Sherman Oaks-based Earscrubbers maker among small businesses chosen to stock Walmart shelves

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When you have a product to sell, getting it in front of potential customers is crucial.

And two companies with manufacturing operations in the Inland Empire just got a big leg up when they received the go-ahead to stock their products in Walmart stores.

Open Call

Karewell Brands, Inc. and Haven Sales and Marketing were among 500 companies that pitched their products to the mega retailer at last month’s fourth annual Walmart Open Call event in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Open Call is part of Walmart’s investment in communities and job growth through its 10-year, $250 billion commitment to American manufacturing.

“We want to provide new and exciting products on our store shelves and we want to help entrepreneurs grow their business and grow it responsibly,” Walmart spokesman Scott Markley said. “There is a registration process for Open Call. We put out a notice looking for made-in-the-USA products and we focus on the ones that are mostly likely to get a deal. They have to have some distribution in place, so it can’t just be a concept or an idea.”

Earscrubbers and nasal swabs

Sherman Oaks-based Karewell manufactures Earscrubbers and nasal swabs. They are used by people who depend on over-the-counter treatments. The company’s products are made and packaged at the Acorn-Gencon Plastics facility in Chino.

“We did an online campaign that included Facebook and within a month we had 28,000 fans,” said Joel Jackson, who owns the company. “People were walking through Walgreens asking for our products, but we didn’t have any distribution back then. We were selling through Amazon, on eBay and through our website.”

The Earscrubber — a hand-held device with grooved tips that’s used to remove unwanted earwax — is categorized as a Class 1 medical device. It requires Food and Drug Administration registration, but not approval. Karewell’s products will be carried in Walmart stores throughout the country beginning next summer.

“It’s going to be huge,” Jackson said. “It will probably add at least $2 million to our bottom line, just in terms of added revenue.”

Haven Sales and Marketing is headquartered in Bentonville, essentially in the shadow of Walmart. The company produces a variety of gourmet soy sauces that have put a new spin on a traditional condiment that has seen little, if any, innovation. Haven’s production facility is in Ontario.

“This is really exciting,” said Mike Rosales, a partner with the company. “People don’t realize the challenges of even having a conversation with Walmart. It’s a long and arduous process. This has been in development for over two years.”

Gourmet soy sauce and ribs

Walmart will feature Haven’s orange chili, garlic sesame and wasabi soy sauces as well as the company’s Carson’s Fully Cooked Ribs.

“Open Call is really an accelerated route to getting to the decision makers at Walmart and getting things on the shelf,” Rosales said. “It shows the commitment on the part of Walmart to feature products that are American made.”

Markley said 500 companies pitched nearly 750 products at Walmart’s June 28 Open Call event.

“Everyone was offered the chance to sell their products on walmart.com and we secured deals for stores with more than 100 of them. We expect that to rise over the year,” he said. “This gives us a chance to offer products you wouldn’t have necessarily have thought of. And our customers tell us that where a product is made is second in importance only to price. This is good for business and good for the communities we serve.”

Entrepreneurs can find additional information about getting their products on Walmart shelves at corporate.walmart.com/suppliers/apply-to-be-a-supplier.

A big turnaround

Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director for the retail consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, said Walmart has managed a significant turnaround in terms of both earnings and its public image under current CEO Doug McMillon, who took over the top slot in 2014.

McMillon boosted wages for Walmart’s hourly workers in the U.S. and also invested more money in benefits and employee training.

“He grew up poor and he understands better than anyone the importance of buying American and not outsourcing to the People’s Republic of China,” Flickinger said.

Walmart stats

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has 4,692 locations in the U.S., including its standard department stores, its supercenters, smaller neighborhood markets and Sam Club locations. There are 301 Walmart locations in California, including 139 supercenters. The company has 90,000 employees in California, 1.5 million in the U.S. and about 2.3 million worldwide.



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