Sometimes the price of doing the same thing is higher than the price of changing. Product suppliers all over the world had to calculate this cost earlier in the year as they rapidly adapted their businesses to the changing needs of the global pandemic. And by adapting quickly, they were able to help their employees, their families and their communities in a tough year.
While it’s true that big manufacturers have stepped up, small and middle-sized businesses faced even bigger challenges. For many, the future of their business was at stake, but as Walmart suppliers, these businesses didn’t have to face these new challenges alone.
As a global company, Walmart has development programs in many countries to help suppliers build their businesses and adapt to changing retail markets. These programs help suppliers and entrepreneurs strengthen their businesses through training, mentorship, connection to local supply chains and help with exports. They also open up opportunities to sell these and other products in our stores and markets, encouraging healthy and sustainable business growth.
In India, Walmart’s Vriddhi supports 50,000 micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) while Flipkart’s Samarth supplier development program helps support over 600,000 micro-enterprises across India. Walmart’s Central and South American small and midsized business (SMB) programs help to provide training and resources in developing entrepreneurial skills. And in South Africa, Massmart’s Supplier Development Programme works directly with suppliers to help source materials and develop the capabilities to produce what’s needed.
Many of Walmart’s suppliers around the world saw opportunities to help others by shifting their businesses to make masks, visors, hand sanitizer and even foot-operated washing stations.
Here are just a few of their stories:
India – Earning a Living with Upcycled Masks
Before Dr. Madhumita Puri founded the Society for Child Development (SfCD) in the early 90’s, she worked closely with children who had physical and learning disabilities. As a clinical psychologist, she knew these kids needed to be better equipped with skills and economic opportunities. So, she analyzed the marketplace to see what skills were needed, and she worked backward from there to empower SfCD members to earn a living.
Today, her society employs people with disabilities to create expertly made pouches and pencil cases. What’s more is that they’re made out of recycled fabric scraps from high-end textile manufacturers.
“It makes very good business sense,” Puri said. “For me it’s a resource. It also serves the dual purpose of protecting the environment.”
When the pandemic arrived in India, only essential items were allowed to be sold. In an instant, SfCD members lost their income, because the products they were making weren’t essential. Puri knew she had to do something.
“People are dependent on us. They don’t work elsewhere,” she said.
That’s when Walmart India reached out to SfCD to make masks. Her leadership team quickly got to work and secured permission from the local government, so they could reach their team members who were working from home.
Now, her team is making masks in their homes which are being sourced by top corporations in India. Puri and her leadership team are able to deliver the raw materials to her employees’ homes, and when the masks are done, they pick them up. This allows SfCD members to earn a wage and help contribute to a safer society.
“Their ability to earn is the reason why I do what I do,” Puri said.
Guatemala – Home Fabrics to Hazmat Suits
Cintora is a small company with only five permanent employees that produces home textiles. Making the decision to produce masks for their own safety was easy. They weren’t initially expecting to sell them to the public.
“When the pandemic started, we began manufacturing face masks specifically for our employees and to donate. But when our clients found out, they started requesting them, and that is when we stocked up,” Cintora General Manager Jennifer Medina said.
They immediately began working to improve the designs and produced over a million masks. And their success with masks made them wonder what other products they could make. Now, they make hazmat suits, shoe protectors, face shields, face masks, robes, disposable pants, uniforms and many other personal protective products.
“We think of ourselves as a highly innovative company,” Medina said. “It was very easy to grow this product line, because we already had the materials that were needed.”
Once Cintora knew what they could make, the next step was to get the word out. Through Walmart’s Una Mano Para Crecer (A Hand for Growth) program, Medina got in touch with the Walmart buyer.
Medina knew what to do next, because Cintora produces products for their own brands as well as Walmart private labels, Haus, Mainstays and Better Homes & Gardens. Now, she’s supplying these masks to all Walmart stores in Guatamala, and she’s creating additional jobs by hiring temporary workers to keep up with the demand.
“Seeing how Cintora Textiles has been able to keep not only working, but growing during this pandemic, is something that fills our hearts with gratitude,” Medina said.
South Africa – Creating Jobs with Medical-grade Sanitizer
As the need for hand sanitizer grew in South Africa, supplies ran short. And just like most locations around the world, alcohol-based sanitizers were the preferred topical solution to combat coronavirus.
But not every supplier can produce or store alcohol-based products. Handling such a combustible substance takes all sorts of safety precautions and special conditions. South African household chemical producer, Ultrachem, wasn’t set up to produce or handle alcohol-based products, but they knew there was another way.
“We still saw an opportunity for alcohol-free sanitizers, so we went for it,” Ultrachem founder Danie Greeff said.
The company was able to get their products listed at Massmart stores quickly. And due to their previous involvement with Massmart’s Supplier Development Programme, they were able to buy the equipment they needed to manufacture and distribute the sanitizer.
The result is the alcohol-free Viridis hand sanitizer line. The non-alcohol sanitizer makes a barrier on hands and surfaces, protecting them for longer periods of time. This is the type of sanitizer most commonly used in medical facilities, because it is better for babies, sensitive skin and repeated use.
And just as importantly, the new hand sanitizer line allowed Ultrachem to not only keep their entire staff but, also hire more people.
“The Viridis line helped us to keep our staff, with no salary cuts or retrenchments and also create job opportunities for additional staff,” Greeff said.
India – Washing Hands of Doubt
Rahul Bajaj was sitting at home on the third day of the nation-wide lockdown, and like most people, he was worried. His youngest daughter has a medical condition that can cause her to go into fits when she gets a fever. He read that those infected with COVID-19 might have fever for many days, so he wanted to minimize his daughter’s risk for of contracting the virus.
He remembered a foot-operated hand-washing station he’d seen at a nearby hospital, and he knew he could build a similar machine in his factory.
Bajaj is the director of Shree Shakti Enterprises, a kitchenware manufacturer. It’s a family-owned business started by Bajaj’s grandfather in 1956. It’s now run by his father, who was not too excited about the idea of the new washing station at first.
“My father was very worried about the family. He did not want me to go out. He said he cared only about his family and not about business or money in the middle of a pandemic,” Bajaj said.
But the son persisted and explained that Shree Shakti would be doing a service to the community. They could slow the rate of the novel coronavirus with more washing stations. Once his father understood his motives, he was on board.
Bajaj is also a member of the Vriddhi Supplier Development Program, which has been a big help through this process. Now he’s not only making foot-operated washing stations but hands-free sanitizer dispensers as well.
The whole journey has been inspirational to his family and those he works with.
“I can’t explain it in words,” he said. “This makes me humble and proud.”