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Inventors take pitches to Wal-Mart
First published in Arkansas Online.com June 27th
By Robbie Neiswanger
Hugh Jarratt came up with his latest invention after his 2-year-old son knocked over a fragrance warmer, spilling hot wax in the family’s Fayetteville home.
Jarratt figured there had to be a way to eliminate the potential mess that came with the accidental spill and began tinkering with a few ideas. It didn’t take long to discover he could infuse wood with a fragrance, heat it in a warmer and create the same effect as the wax.
“Hugh sees problems, and out of impatience, he’ll tell you about it and thinks there has to be a better way to do this,” said Nicole Jarratt, his wife and business partner.
The Jarratts will take their better way — a product called Wood Warmers — to Wal-Mart today, pitching the idea as part of the retailer’s fourth annual Open Call for products. Jarratt Industries LLC is one of about 500 businesses that were invited to participate in this year’s event, which will feature about 750 meetings with Wal-Mart buyers.
It’s not the first trip to the home office for the Jarratts, who first earned the spotlight when they secured an order for 1 million Taco Plates during the first open call event four years ago. This will be the fourth straight year they’ve been invited to pitch a product as part of the open call, but Hugh Jarratt said the feeling leading up to the 30-minute meeting hasn’t changed.
“I’m nervous every time,” said Hugh Jarratt, who is an attorney for Lindsey Management. “In my job I go to city council meetings, I do public meetings. Every time I do one of those, and I’ve done that a bunch, I’m nervous. I’d say the same thing with these open calls. It’s more nervous about, ‘Do I have answers for all the questions?’ It’s the unknown aspect of it.”
He is confident his latest product solves a problem and could be a good fit for Wal-Mart, which continues its commitment to source an additional $250 billion in American-made goods by 2023.
Jarrett Industries is working with a Heber Springs manufacturer — the company wants to remain in the background — to produce the product. A company in Johnson helps with the packaging. Peppermint, pine, vanilla and grapefruit are the four scents currently available, but there are opportunities to infuse the wood pieces with others.
To qualify for this year’s event, Hugh Jarratt said businesses had to pitch new products that haven’t been shown previously to Wal-Mart buyers. The product pitches also couldn’t be made to the same category buyer, meaning in order for a product to qualify it had to fall under a new category from previous items.
“I’m not just going to make something up to take up there,” Jarratt said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Our name is on all of this stuff. With our name on it, we’re serious. I wouldn’t come up with something I didn’t think had merit just to try to make the Open Call. We’ve just been fortunate that it’s worked out so far.”
In addition to Jarratt Industries, the list of attendees for Wal-Mart’s fourth annual event includes businesses in 47 states and Puerto Rico. Companies’ officials attend a general session that includes Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and they pitch a variety of products, including items like bowls designed to keep cereal crisp and photographic mouse pads.
Oceans 97, a company founded by former New England Patriots and Louisiana State University football player Jarvis Green, is hoping to secure a deal that will take restaurant-quality shrimp and seafood to Wal-Mart customers. The Blonde Italian is a Cleveland-based, woman-owned business trying to get its Garden Garlic Seasoning on the retailer’s shelves. Club 51 believes one of its items, the Spare Me 5-in-1 Rescue Tool, will provide an easier way to change a flat tire.
“While finding products our customers want is a year-round focus for our buying teams, Wal-Mart’s annual Open Call is a special opportunity to connect our buyers with companies that are manufacturing products in the U.S. and to identify new and unique product solutions,” said Cindi Marsiglio, Wal-Mart’s vice president for U.S. Sourcing and Manufacturing, in a statement.
Hugh Jarratt credits the retailer for hosting the event because it provides companies an opportunity to meet face to face with Wal-Mart buyers. He said securing that initial meeting is often difficult for entrepreneurs.
The Taco Plate’s success has led Jarratt Industries to other opportunities with Wal-Mart. Two years ago, the company struck a deal for a seasonal item, the wader sock, which was designed to keep hunters and fishermen dry. Nicole Jarratt also came up with the idea for a product called Double Dipper bowls, which became a successful pitch during a non-Open Call meeting with Wal-Mart buyers.
Hugh Jarratt said Wal-Mart has been “real good to us” the past few years, and he plans to continue taking his new products to the retailer first. He’s hoping the productive pipeline continues with Wood Warmers, but will be ready to sell the product to someone else if he can’t strike a deal with Wal-Mart today.
“I think we solve a problem. I really do,” he said about Wood Warmers. “But Wal-Mart knows their customers. If they don’t think it fits what their customers want, that’s OK.”
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