If you'd like to get your products onto Walmart's shelves, you now have more of a road map. At Walmart's "Made in the USA Open Call" pitch session earlier this month, entrepreneurs had 30 minutes to explain why their widgets would be ideal for the $486 billion retailer's 4,600 U.S. stores.

All told, more than 600 would-be suppliers pitched. Walmart's buyers listened--and asked lots of revealing questions. It took place July 7 at company headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Among the products pitched were frozen deep-fried turkeys, dirt bikes, and a shaving stencil to help trim goatees. "The vibe is 'Shark Tank' meets speed-dating, with a side of 'Superstore,'" notes Sarah Nassauer in The Wall Street Journal.

So what does it take to persuade a Walmart buyer? Here's a rundown of some of the feedback the suppliers received, courtesy of Nassauer's coverage in the Journal.

1. Know the size of your potential customer base. 

Jason Kloster, Walmart's senior buyer for personal care, asked Scott Bonge, the inventor of the plastic shaving stencil called the GoateeSaver, about how many American men have goatees. "Without an exact answer, Mr. Bonge noted that they are popular in the South among men over 25," writes Nassauer. Was that enough info to convince Walmart? Time will tell. For now, if you want one, you can buy it on Amazon.

2. Establish--and show off--brand awareness within your category. 

Another thing that may have hurt Bonge's chances: Kloster said he'd never heard of GoateeSaver, even though Kloster had worked as a buyer in the personal care category for four years. 

3. Keep your retail price low.

Karen Posada, maker of the Good Promise veggie smoothies and juice pouches, explained in her pitch that her pouches would retail for about $1.80. Paul Renn, Walmart's product director, told her, "Anything under $2, you are gold." 

The chain also grilled Blamtastic, an Atlanta-based company that makes an adult diaper-rash spray, about its pricing. "Walmart absolutely cannot be beat on price," is what Staci Cochran, senior buyer for over-the-counter pharmacy, told Blamtastic's leaders. "To win at Walmart, make it under $10."

4. Stay open to feedback about your packaging. 

Walmart's Jacob Moore, the merchandise planner for health and wellness, assessed the mock-up packaging of Blamtastic's not-yet-released spray product, which is called BootySpray. Among his suggestions: Larger lettering for key phrases, such as "No messy hands."  

5. Pitch without a finished product, if that's where you're at. 

The BootySpray product was not yet released, and its packaging was strictly a mock-up. While Walmart's buyers were full of feedback about it, they were open to hearing a pitch about a product-in-progress. 

6. Recognize that acceptance doesn't mean you've got it made. 

For the past two years, Posada has supplied her $4.99 organic pasta sauce to Walmart. But her sales haven't been profitable, in part because Walmart itself began selling an organic store-brand version for under $2. "I'm thinking I've won the lottery and all of a sudden your product is not moving," Posada tells the Journal.

In addition, the roughly 300 Walmarts carrying her product were far from her production facilities in Texas and New York. Shipping costs reduced her profits. All of which is why, with her veggie smoothie and juice pouches, she was intent on getting the price below $2.

This was the second year the big-box store organized the event. "Walmart won't say what its acceptance rate is for pitches made during the Open Call," notes the Journal. "Those who do get a shot at Walmart often are given a small run in a few hundred stores, so as not to overwhelm their startup businesses."

Here are more testimonials from suppliers who attended the Open Call. 

Published on: Jul 29, 2015