ECRM Q&A: Walmart’s Scott Gutche on the 2020 Virtual Open Call Event 7/22/2020
The application process for Walmart’s seventh annual Open Call is open, and the retailer is inviting entrepreneurs seeking to get their U.S.-manufactured products on Walmart shelves to apply for the opportunity to meet with Walmart buyers on Oct. 1, 2020 via virtual pitch meetings.
The event kicks off Walmart’s celebration of U.S. Manufacturing Month and will include similar programming to previous years. In addition to one-on-one pitch meetings with Walmart buyers, participants will have an opportunity to hear directly from Walmart executives and learn from company leaders during smaller breakout sessions designed to inform, empower and encourage supplier-hopefuls.
The deadline to apply to participate in this year's Open Call for U.S.-manufactured products is Aug. 10. The application and additional information about the event are available here.
In this podcast, I speak with Scott Gutche, Senior Director of U.S. Manufacturing and Sourcing for Walmart, about this year’s Open Call program. Below is an edited Q&A from the interview.
Listen to the full podcast here
ECRM: Can you give us a little background about Open Call and why Walmart holds the event?
Gutche: In 2013, Walmart committed to growing our U.S.-based receipts by $250 billion by 2023, and the goal really is just to create jobs in communities we all serve. So, Walmart, as big as we are, we have the ability to make change in communities that we live in, and this is one way we can do it.
One way we're focused on achieving that goal is to buy U.S.-manufactured products from new suppliers, and so Open Call is an annual event where Walmart invites us manufacturers to meet with our buying teams to consider carrying their items in Walmart stores and on walmart.com. Every year, thousands of supplier applications come in and we review them, and last year almost 500 manufacturers attended our event.
ECRM: I actually had the pleasure of being there last year and it is quite the event. It's just amazing to see the energy in the program. What type of suppliers should apply, and what’s the criteria for applying?
Gutche: From a criteria standpoint, we’re looking for U.S. manufacturers who have shelf-ready products that are ready to ship to Walmart. In the application process we'll ask them questions that help us determine this. Basically, they need to have their packaging done, can ship a PO the week after the event, and they are ready to get on the shelves. The product should be aligned to our customer demand and on the innovative end of the spectrum in regards to what we already carry. Applicants should understand Walmart, and see if we have a need that they can meet. We really want items that will surprise and delight our customers, and we're a very local company. We ship differently for every single store.
ECRM: Who at Walmart participates in this program?
Gutche: The Open Call is a very much a merchandising event, so therefore the entire merchant team is involved, from our CEO, Doug McMillan, to Scott McCall, our Chief Merchant, to all our store buyers, online buyers, and sourcing managers; they all participate. They really love this day because the best part of their job is seeing new innovative products and establishing new vendor relationships, and that's what this day is all about.
ECRM: A lot has changed in the world since March. What's going to be different about this year's Open Call?
Gutche: Having the event in person, I believe there's nothing like it. As you mentioned, the excitement and the adrenaline that's going through the hallways that day it's unmatched from any event I've ever been at, but in the times that we're in, as many events have and ECRM Programs have done, we're going virtual for the meetings.
It's really going to open up competition because it takes down the barrier and expenses of travel, so we expect there to be a large desire to attend this year's event. It'll also get the suppliers in front of more people from the buying teams, as you’re not limited to space. At prior events, we've had the buyer and may have had someone from sourcing in the meeting, but now the entire team including dot-com can be there.
So there's an opportunity for the supplier to get in through private brands, or through a store buyer, or through the online buyer, it can all be done in one virtual meeting. It will also have a lot of educational sessions going on that day. We usually just do a couple of learning sessions, like how you do business with Walmart, but this year we've invited numerous outside partners to come in and bring resources to suppliers who may not normally have access to them. These include resources like Kantar presenting consumer insights with COVID, where they're trending, where they're going, or SBA resources around financing growth, for example.
ECRM: I remember some of those sessions are standing-room only. What are the dates and times of Open Call this year?
Gutche: Open Call is October 1st, beginning a 9 a.m. central time and the meetings end at 4 p.m. Historically, we’ve held Open Call around July 4th because of the patriotic nature of the event, but this year, as things got strange with COVID, we moved it to October, because it's National Manufacturing Month. The National Association of Manufacturing celebrates manufacturing all month long across the country with the Creators Wanted program, and this event coincides well with it. So, the media will certainly want to cover the events that we're doing at Open Call and then what NAM is doing across the country.
ECRM: Outside of Open Call, what are some of the activities of the U.S. Manufacturing and Sourcing team, and how does it fit into the broader Walmart organization?
Gutche: Outside of Open Call, our team works with all Walmart suppliers looking to reshore their products, or if they're doing an expansion in the U.S. We also lead campaigns to sell more U.S.-made products. We just wrapped up a very successful feature campaign in all of our stores, and we work with our public affairs team to share the great supplier stories and all the investments that Walmart is making in their communities.
ECRM: It's a key component of what you guys do at Walmart, and I’m looking forward to another successful U.S. Open Call, although this time with a slight pivot this year to virtual!