Mama always told me, “Son, if I can’t trust you with the little things, how can I trust you with the big things?” (That probably should have been written in ALL CAPS, because it was usually after I’d done something to make her blow a gasket). I didn’t anticipate how impactful and applicable that nugget of wisdom would be during my career working with Walmart Inc.
Our first Button up for Your Buyer blog post dove into your responsibility for content and communication within your Walmart business. Today, we’ll address the focus you should invest into process details.
What Should You Do?
This may seem like a complete ‘Duh’ statement, but DO THINGS THE WAY YOUR BUYER, AND WALMART, ASKS YOU TO DO THEM. You’d be amazed at some of the stories we hear about suppliers either completely ignoring what their buyer has requested. In fairness, they likely are too busy getting travel booked, putting samples together, building a deck, booking hotels, etc. to focus on the process and exact deliverables Walmart has tasked them to adhere to and provide.
Why Should You Do It?
A veteran Walmart executive once shared with me the reason Walmart requests exact process be followed, specifically around line review meeting preparation. It is partly to streamline the flow of those meetings. Think about the buyer having back-to-back 30 minute line reviews, six hours a day for two weeks; that’s 120 meetings with suppliers displaying their wares. The buyer has to keep it straight in an effort to put the best products on the shelf, at the best price, for the 160 million people in your stores each week. Perfectly reasonable given their responsibility.
Exact process requests also weed out those who can’t follow directions. It separates those who will be a good partner from those who will be trouble to manage. Can you imagine the communication chain back to the head of your company where you must explain that you were weeded out? That the reason you didn’t get the business is because you didn’t come to the line review with your deck printed on both sides of the paper? Or that you didn’t meet the deadline for delivering samples to the LOC?
The Line Review Email
For a lot of suppliers, this is the single most exciting correspondence they receive from Walmart each year. The invitation to pitch your new items, line extensions, growth strategy and latest marketing campaign. It is a double-edged sword though, because this email usually also contains enough rope to hang your business with—the devil is in those details. We often see suppliers, in the excitement of the day, follow step 1, which is usually to reply with their requested day and time for a meeting and who will attend. Then when they receive the actual calendar invite, the details of the first email are archived in the dusty archive of their email.
There are details in that email—sometimes in the body, sometimes in an attachment. We encourage you to print that email and all attachments and to read through them a few times. Highlight any reference to a deliverable, expectation, and/or date something is due.
Areas of Focus
Samples – Samples are usually due at the layout center, complete with appropriate LOC delivery label, a week or two prior to the line review. Pay attention to this area, because sometimes buyers ask for just NEW items and other times for both CURRENT and NEW. Pay close attention also, to the quantity requested. Is it a case of product, a single unit, a shelf full?
Presentation Template – If the buyer sends you a template for the presentation, USE IT. This doesn’t mean you can’t add your own pieces of flair (Office Space reference), but stick to the template. If the buyer has provided a template, they have probably also provided a desired agenda or flow to the meeting. Pay attention to this and organize your pitch accordingly.
Presentation Delivery – A Walmart 101 rule is to bring printed copies of your presentation to the meeting. They should be printed double sided because of sustainability efforts. Next, check the line review email to see when the buyer wants you to email the digital version of the presentation. Usually, this is the day before the meeting but we have seen it up to a week in advance for larger meetings.
New Item Template Slides – On all new items being presented, have all the information ready and on the slides. I understand sometimes Walmart wants a special version of an item; yes, it is extra work and cost to build a UPC specifically for an item Walmart may, or may not, end up taking. Invest in the opportunity. Assign the UPC, figure out the dimensions, figure out the TI/HI and put together a reasonable, but compelling, forecast. And have it all done on time.
New Item Submission Timing – Some departments at Walmart require suppliers to work within a relatively new system on RL called QMS. Items typically have to be in the day before the meeting, but again, check the timing requested of you.
New Item Excel File – This may seem like the absolute flogging of the new item process but, most buyers also require an excel template be filled in for new items and provided the day before, or day of, the line review. This information is usually the same as the information in the new item template slides and the QMS, but is in Excel. In the words of Nike, “JUST DO IT.”
Other Attachments and Follow Up – Your buyer may request a number of additional tidbits of information, Excel spreadsheets, market analysis, SWOT analysis and various other Old Testament Pharisee-level laws you need to follow at any given time. Adhere to the best of your ability and communicate when something needs clarity.
Organization, checklists, highlighters and project management skills are your friend here. Assign a responsible party to stay on top of requests, meet deadlines, and do your best to adhere to everything requested. If something is confusing or you can’t make a deadline for some reason, communicate with your buyer so they, at a minimum, know that you knew the deadline and were working to make it happen.
Again, adherence to the process is as much about vetting your commitment to partnership as it is about practical organization for the buyer. And, if they can’t trust you in the small things, how are they supposed to trust you with a multi-million dollar business at Walmart? Thanks, Mom.
If this seems daunting, or you want help from someone who has walked through this process multiple times a year for the past 10 years, consider partnering with Arena. We’ll make sure you’re on time, hand deliver your samples to the layout center, cross all of the ‘t’s’ and dot all of the ‘i’s’ and make sure you don’t stumble your way out of a great opportunity with Walmart.