If you’re going to fly all the way from Massachusetts to Arkansas to pitch your product to a company, you probably don’t want to leave until you’ve sealed the deal. And when that potential customer is Walmart Stores Inc., the biggest brick-and-mortar retailer in the country, there’s certainly added pressure.
That’s why KettlePizza cofounders Al Contarino and George Peters weren’t taking any chances when they showed up last week at the Walmart mother ship in Bentonville for an “open call” for hundreds of suppliers who wanted to participate in the chain’s Made in USA initiative.
As soon as Greg Foran, Walmart’s US president, wrapped up his keynote speech, Peters hustled to the front to catch Foran’s attention. He told the executive when KettlePizza’s pitch session would be later that day and invited him to attend.
“I didn’t knock down anybody older than me to get to him,” Peters promised.
The invitation worked: Foran came to the already-crowded conference room, where Peters and Contarino were trying to sell a Walmart buyer on the virtues of their kit that converts a kettle-shaped grill into a pizza oven. A CNBC crew also was there, filming the pitch. Foran walked in, listened to the spiel, and effectively endorsed the product.
Contarino said Walmart later tentatively committed to picking up the KettlePizza kit, which is already sold at Crate & Barrel and through some independent hardware stores. No contract has been signed; the paperwork usually takes a month or two to be completed. If Walmart comes through, the distribution deal could be a game changer for the six-person company in Groveland, Contarino said.
“We feel it’s great that Walmart is giving us this opportunity to get more people to find out about us,” Peters said. “It’s hard for a small company to get the word out.”Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.