serves each week is a game-changer.

So what’s in a yes for a new supplier to Walmart? Excitement. Tears of joy. Disbelief. And maybe some nervousness, thinking of the hard work required to meet the demand of a large retail order. I saw all of this and more. But what really stood out were the personal stories of the people that brought their American-made items to sell at Walmart. People I met, like:

  • Two innovators who, despite not knowing each other, shared a rental car and drove nearly all night to make their appointment when their late evening flight was cancelled
  • The teenage CEO who pitched her own product to buyers
  • Two brothers, one a policeman and one a fireman, whose barbecue sauce started as a local competition between the two civic forces

What we are doing matters for America. In fact, Boston Consulting Group estimates more than one million U.S. jobs will be created through our $250 billion commitment. It definitely matters to Walmart — it’s very much in our interest to lessen shipping times, and to support the communities we are part of. But most of all, it matters to our customers. Eighty-five percent say it’s important for retailers to carry products assembled or produced in the U.S.  As a merchant responsible for a host of categories including health and wellness, pets, baby and beauty, I know firsthand that if you give customers what they want at a great price, results will follow.

As I reflect on the personal stories and the impact this work is having on American jobs and communities, it’s easy to see why this year was special. There’s no doubt we’ve created additional momentum just by saying YES. And there’s no denying that work is a beautiful thing.

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Sustainability

One ‘Perfect’ Solution for Saving Ugly Apples

As the world’s largest grocer, Walmart knows food waste is a big issue.

For more than a decade, we’ve been doing our part by changing the way we do business and working to create a zero waste future, especially where fresh produce is concerned. Last week, my colleague Frank Yiannas wrote about our dedication to reducing food waste in the U.S., outlining our progress and the ways we’re making a difference with innovative date labeling, as well as the Spuglies potato launch and our wonky veg program at Asda.

Now, we’re excited to announce that after months of discussion, a brand of apples from Washington state, called “I’m Perfect,” will make its debut in Walmart stores this week. One of the challenges growers have is that Mother Nature can throw a curveball such as a hailstorm, high winds or even a string of very hot sunny days, which can damage the exterior finish of fruits. While the texture and flavor remain perfect, the exterior damage usually renders these fruits unsellable in the fresh market because they fail to meet traditional grade standards. We’re proud to be the first retailer to bring these apples to you.

These “beautifully imperfect” apples will eventually be available in 12 varieties from Granny Smith to Red Delicious. For now, about 300 stores in Florida will offer the apples in five-pound bags.

From helping our growers find alternate uses for these less than gorgeous fruits, such as making apple juice or selling small apples for lunch kits, we are committed to identifying options to get less than perfect fruit to market and thereby reduce this type of food waste.

What excites me the most about the launch of these “I’m Perfect” apples is that it is a result of working with our suppliers to build the infrastructure and processes that create a new home for perfectly imperfect produce. Because ugly produce can occur unexpectedly in any growing season or crop, we want to have the systems in place to offer this type of produce whenever it may occur.

The “I’m Perfect” product is just one example of the ways we are aiming to reduce food waste, supporting growers, and providing value to our customers.

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Community

Making Room to Provide the Gift of Vision

The ability to see is personal for me because my vision began to deteriorate when I was a child.

One day, I couldn’t see the chalkboard anymore. I couldn’t read the letters. Since then, I’ve had to wear either glasses or contact lenses. So I can relate to someone who does not have the ability to see. Vision and its connection to daily function and providing for your family is significant.

My distribution center, Walmart Optical #7054, started donating warehouse space to RestoringVision – a nonprofit that helps get glasses to those in need – two years ago, and recently, RestoringVision received a massive gift of eyeglasses that they had nowhere to house. Because ours is the only optical-focused distribution center within Walmart’s supply chain, I knew we would be uniquely equipped to help.

When major donations arrived, Walmart volunteers got to work in preparing these donations for shipment around the world. As we continue to work on this, the Walmart Foundation matches our volunteer hours with donation money that is passed along to RestoringVision.

When I hear the stories of how people can now provide for their families because of the work of RestoringVision, I instantly feel a sense of pride that we are a part of that mission. Helping people live better is what we do at Walmart. The partnership that we have established with RestoringVision is one way that we are better able to achieve that goal.

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