Robert Flory’s business was going slow. But a trip to Bentonville, Arkansas, has changed the pace.
Flory is the CEO of BlankSlate Coasters. It has seven employees, making drink coasters with customer-requested designs. His orders on average were for 500 coasters.
“We were doing piecemeal corporate deals,” he said. “We have a deal with Harley-Davidson, national parks and different presidential libraries. We had done a lot of different things, but it wasn’t necessarily consistent.”
In January, Flory looked at the company’s operation and knew he needed to lower his coasters’ cost. He needed more volume to make that happen. The coasters were being sold for $ 2.27 each, but he needed to lower the cost.
Flory worked with a broker, who encouraged him to attend Wal-Mart Stores Inc’s Open Call event in late June at the company’s headquarters. Walmart has been holding Open Calls annually since 2013, though companies can apply anytime to get onto store shelves.
The company started a commitment in January to buy $ 250 billion in American-made merchandise, said Scott Markley, spokesperson.
Flory’s company fit the American-made requirement. He was chosen to get his coasters in 2,500 stores nationwide. Each store will carry 36 coasters and 48 car coasters. This means he’ll have to manufacture 90,000 coasters and 120,000 car coasters for the retailer. His product won’t be on shelves until June 2018, which gives him time to expand his operation.
Markley said Walmart doesn’t want to force a small business to produce more than it can handle to meet the retailer’s demands.
“If (their) current distribution allows for only one to five stores, then that’s where we’ll start them.”
Flory will add 25 more employees and grow into a larger space. His staff additions will include people with engineering degrees to help improve the manufacturing efficiency. He’ll also add graphic designers to help with the coasters’ looks.
He’s going to buy four more printers and other equipment that will get the product out quicker without damaging its quality.
His operational space is going to triple in size. He’s in about 5,000 square feet now at 2100 N. Jardot.
With the Walmart buy, Flory said he’s planning to knock on other retailers’ doors. He knows his product has mass appeal after selling it at the Texas State Fair. He didn’t have to take any coasters home with him.
The Walmart contract has helped him lower prices dramatically, he said, but he couldn’t give an exact figure.
“There’s a benefit to doing business with the largest retailer in the world,” he said. “It puts us on a level to where we can compete with anyone, even Chinese companies. We can present our coasters at a price that’s absolutely competitive.”
And when BlankSlate grows, other companies will expand as well. Flory said they work with American-made businesses as well. It seemed hypocritical to do it differently.
Markley said that’s Walmart’s goal – buy more American-made items which will help create more jobs.
“The more Made-In-The-USA items we can buy, the more jobs that are created in local communities that are supporting our stores and supporting our customers,” he said.