Working with Walmart: Suppliers share views

Optimism, skepticism, confidence and concern are among the wide range of emotions shared by Walmart trading partners who participated in the Second Annual Supplier Survey conducted by Connecting Northwest Arkansas

If they sound like a conflicted lot, it’s because working with any retailer is a challenging proposition, but when Walmart is involved attitudes toward the opportunities and challenges associated with the business relationship tend to be amplified. As a result, suppliers are optimistic that Walmart leadership is on the right track with the right strategies to restore growth and generally find merchandising decision-makers accessible and receptive to new ideas. However, they are skeptical that pursuit of those strategies will reduce their cost of doing business with the company or that initiatives agreed upon at the home office will be well executed at the store level. Suppliers are confident in their collaborative efforts with the company, their multi-channel understanding and the growth potential of Walmart International and Sam’s Club’s growth. Suppliers are concerned about an intense competitive climate in which they are striving to help Walmart execute its strategies while a range of world class operators are gunning for a larger share of Walmart’s pie.

Topping the list of competitive threats this year is the dollar store channel, mentioned by nearly 80% of respondents. The concern is justified considering Dollar General, Family Dollar and Dollar Tree collectively operate nearly 21,000 U.S. stores whose product mix enjoys a high degree of overlap with Walmart. The same is true of second ranked competitive threat Target, mentioned by 56% of respondents. Target’s ambitious remodeling program, now 60% complete, has made the food, consumables and healthcare categories its fastest growers while aggressive pricing and 5% rewards program challenge Walmart’s ability to achieve meaningful price leadership.

Not far behind Target on the list of competitive threats was, mentioned by 48% of respondents this year compared with 30.9 last year. and Kroger switched places on this year’s list. Kroger was mentioned by more respondents this year than last year, 37% versus 33%, but escalating concerns about caused it to leap frog Kroger.

After dollars stores, Target, Amazon and Kroger, there was a noticeable drop off in competitive threats. For example, Costco, major chain drug store operators CVS and Walgreens, who combined operate more than 15,000 U.S. drug stores, and such no frills, extreme value players as Aldi and the Sav-A-Lot division of Supervalu, were clustered together in the mid-20% range before a significant drop0off pushed other retailers into single-digit territory. Sears/Kmart wasn’t mentioned by a single supplier, which is somewhat ironic considering that Kmart was once Walmart’s greatest rival.

Given the competitive climate, Walmart’s growth objectives and the expectations placed on suppliers, it is understandable that suppliers continued to allocate more resources to Walmart last year and expect that to be the case in the coming year as well. Roughly 44% of respondents indicated that during the past year the resources allocated to Walmart increased either slightly or significantly while another 44% said things stayed about the same. Fewer than 10% indicated their level of resources declined slight. This scenario remains largely intact for the coming year with 37% of suppliers expecting to allocate slightly or significantly more resources to their Walmart team while the number expecting 2012 resources to remain the prior year level increased to 56%.

While the pace at which suppliers expected to allocate increased resources to Walmart is poised to moderate in 2012, the figures remain encouraging for a local economy driven by Walmart, its supplier community and all the ancillary company’s that exists to support the enterprise.

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