Many small businesses view getting their products into Walmart or other big-box retailers such as Costco as winning retail Olympic gold. Besides dramatically increasing a business’ profits and opening doors to other lucrative retail contracts, having your products on a big-box retailer’s shelves gives consumers and other retailers the message that your company’s products are winners.
The competition to become a vendor is fierce, though. Take Walmart, for example. Although more opportunities now exist for companies to sell through the Walmart online marketplace, very few make the cut to get on its retail shelves. The company has been known to accept as little as 2% of applicants.
So how do you get your product in Walmart, Costco, or Home Depot? The first thing you have to do is ensure that your product and your company will be attractive to a big-box retailer.
Preparing to Sell to Big-Box Retailers
Step one is making sure that your company is ready to do business. Walmart and other large retailers have supplier standards that must be met. Walmart vendors must carry product liability insurance, have their financial information listed with a reporting agency such as Dun & Bradstreet, and have proper Universal Product Code (UPC) Identification Numbers for all their products.
They must also comply with all product and food safety requirements, which means a factory audit may be necessary.
When you have all your legal ducks in a row, you'll be ready to start the process of applying to be a big-box supplier—a process that is not only time-consuming but may also be costly.
So before you bother trying to get your products in Walmart, consider whether you have what Walmart and other big retailers are looking for.
Have a Solid Track Record
Big-box retailers such as Walmart don’t want to bother with the untried and unproven. For one thing, there are so many businesses competing to be Walmart vendors that they don’t have to.
For another, big-box retailers like Walmart don't want to account for too much of your business, as this could cause problems if they need to adjust order volume. Having a good mix of other retailers purchasing from you will increase your chances of landing the account. And just going out and getting a bunch of accounts won't help either—Walmart wants its vendors to have a verifiable history.
Sell a Unique Product
Your product should stand out in some way. There's so much duplication in so many product categories that there’s absolutely no incentive for a big-box buyer to commit to carrying another one. The ideal product is something well differentiated from the other products in its category, yet that still fits with the retailer’s current product lines.
Offer a Product Line
Even if you can get the buyer interested in your product, having only one product to offer can be a deal killer. Setting up a new supplier takes time and effort, so the potential supplier who can offer a complete line rather than a single product will always have the edge.
Be Ready to Meet the Retailer’s Needs
You've got to have your production line ready for Walmart's major volume and quick shipping turnarounds. Don't apply until you can demonstrate your efficiency and readiness. Although it can take six months to a year on average for a supplier to get a first purchase order, when that first order comes in, you’re expected to move fast. The retailer may even want a 24-hour turnaround.
Be Prepared to Do What It Takes
If you want to be a Costco, Home Depot, or Walmart vendor, you’ve got to win over the buyer and show that you can overcome obstacles. Whether it's upgrading your packaging or changing your pricing, you have to show that you’re willing to work with the retailer. Most Walmart suppliers have employees on the ground in Arkansas, making sure that they can serve Walmart fully.
The Walmart Supplier Application Process
When your company and your products are ready, it's time to apply and try to win a meeting with a buyer. Let's take a look at the process at Walmart.
The steps of completing your Walmart vendor application vary slightly depending on what category of supplier your products or services fall under:
- National products
- Local products
- Service & non-resale
- Direct import
The Local Purchase Program, for example, according to Walmart's website, "provides an avenue for small, domestic suppliers to sell their locally made, shelf-ready products at Walmart stores within their local area."
Potential local suppliers, unlike vendors of national products, can approach their local Walmart store manager directly and pitch their products. (Note that some products, such as jewelry and apparel, are not included in the Local Purchase Program and must go through national channels.) Make sure you check Walmart’s minimum vendor requirements before you plan your presentation—you’ll only get one shot at it. Walmart's supplier checklist will also be useful.
If the manager likes your product, they will pass the information about it up the line and provide you with the name of the regional general manager so you can fill out the only product submission form. From here, the steps are fairly similar to the steps for national products.
Once you fill out the form, you'll have to wait for a buyer to contact if you if they're interested. Once they do, you'll be invited to complete a supplier questionnaire. It then takes up to four weeks for a final decision. If you're approved, you'll be asked to fill out the supplier agreement, and then you'll be able to discuss setting up your product with the local store manager.
Home Depot and Costco Have Similar Procedures
Although they're not exactly the same, the processes for other big-box retailers are similar. To become a Home Depot Supplier, visit HomeDepotLink to learn about the necessary insurance requirements and product submission details.
Costco supplies only a list of addresses for vendor inquiries, stating that "prospective vendors of non-food or sundry items can contact the corporate office," while "prospective vendors of food and sundry items can contact the appropriate division office."
Is It Worth It?
Becoming a Walmart vendor or supplier for some other big-box retailer certainly isn’t an appropriate goal for every product-based small business, nor is it the only route to retail success. But if your products and company are a good fit with big-box retail, becoming a big-box supplier can be extremely rewarding.