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story.lead_photo.caption Jennifer Mustion (left), a senior manager at the Walmart home office, greets Sue Robertson, co-owner of Grandma’s Pure & Natural of Tulsa, Okla., who Wednesday was pitching the company’s natural handmade soaps during the second day of Walmart’s annual Open Call event in Bentonville. - Photo by Ben Goff

BENTONVILLE -- Walmart's headquarters bustled Wednesday with hundreds of U.S. suppliers bearing gourmet foods, all-natural pet soap, wheelbarrow caddies and other wares they hoped would earn a spot on the retailer's shelves or website.

Cheers broke out sporadically as the entrepreneurs left their meetings with buyers holding Walmart's version of a golden ticket -- a firm "yes" to their products.

In the more than 600 meetings scheduled on the second day of Walmart's annual Open Call, each supplier-hopeful had 30 minutes to pitch a product to a buyer team. When the allotted time was up, some were told right away whether Walmart would place their items in some or all of its stores, sell them on or allow the suppliers to sell the items on its third-party online marketplace. Others will have follow-up meetings with Walmart representatives in the coming months to negotiate details for a deal.

Hugh and Nicole Jarratt of Fayetteville came away from their first meeting of the day with a deal to place their Bug Blocker Socks in 100-plus stores as a test to see how well they sell. If the insect-repelling socks do well with shoppers, they could end up in Walmart stores nationwide.

Later in the day, the couple was scheduled to pitch an item they call the Double Dipper -- a bowl with a divider to keep sauces or other foods from mingling.

The Jarratts are Open Call veterans, having only missed last year's event. They got a deal their first time out for their taco plates and they have since sold 1 million of those. Through their company, Jarratt Industries, they sell the socks, plates and other unique items on their website.

Hugh Jarratt is constantly coming up with ideas for new products, his wife said. "He cannot shut his mind off," she said.

Bill and Sue Robertson of Tulsa, who make and sell Grandma's Lye Soap and other natural cleaning products, pitched a nondetergent laundry soap to buyers. Sue Robertson said the buyers felt Walmart's marketplace was the best venue for the product because it's such a niche item.

The buyers had some helpful suggestions, she said, such as putting more educational information on their packaging.

"He said our packaging didn't show that it was all-natural," she said. "We thought it did, but he said in his perspective it doesn't show the benefits of it and that we need to concentrate on that."

"We didn't go in with a lot of expectations," she said of their first Open Call. "We came in with the idea that whatever happened, we'd learn something."

The Robertsons had a second meeting scheduled in the afternoon to pitch Grandma's Pet Soap for Sensitive-Skinned Pets. They said all of their products have been certified 100% "skin safe" by the Mayo Clinic and are already available online and at retailers such as Cracker Barrel. Grandma's Lye Soap can also be ordered through Walmart's pharmacies.

More than 500 businesses were invited to Open Call this year, from 48 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Australia, the retailer said in a news release. The most represented states were California, Florida and Texas. Collectively, the companies' products are manufactured in 44 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

And while the company doesn't disclose how many applications it receives each year, a spokesman said it had an "unprecedented" number of applicants this year. The spokesman said Walmart will release an update today with the number of people who attended, the number of products accepted and a recap of Wednesday's event.

Walmart began hosting the Open Call event in 2014 as part of its commitment to invest $250 billion in products made or sourced in the U.S. by 2023.

Photo by Ben Goff
Sarah Machann (from left), executive assistant, and Leigh Meyers, CEO and president, with Encore Industrial based in Houston, Texas, stop to talk to Mollie Thorsen, COO of The Little Burros based in Washington, about their Burro Buddy wheelbarrow accessory between pitch meetings Wednesday, June 19, 2019, during day two of Walmart's annual Open Call event at the Walmart Home Office in Bentonville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Bob Thorsen, managing partner of The Little Burros, wheels a sample of his Burro Buddy wheelbarrow accessory to a meeting with Walmart buyers Wednesday at Walmart’s annual Open Call event at Walmart headquarters in Bentonville.

Business on 06/20/2019

Print Headline: Entrepreneurs seek Walmart's 'golden ticket'

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