Wal-Mart isn’t exactly the place where you’d expect to find your favorite locally-made barbecue sauce or spice rub, but the retail giant is working to change that.
The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company — which opened its first stores in D.C. last year — invited more than 70 local product producers to participate in a workshop Thursday at the D.C. Economic Partnership to learn more about Wa-Mart’s diverse supplier program, which encourages minority or woman-owned businesses to submit products to be carried on Wal-Mart’s shelves.
One of the people speaking to those producers is Walter Nash, the owner of Lefty’s Spice s in Waldorf. Three years after first getting his barbecue sauces and spice mixes onto Walmart shelves, his products are now carried by nearly 2,000 Walmart stores nationwide.
Lefty’s began as a barbecue joint started by Nash’s father and grandfather in 1989. Nash joined the business later and came up with the idea to have a purveyor manufacture the sauces and spice mixes for the restaurant, to help save time.
Eventually, he started selling the product retail, so naturally, he went to his local Wal-Mart in Waldorf to see if they’d carry it.
“They said they think it’s a great product, but we need you to grow your brand,” he said. “‘Then come back and see us.’”
His advice to would-be Wal-Mart suppliers? Be patient.
“You’ve got to show that your product is selling. Everyone wants to be in Wal-Mart from day one, but can you handle Wal-Mart from day one?” he said.
Go around, he added, and pick up the smaller accounts: the independents, then the 30-store chains, then the 200-store chains. At that point, you have something to talk about with Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart says it has spent $902 million with Maryland-based suppliers and $2.5 billion with Virginia-based suppliers so far in 2014. The company posted $477 billion in worldwide revenue in its most recent fiscal year.
For businesses that would qualify as diverse suppliers, they must be certified as 51 percent owned by a minority, woman, disabled person or veteran.
For those who just want to be what Walmart calls a “local supplier,” the work starts at a local store, by approaching the store manager. If that store’s manager wants to carry the product, he or she must submit that supplier to supervisors for approval.
Once the market manager and the regional market manager approve, suppliers must complete an online form — and then wait to hear back.