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Arkansas Inc. Podcast: Aimee Fisk - Walmart Open Call

 August 01, 2022

In this episode of the Arkansas Inc. Podcast, AEDC Marketing Director talks with Aimee Fisk, director of Walmart's U.S. Manufacturing and Sourcing division. Aimee Fisk talks about Walmart's ninth annual Open Call event, Walmart's commitment to U.S. manufacturing, and more.


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TRANSCRIPT

Aimee Fisk:
This is Aimee Fisk, Director at Walmart of U.S. Manufacturing and Sourcing, and you're listening to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast.

 

Clark Cogbill:

Welcome to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast. This is Clark Cogbill. I serve as Director of Marketing for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. We are recording today's episode from the studios of Lucky Dog Audio in downtown Little Rock.

On June 28th and 29th, more than 1,100 businesses from across the country pitched their products made, grown, or assembled in the U.S. to Walmart and Sam's Club merchants at Walmart's ninth annual Open Call in Bentonville, Arkansas. Open Call is Walmart's largest sourcing event for more than 5,300 Walmart and Sam's Club stores in the U.S. More than 4500 entrepreneurs applied and over 13,000 products were registered. This year, finalists representing all 50 states, including the District of Columbia, pitched their products for consideration through 30-minute one-on-one virtual and in-person meetings. Nearly 60% of all business owners invited to Open Call self-identify as a diverse-owned business.

This year, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission was a proud sponsor of Walmart Open Call and our marketing team, including me, had the opportunity to attend the event. And we had a front-row seat. It was incredible to witness it firsthand. We met tons of entrepreneurs from all over the country. We heard some inspirational speakers and we even learned to do the Walmart cheer in a big crowd of people. It was pretty exciting. Today on the Arkansas Inc. Podcast, we are lucky to be joined by the person in charge of Open Call, Aimee Fisk, director of US manufacturing and sourcing for Walmart. Aimee Fisk, welcome to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast.

 

Aimee Fisk:

Hey, thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

 

Clark Cogbill:

Absolutely. First of all, Aimee, I just want to say congratulations on such a successful event. I can't even imagine all the logistics involved, but it was a very well-run event.

 

Aimee Fisk:

Thank you very much. I happen to think so myself, so thank you very much.

 

Clark Cogbill:

Now, Aimee, everyone knows Walmart, obviously, but for those who aren't familiar with Open Call, how would you describe the event?

 

Aimee Fisk:

Well, that's a fabulous question. You did mention it's the largest sourcing event that we hold, that anyone holds, really, but Walmart Open Call is really, it's this unique opportunity for select entrepreneurs who have shelf-ready products made, grown, or assembled in the US, so this is a US manufacturing event, and the idea is for these entrepreneurs to meet face-to-face with Walmart and Sam's Club merchants with that potential of getting their product in hands of millions of our customers.

 

Aimee Fisk:

But I think outside of that explanation, this event, I think that the biggest thing for these suppliers and these entrepreneurs is that it not only gives them the chance to meet face-to-face, but it gives them great networking opportunities as you probably saw while you were there.

 

Clark Cogbill:

Oh, yes.

 

Aimee Fisk:

Then it gives them the chance at the big break, right? They walk away with something that they didn't come with that could include that big break that they've been looking for with Walmart or Sam's Club, which is a deal. Getting that golden ticket and getting on shelf, that's the biggest thing I think is really just giving them opportunities – opportunities across the board.

 

Clark Cogbill:

When you get a deal with Walmart, and literally, that golden ticket, I mean, that is a game-changer for your business.

 

Aimee Fisk:

It is, it is. Absolutely.

 

Clark Cogbill:

This year's event was the ninth annual Open Call. Can you take us back to the origin of the event and how has it grown since the very first Open Call?

 

Aimee Fisk:

Right, right. Think about this goes all the way back to, it actually goes way back when, which I'll cover a little later, but 2013 we announced a $250 billion commitment, and then once we quickly launched that commitment and that initiative, we realized that there's opportunities, and there's things that play into that commitment, Open Call being one of those. Open Call was then created. The idea is supporting American products and American jobs, it just makes sense, right? It makes sense for customers, our communities, our company. We are leading the way through our commitment and then again quickly reannounced a $350 billion commitment in products made, grown or assembled.

When you think about to your original question, when you think about the origin of the event, you think nine years ago, we're talking less than a hundred meetings for a merchant, and it was a very intimate setting, whereas you fast forward nine years, and as you mentioned before, more than 1,100 suppliers are invited to come to Bentonville, and we went from in-person, and with COVID, quickly transitioned to virtual meetings only. Then this year, we've never done this before, but this year we offered a hybrid experience where we could do either or. I mean, talk about evolution. This event this year by far has outweighed, outdone any past event, and we just continue to grow, right?

 

Clark Cogbill:

Yeah, it was amazing to watch. I think you said just now your first event had a hundred meetings and this one had 1,100 meetings, so 11 times bigger than the very first one.

 

Aimee Fisk:

Absolutely, absolutely.

 

Clark Cogbill:

How did the 2022 Open Call turn out? What are some of the results?

 

Aimee Fisk:

Yeah, we had more than 1,100 businesses from across the country pitch their products made, grown, or assembled in the US to Walmart and Sam's Club merchants. Again, this was our ninth year, but preliminary results indicated that more than 330 of those pitches resulted in a deal for businesses to sell their items to Walmart customers through placement on Walmart or Sam's Club shelves, online at walmart.com, or on Walmart Marketplace. Additionally, those business owners of more than 280 products are continuing conversations with merchants for potential deals in the future, and I would just say we continue to see success stories and hear feedback from the merchandising organization, so those numbers will change, but as I mentioned, preliminary results, we were extremely excited with the results from pitch day.

 

Clark Cogbill:

That's fantastic. Let's talk about some of the success stories from this year's Open Call. What are a few that come to mind for you?

 

Aimee Fisk:

Yeah. Yeah. It's hard to pick one. Do I have to pick one? I'm going to keep it right here in Arkansas, if that's okay.

 

Clark Cogbill:

Sure.

 

Aimee Fisk:

We had a Fayetteville, Arkansas entrepreneur, Jarrett Industries. He is a repeat Open Call participant. Hugh Jarrett actually applied to take part in Walmart's inaugural Open Call back in 2014, so when you think about our very first Open Call, he came and pitched his taco plate and received an order for one million taco plates in our, in our 2014 event. Fast forward this year, he actually came in and pitched a flag saver and received a yes following the meeting with the Walmart merchant as well. When I think about success, and we tell suppliers all the time, it doesn't stop here, right? Come pitch to us. Whether you do, you don't, you get a deal, whatever that looks like, come back. You can always come back and maintain that relationship with Walmart. This is just one supplier that has really started from the beginning, and look at him now, so it's a great success story. Great story.

 

Clark Cogbill:

It sounds like he maintained that relationship with Walmart and it paid off. Persistence paid off.

 

Aimee Fisk:

Absolutely, absolutely.

 

Clark Cogbill:

One thing I noticed, we had the opportunity to talk to a lot of entrepreneurs, and just so many, such a variety of niche, business ideas. I mean, it was really incredible to hear all of the different things that people had invented and were trying to take to market. Sometimes they would talk about they've tried in the past, or they're going to try in the future, and it just sounds like Walmart is very supportive of these entrepreneurs. I know there was a lot of advice. We heard some of it firsthand, but there was a lot of advice given not only directly from Walmart, but from other entrepreneurs who had been successful in the past. Can you talk a little bit about that from the perspective of being a potential Walmart supplier? What kind of support do you get at Open Call?

 

Aimee Fisk:

Yeah, I mentioned that a little earlier. That's one thing that our, our number one goal, right, is to get the suppliers there and let them get faced, that's the most important piece, get them in front of a merchant.
But the second thing is they have to walk away with something they didn't come with. This year we took a different approach and thought not only is it important for them to get in front of a merchant and talk to the merchants and hear that feedback, that is more valuable than anyone can ever know to hear from the largest retailer in the world and hear that feedback about the product, but this year, our approach was give them something a little more relatable, right?

 

Clark Cogbill:

Uh-huh.

 

Aimee Fisk:

Bring in some past Open Callers that have lived that experience and they've gone through every single thing that those suppliers that came this year, everything they've gone through. Why not give them that ability to have an intimate conversation with people who've been in their shoes? I think that hearing feedback from the suppliers this year, I think that was a massive piece, and extremely successful, a massive piece for them to walk away and say... Actually, it's so funny because I had one of those mentoring suppliers email me last night and say, "I still have some of those small businesses reaching out to me asking if I can mentor them down the road," and yeah, I mean, here it is a couple of weeks after the event, so it's not only getting that mentorship, but maintaining lifelong networking, right?

 

Clark Cogbill:

Absolutely.

 

Aimee Fisk:

That could last for years and years and lifetime, so I think that was just a huge one this year, to be able to provide that for the attendees.

 

Clark Cogbill:

Absolutely. It seemed like, again, not only to hear directly from Walmart, but to hear tips from those who have gone through the Open Call process and been successful, what worked for you? What obstacles did you overcome?

 

Aimee Fisk:

Right, yeah.

 

Clark Cogbill:

Aimee, how does Open Call help Walmart strategically stay at the forefront of the retail industry and continue to deliver on its promise of providing low prices to its customers?

 

Aimee Fisk:

At Walmart, we believe in making a difference on issues. Our customers and communities care about. We believe we can create more American jobs by supporting more American manufacturing. Jump-starting this manufacturing industry and rebuilding the middle class requires a national effort by companies, industry, leaders, lawmakers, and others. Together, we know we can spark a revitalization in us manufacturing by making production more affordable and feasible in the United States. We can bring our customers more products made, grown, or assembled in the US. Here's the best part of all of it, manufacturers can create more jobs in America.

 

Clark Cogbill:

Absolutely. It makes sense to me. This podcast is all about economic development and when I think about and watched Open Call this year, it really is about helping entrepreneurs. We always say small businesses at the heart of the economy, and so I see all these small business people, all these entrepreneurs creating things, manufacturing things, and to get that deal with Walmart, to get that relationship in place with Walmart not only helps them, but it really is great for the American economy.

 

Aimee Fisk:

Mm-hmm, absolutely.

 

Clark Cogbill:

As you mentioned in 2021, Walmart announced that it would commit 350 billion to support US manufacturing and supporting more than 758,000 American jobs. Why is Walmart committed to boosting manufacturing in the United States?

 

Aimee Fisk:

Yeah. Clark, I'm going to get a little emotional on you. This is one of the biggest reasons that I came to the U.S. manufacturing and sourcing organization, because we have a long, proud history of supporting products made, grown, or assembled in the US. This dates back to Sam Walton. Under his leadership, Walmart started, and hopefully you've heard of it, but Walmart started Bring it Home to the USA program. To quote Mr. Sam, "Our primary goal became to work with American manufacturers and see if our formidable buying power could help them deliver the goods, and in the process, save some American manufacturing jobs." Guess what? It worked. The investment we're making now just continues to build on Mr. Sam's vision.
I have to say, sourcing locally is good for our business. It's good for our business in all retail markets. When we source domestically, we have not only shorter lead times and deliver fresher products to our customers, but local suppliers know the customer preferences. It just makes sense for our customers, it makes sense for our communities, and it makes sense for our company. U.S. manufacturing really matters. It matters to the suppliers, it matters to entrepreneurs, and to the environment, and most importantly, it matters to our customers, more than 85% of which have actually said it's important to carry products, excuse me, made or assembled in the US, and most of all, because of the jobs it brings, and it matters to those American communities and the people that live in them.

 

Clark Cogbill:

That's great. That's great. It's a super event. Again, it was just so inspiring to see all these entrepreneurs and the physical products that they're bringing to market that they're manufacturing here in the US. Aimee, a couple of tough questions here. What is your personal favorite part of Walmart Open Call?

 

Aimee Fisk:

Oh, my gosh. Open Call is my favorite day. You probably heard that a lot at the event.
Clark Cogbill:
I heard it constantly. So many people from Walmart said, "This is our favorite time of the year."

 

Aimee Fisk:

It's so true. To the listeners for the podcast today, if you want to hear about how it's the most favorite day of the year, you can go to our Jump website and watch our executive session. But it really is, it's one of my most favorite days. I think this year was even more special because hosting a hybrid event, you still get to maintain a relationship with those suppliers virtually, but to have people back in-person, the entrepreneurial spirit is just contagious. The energy that was in that building on event day, both days, whether it was pitch day, or we were going through all the learning sessions, just that energy and the emotion, there is something truly emotional about this event. It's not just about getting product on Walmart shelves, it's about really understanding how you're impacting communities, and the lives of the people that live in those communities, and the lives of the people that are pitching that product.
I tell you, Clark, and I'm sure you heard it from all of those suppliers, they were so energetic, and ready to tell their story. They didn't care if you were a merchant, or if you were just there in support, the energy was just insane. I think that's probably my favorite part is just seeing that true emotion. There was nothing political, nothing business, it was just true emotion in that building. It really tugs at your heartstrings.

 

Clark Cogbill:

I was a firsthand witness to it. I mean, it was incredible energy. We were caught up in it, especially doing the Walmart cheer and just hearing so many people say how much they loved Open Call, their favorite time of the year, and you could tell they meant it. It was a lot of fun to just participate this year, so I'm really glad that we got the chance to do that.

 

Aimee Fisk:

Yeah, same.

 

Clark Cogbill:

All right, what do you see as the future for Walmart Open Call, Aimee?

 

Aimee Fisk:

Oh, it is going to continue to evolve, I can promise you that. We're thinking bigger, better. I mean, every year you hear, "Largest yet," but I have to say that next year, 2023, will be our 10th anniversary, so I mean, we really have to think outside the box for next year.

 

Clark Cogbill:

Yeah.

 

Aimee Fisk:

But I mean, honestly, again, believing that supporting American products and American jobs make sense, we have to leverage that, we have to talk about how much it makes sense for our customers, our communities, our companies. Walmart's really leading the way through our commitment to invest that additional 350 billion in products made, grown, or assembled, and Open Call just underscores that commitment helps us make a difference on issues that really matter, so we're excited.
That's about as far into it as I'll go, but I will say that for the 10-year anniversary, the spirit in just being a part of being a part of Open Call and the success of Open Call, we're really excited and anxious to... I mean, I've already started planning for next year, if that tells you anything. We're just really excited to continue down the path and 10 years just makes it, makes it even better.

 

Clark Cogbill:

Can't wait to see what Walmart comes up with for the 10th anniversary of Open Call. Aimee, if an entrepreneur is interested in participating in Open Call, what's the best way for them to find out more?

 

Aimee Fisk:

Well, I would say I mentioned earlier our Jump website, engage.walmart-jump.com. That is our jobs and U.S. manufacturing portal. I would say we have an events page there, and if you're wanting to stay up to date, there's ways to engage, no pun intended, there's ways to engage on our jump website that I would definitely recommend.

 

Aimee Fisk:

I would also say selfishly, I'll plug in we have a huge focus on U.S. manufacturing and that website also offers ways to participate in different resources and activities that are available out there for US manufacturing, so I would say it would be good for that to be the one-stop-shop to get you where you need to go for everything US manufacturing, but definitely for Open Call.

 

Clark Cogbill:

Final question, Aimee.

 

Aimee Fisk:

Yes.

 

Clark Cogbill:

Of all the products sold at Walmart, both in stores and online, do you have a favorite one, two, or three?

 

Aimee Fisk:

You keep asking me favorite questions. It's so hard to pick. Oh, my gosh. It's so hard to pick. I am not going to say that I have a favorite, and you probably don't like that.

Clark Cogbill:
That's okay.

 

Aimee Fisk:

I'm not actually going to answer that question, but I am going to say that of all the products that we see for U.S. manufacturing, whether that's basic products on the shelf, like toilet paper, all the way to NIC Industries has a great product with headlight restoration that's made and manufactured right here in the U.S.

 

Clark Cogbill:

I picked up a sample at that. It was Open Call.

 

Aimee Fisk:

Did you?

 

Clark Cogbill:

Yes.

 

Aimee Fisk:

That's fantastic. That's a great product. But from end-to-end, whether you're thinking consumables or even into to our hard lines business, I will not talk about a favorite product, but I will say that the stories behind the product, when you get to learn the product, it's one thing to see them on the shelf represented, but the story behind it, when you start to dig into not only does it provide several hundred jobs within that community, they give back to the community, they donate to cancer patients, and what that may give jobs to the community, it provides a different level of emotion that makes you proud to purchase that product, so I would say I don't have a favorite, but I would say that I am proud. There's a sense of pride in purchasing the products that we highlight for US manufacturing. Does that answer at least some of your questions?

 

Clark Cogbill:

We will let you get away with that answer.

 

Aimee Fisk:

Oh, okay, perfect.
Clark Cogbill:
There were some very inspirational stories at Open Call.

 

Aimee Fisk:

Oh, good. Yeah.

 

Clark Cogbill:

Great answer, Aimee.

 

Aimee Fisk:

Thank you.

 

Clark Cogbill:

Well, I've been talking today with Aimee Fisk, director of US manufacturing and sourcing for Walmart. Aimee, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit with me today.

 

Aimee Fisk:

Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

 

Clark Cogbill:

You've been listening to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast. This is Clark Cogbill, director of marketing for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. You can subscribe to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and other podcast apps. For more information about AEDC and to sign up for our monthly newsletter, visit arkansasedc.com and connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Thanks for tuning in.