By Jessica Wohl
BENTONVILLE, Arkansas (Reuters) - It all starts with Walmart 101.
Companies trying to sell goods to Wal-Mart Stores Inc often find it difficult to figure out the best ways to work with the world's largest retailer, as each buyer has his or her own style and there are vast amounts of sales data to decipher.
Sales executives who sell their goods to Wal-Mart said that while the retailer willingly shares data, it is up to the vendors to crunch the numbers.
"Doing business with Wal-Mart is not as bad as people say," said Chris Gerd, a business development manager for Ingersoll-Rand's Kryptonite lock unit, who has worked with a variety of retailers, including Wal-Mart. "I think they get an unfair reputation because they are the biggest."
Recognizing the need for more education about Wal-Mart, some former employees and others decided to teach vendors about Wal-Mart's fundamentals and try to help them improve their relationships, and ultimately, their sales at the chain.
The company they formed in 2006, 8th & Walton, is named for its location, just a block away from Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.
The company's client roster includes several rivals on the shelves of a Wal-Mart store, such as Energizer Holdings Inc and Procter & Gamble Co.
8th & Walton's first classes, held in 2007, focused on details that people embarking on a relationship with Wal-Mart might not get from the retailer, such as how to analyze sales data using Wal-Mart's Retail Link software.
It now runs about 80 different classes, including one called "Walmart 101," on everything from planning "Rollback" promotions to how to improve pitches made to buyers in various countries.
CLINCHING THE DEAL
Tigard, Oregon-based Stash Tea Company worked with a Wal-Mart buyer in Mexico for a year and a half, trying to get its labels right and do other work to get its teas into stores. Then, just as the deal seemed to be coming together, the buyer left.
"At the time, I was really thinking that I was never going to get this business," said Cindy Harling, sales manager for wholesale and international at privately held Stash. "I kept thinking, what am I doing wrong here?"
She learned the tricks of the trade from Jorge Quiroga, who used to be a senior buyer at Wal-Mart and now helps suppliers sell their goods in Mexico and Latin America.
After attending a class in September, Harling got 10 products such as premium green tea on Wal-Mart's shelves in Mexico in January. Stash has already received two more orders, she said.
Vendors from about a dozen companies made their way to the Chicago suburb of Lombard, Illinois last week for another 2-day workshop on working with Wal-Mart de Mexico, or Walmex.
In the United States, a buyer for a category often has several assistants. In Mexico and Central America, a busy buyer is often lucky just to have one assistant, Quiroga said. He also explained various forms and protocols to the attendees.
"It was helpful for me with all my retail experience and even though I do business with Wal-Mart U.S.," said Gerd, who went to the Lombard class. Knowing the quirks of a retailer like Wal-Mart may save his company "a ton of money," Gerd said.
While Wal-Mart does not officially endorse 8th & Walton, about 15 percent of the training company's business comes from referrals made by Wal-Mart, said Matt Fifer, 8th & Walton's co-founder and managing partner, whose background includes nearly 13 years at Wal-Mart.
(Reporting by Jessica Wohl; Editing by Richard Chang)