(NewsNation) — It’s “Shark Tank” meets Walmart. The retail giant held its annual “Open Call” event Wednesday, where 1,500 small businesses pitched their products for a chance to get them on Walmart store shelves.
“For entrepreneurs, this is like the Super Bowl,” Skinny Latina founder Ana Quincoces said.
And Quincoces knows. She created Skinny Latina, a line of Latin-inspired cooking sauces. She pitched her brand to Walmart, getting a no the first two times.
“I really thought they were just going to — I was going to wow them and they were going to put my products in all 3,000 stores, and it didn’t work out like that,” she said.
But Quincoces didn’t give up.
Instead, she used the feedback she received from the rejection to revamp her product.
“The third time around they gave me the OK, and now, I have 5 SKUs (stock-keeping units) on Walmart shelves alongside brands like Heinz and Hellmann’s,” Quincoces explained. “Working with Walmart has really been a game-changer to my little business.”
It was a golden ticket that changed her world.
The annual contest is Walmart’s largest sourcing event, held at its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. It’s an opportunity for the retail giant to connect with smaller, American-owned businesses.
“It really is an exciting day,” Walmart Senior Manager Payton McCormick told NewsNation. “It sets the stage for entrepreneurs from all across the country to come to Bentonville, both virtually and in person, to pitch their products to Walmart merchants with the hope of potentially getting the product on Walmart shelves, in Walmart.com, in front of our customers and our members.”
More than 4,500 companies applied this year and 1,500 ultimately made their pitch.
“The opportunity that we create for them here is really unique and special in that it’s our largest sourcing event of the year. This is our ninth event. It’s the largest cohort that we’ve ever had. And we’ve had more than 13,000 products apply to come here,” McCormick explained.
McCormick explained that “Open Call” is built on the foundation of U.S. manufacturing and the creation of American jobs, and Walmart is looking for products that also support that commitment. In 2021, Walmart recommitted an additional $350 billion to products made, grown or assembled in the U.S.
“A lot of suppliers here today are pitching products just like that that will support their communities, that will help us grow American jobs,” he said. “It’s just looking for bringing some of this back to the U.S., and over 85% of our customers agree with that notion that they want their retailers to carry products made here in the U.S.”
Scott Gutche, a senior director at Walmart, stressed that Walmart founder Sam Walton “started as a small business entrepreneur, and so the culture of that remains with Walmart even today.”
CEO of Le’Host Hair and Wigs Haith Johnson told NewsNation this is how they started, “We got the call of our lives, and it changed us forever.”
Johnson first pitched her products in 2020. In just two years, her products have grown from 200 stores to more than 400. This year, she’s attending the event just to mentor and guide other small business owners through the process.
“The energy you feel in the parking lot and through the halls, the bright eyes, the bushy tails, this is so amazing” she said. “Having the opportunity to take your products from a mom-and-pop to a national global level is amazing.”
Brian Hall, founder of Cerakote Ceramic Coatings Brian Hall was back again this year to pitch a new product to the company after successfully pitching another one of his products just over a year ago.
“This is real,” Hall said, “We showed up and pitched a little over a year ago. We got an opportunity.”
Hall said his product started out in 400 stores. With hard work and investment in the product, Hall said the product is now in 2,200 stores, soon to be in 3,900 stores.
“We’ll do over $3 million with Walmart this year. So this is real. And it’s such a great opportunity,” he said.
Hall’s company is based in Oregon, and Walmart has allowed his company to catapult into a retail space it has never been in before. He said with all the reinvestment and help the company has given him, Hall’s company now has over 150 manufacturing jobs in the state.
“It’s a lot of hard work, and it is fun, but you have to deliver a great product,” he said.
Walmart invited Hall back to pitch two new products this year, and to help mentor small business owners who are new to the event. One of the products he is pitching this year is a shower glass, hard-water spot and ceramic coating to improve shower cleanliness.
The event moves along fast. The retail company will hear 1,200 one-on-one pitches Wednesday and each entrepreneur only has 30 minutes for their pitch. The small business owner will present to a buyer from Walmart, and when their time is up, they receive an instant “yes” or “no.”
In the past, about 15% of people received an offer, but Walmart told NewsNation there is no limit on how many golden tickets they can give away.
Lou Kovach started the brand Polar Whale and he pitched his floating card and beverage tray to Walmart.
“It’s a card table to play games in the pool or spa,” he said.
He got an offer.
Not every entrepreneurial hopeful walked away so lucky, packing up their products and presentations to try again next year.
But for those like Chris Ward, who is carrying on his grandfather’s company, ZClear, an anti-fog lens cleaning product, the day was a dream.
“I don’t want to put it down, seriously I haven’t let it go,” he said about his gold ticket. “I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life, so I can’t believe it’s here. June 29, 2022, the day my life changed.”