Walmart is not just looking to give emerging brands a foot in the door with the largest retailer in the world, it also wants to provide them with the education and resources to succeed once inside, according to Jason Fremstad, Senior Vice President of Supplier Development. 

In this fireside chat with ECRM & RangeMe SVP of Retail Wayne Bennett, Fremstad shares how Walmart has created several tailored pathways for suppliers based on their origin, category, and maturity level and how its innovative programs, including its Growth Summits and Open Call events are designed to support suppliers at different stages of their journey. These initiatives help suppliers understand and navigate Walmart’s processes while ensuring a steady pipeline of new and capable suppliers and products for customers.

Bennett: Tell us a little bit about your journey at Walmart, and your role as the SVP of Supplier Development and how it fits within the Walmart ecosystem.

Fremstad: I started my retail career at Walmart, Inc. My first role in 2006 was a buyer’s assistant at Sam’s Club, a role that doesn’t even exist anymore. But it was an amazing role to have because you had the ability to work directly with merchants, and I got to do all of the ground up work on everything from items, meetings, travel, and so on. We had some great folks who let me come to meetings, and that’s where I got the bug for merchandising. I was fortunate enough to move into a merchant role and then promoted up to a senior merchant role, then to a director, and then had held various roles of greater responsibility throughout my career. 

Then in August 2022, I was offered this role to lead supplier development. Supplier development has always existed in some form or fashion at Walmart, but at that time we actually went through a transformation from a sourcing standpoint that allowed us to pull together a number of teams under supplier development. 

Bennett: I believe you won Merchant of the Year, correct?

Fremstad: I did. I won VP Merchant of the Year in 2021. It was an amazing honor to receive the award, but for anybody who knows about Walmart, that’s a team award. When you’re at Walmart, nobody gets anything done by themselves. So, I was fortunate to win it, but I’ve been most fortunate just to have amazing teams.

Bennett: Tell us about the supplier development role. What is it that you’re trying to accomplish?

Fremstad: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ll start by going back to when through sourcing transformation work, the supplier development team came about. There were different teams that existed in the past that are now part of the supplier development team. It was January of 2023 when we fully transformed the business, pulling these teams together to really bring some synergy to supplier development. We brought our U.S manufacturing team together along with our supplier development teams for India and for Mexico. We stood up a supplier capabilities team, a supplier inclusion team, and our sourcing regeneration team, which is the only team that actually is sourcing focused. The remaining teams are focused on Walmart Inc. total. So the goal was pulling together these teams that could, on behalf of Walmart, Inc., find, develop and power current and new suppliers working with Walmart.

From a total company standpoint, we know that we’re a company that can be daunting to work with. We want to make sure that we’re not only just opening the door, but also setting up suppliers for success across the teams. Overall, what we are doing is making sure that no matter what happens in the world, we’re always going to have products on the shelf or online that our customers want. 

Bennett: How do these teams work together from the supplier point-of-view? 

Fremstad: When you think about our team, we’re really working with suppliers to empower them to understand how to work with Walmart and finding the right path for them as a supplier. We have programs for suppliers that are entrepreneurs who are simply looking to become better business people on their entrepreneurial journey. We have programs for suppliers that are ready to be on Walmart Marketplace, and we can help facilitate that Marketplace learning and ensure that that path is clear for them. 

We also work on cross border trade. So if you are a supplier that is based outside of the U.S. and you want to sell into or into our Marketplace on the U.S. platform, we’ll facilitate that. In India and Mexico, we focus a lot on export suppliers. What we’re really trying to build is a customized journey based on where that supplier is from an origin standpoint, a category standpoint, and maturity level. If you come in and work on as a supplier and you start to sell a marketplace, that may be as far as you need to go. Or, you could find great success and end up going on to or in-store.

We want to meet suppliers where they’re at. We want to do our best and empower them to work with us and train them on Walmart ways of working. And we want to make sure in doing that, we’re building this pipeline for the merchants and for our run teams for that next new great supplier.

Bennett: How important are the Growth Summits and Open Call events to the business, and what role does each play?

Fremstad: As many people probably know, we’ve gotten to know each other through ECRM’s support of the Walmart Open Call event. We have now expanded the relationship to our Growth Summits, and I think your platform and team have been a big support system for us and have evolved with us. And it’s something that I think speaks to our evolution toward how we meet the new needs of the company and the customer. 

So what started first with Open Call, which enters its 11th year this October, has now turned into an entire global ability to have summits where we can open the doors for suppliers. And so we’ve just finished our second Growth Summit in Mexico, and we did India in February.

These events are truly designed to open the door to suppliers who don’t yet know how to engage with Walmart. We actively recruit suppliers in any way we can think of and publicize the events to let suppliers know that we want you to come talk to us, pitch your idea, pitch your items for our stores or online or on our marketplace. It’s really about finding the next great supplier that can serve our customers and be part of the Walmart ecosystem.

Being able to hold these successful events globally now is probably the proudest achievement for the team in the last 18 months. And we’ve now turned these summits into a capability where we can do them anywhere. But what’s most important is after that’s done, our team takes the lead on following up with those suppliers, having webinars, ensuring the next steps, providing the right reference materials, and customizing education that ensures they’re set up for success.

We’ve now evolved the program to go beyond just an event. It’s now the start of a journey. The help from ECRM and RangeMe has been fantastic from a platform standpoint, and I think that partnership is one that’s allowed us to expand faster.

Bennett: Having been to Open Call multiple times, it just keeps on getting better. The commitment that the merchant leadership team and the senior leadership team make in attending and presenting is outstanding. I do know that the application process will open soon. What can brands expect?

Fremstad: Our 11th Open Call will be held in October again this year as part of the U.S. Manufacturing Month. This past year when we did the 10th was a special celebration. We had the governor join us and Mike Rowe joined us as well. I think the other element too that I really was excited about on this past Open Call was that we had a great supplier inclusion event. There are always multiple events at Open Call, and some just great leadership advice that’s provided to suppliers. So even if you don’t walk away with a golden ticket, there’s great leadership advice (and you can always try again for a Golden Ticket in the future). We also get great support from suppliers who are past Open Call winners. We’re currently working on the agenda and on the content for this year’s Open Call, and we will make sure we spread the word when applications open.

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