ECRM Q&A: LeShaun Smedley, Kroger's Manager of Diversity & Inclusion  4/16/2021

LeShaun Smedley

This past October Kroger announced its Framework for Action: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan, featuring both immediate and longer-term steps developed in collaboration with associates and leaders to accelerate and promote greater change in the workplace and in the communities the organization serves. The plan features five focus areas: Create More Inclusive Culture, Develop Diverse Talent, Advance Diverse Partnerships, Advance Equitable Communities, and Deeply Listen and Report Progress.

One of the plan's goals is to increase spend with diverse suppliers to $10 billion by 2030. Helping to drive this goal is LeShaun Smedley, Kroger's Manager of Diversity & Inclusion. I had the privilege of speaking with Smedley about Kroger’s supplier-diversity initiatives, and how it works with diverse-owned brands, as well as what recommendations and expectations the grocer has for those brands with which it brings on-board. Here is a Q&A excerpt from the video interview, which you can watch in full below.

ECRM: What makes your supplier diversity inclusion efforts unique to your organization? 

Smedley: What makes us unique is we've been tracking minority spend for 30 plus years, so we've already had a great foundation when it comes to supplier diversity. Recently, we've been providing more opportunities to give exposure to our minority-owned vendors through social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. We've been highlighting them throughout different heritage months like Black Heritage month, Asian Heritage Month, and International Women’s Day. We’ll grab intake a handful of suppliers and spotlight them during those months. 

We also host webinars where we educate our minority owned vendors. We’ll do four to six per year to provide different educational opportunities to help them understand how to be successful with Kroger. We also hold one to two summits a year where we bring in brand new minority-owned vendors that have never done business with Kroger before, and we give them access to our decision-makers 

ECRM: Kroger is a large organization, with many different banners. What should suppliers know about your organization to be successful? 

Smedley: You have to do your homework on Kroger. You can't come in and not know anything about us. You have to understand that we're not just a Kroger banner name, we own different banners West of the Mississippi. We're in 35 States, we've got almost 2,800 stores across the United States. So do your homework on Kroger, understand your product, your data, who your customer truly is, where you see yourself fitting in the Kroger space. Do you think you belong in a store, or should you be on digital? Plus, we have three buckets of stores; we've got upscale, we've got mainstream, and we have value.

ECRM: To that point, what is the best way for me as a supplier, looking to break into the labyrinth of Kroger, to understand all of the things you do as a company?

Smedley: We have a ton of information on that can help equip you to be ready. You can get IRI data to understand who you are and who your products are and sales. And if you really need to take it another step further, you can always reach out to the supplier diversity team. We have an email address on our website and we can help answer some of those questions. 

ECRM: What is the process or the pathway for the diverse suppliers to connect with the merchant team? 

Smedley: We plan off of a calendar. It's typically six to eight to 12 months out, depending on the category, and depending on the product. We are looking at when the reset is going to happen, and then three or four months back from that is when we need to put you in front of our decision makers, our category managers. So the first step is to send your information to the supplier diversity team.

And now we're utilizing RangeMe, so you can upload your information such as your capabilities, your margins, add nice pictures, whatever information you need to put out there, and then that gets presented to the Kroger category managers. And depending on the timing, if they're ready to do a review, then they'll reach out to the supplier and set up a review meeting or a new item appointment. So the category manager will then take all that information that you presented and figure out if it makes sense to put it on the shelf during the reset or do we need to wait a year? Sometimes we've had products come in as quickly as three months, but I've seen some suppliers come in a year later, or even a year and a half later. But we always give you access to the right people.

'Now we're utilizing RangeMe, so you can upload your information such as your capabilities, your margins, add nice pictures, whatever information you need to put out there, and then that gets presented to the Kroger category managers.' 

ECRM: In terms of the cadence of the reset schedule how would I find out about that? 

Smedley: That's where we can add you to the compass calendar, our regular email blast. Any supplier that is interested can reach out and be added to receive alerts when they do an update. They typically send out an update of the compass calendar every two weeks. 

ECRM: Can you share some examples of how the company is leaning into the local communities that you serve?

Smedley: We have a zero-hunger, zero-waste initiative in which we're trying to feed as many people as possible and are reducing waste. So we're working with some minority-owned vendors who hire into undeserved areas where people may not have an opportunity to work at a job before. Some of our suppliers are hiring people right off the streets, people who have never had a home or a car, and they're giving those types of people an opportunity to work. So the more that we help minority-owned vendors, the more we're helping people that have maybe not even gotten a first or a second chance at a job. That's one of the ways that we're making an impact in the communities is by bringing on those suppliers that are serving their communities.

ECRM: What does a successful engagement with Kroger looks like? 

Smedley: First of all, getting into Kroger is it's not easy. There's a lot of factors involved to getting in Kroger and then scaling up. But we've had suppliers start off regionally – that's typically how we like suppliers to start. Do we test you out in 10 stores? Do we test you out in a whole division? Sometimes one division can have 130 stores. Do you have the capacity to do that? Do you have the finances to do that? Do you have the, the manufacturing capability to provide those turns? If you have a successful product, you need to make sure that you're able to supply the demand from our customers.

Success means you are doing on-time deliveries at my stores, it means you have good sales. But it's not just what you're shipping in, but is everything selling at the retail price? Hopefully there's no markdowns. Is the customer also buying another product along with your product? We've had a supplier that started off 18 years ago with a $100.75 purchase order, and now we're spending a hundred million dollars on him. He was starting off in a handful of stores. Now he's covering the entire enterprise with his product. It just takes time. It takes persistence. And you have to be honest with yourself. You have to be honest with Kroger, too. You can't say that you can do 2,800 stores if you can't do it, you have to tell us, and then we'll plan accordingly and put you in the right stores. And that's why it's very important for you to understand who you are, who your product is and who your customers are, so we can plan accordingly, because we have stores that index to a certain types of customers. 

ECRM: Any final thoughts or recommendations for diverse-owned suppliers reading this?

Smedley: If you're a minority owned vendor, feel free to reach out to our team, do your homework understand your product, understand your company, your product, your services reach out to us, you know, get some exposure through ECRM and RangeMe, get some exposure through the certifying bodies, get connected, do a lot of networking, ask a lot of questions, and get a mentor. I would definitely reach out to another supplier that has had success with Kroger and ask them what they did. Because when you hear from them, they'll tell you about the hard knocks that they took to be successful. I know a lot of suppliers who want to be mentors, and to help other suppliers to be successful.


Wayne Bennett

Senior Vice President, Retail

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