Wal-Mart Stores, the world’s largest retailer, is known for having a lot of clout with its suppliers, whether it’s dictating products or squeezing costs. That’s why an increasing number, from big names like Kellogg to startups, have set up offices over the past two decades in Northwest Arkansas to be near the discounter. That valuable face time offers a competitive advantage over rivals. On the front lines is Cameron Smith, who runs the leading recruiting firm, bearing his name that hires executives for the vendors. Since opening his firm in 1994 in Rogers, Arkansas, near Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Smith has seen the demands for more analytical skills amid the shift to online shopping. The mix of suppliers, who now number more than 1,500, in the area are more varied too.
How has the community of suppliers changed? So many offices are still opening here because nothing beats the synergy that results when an entire satellite team rallies around one common vision or objective – you are constantly problem-solving with your customer. The companies with the largest teams are P&G, Kraft, Unilever, Kimberly-Clark and Kellogg. But it’s no longer just the big guys who drive office space these days. With pushes like the Made in the U.S.A. campaigns alive and well at Wal-Mart, all supplier team sizes mix together now. An entire tech business park has emerged. Major tech organizations like Salesforce.com, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM etc. have circled their wagons around Wal-Mart.
How has social media affected the type of jobs you recruit for? In order to reach and influence the customer wherever she may be, companies must make sense of vast amounts of data. Our clients require leaders who can tell a story with data and use those insights to create action plans. We still fill many of the same jobs that we have always recruited for, but those roles have changed. It is now customary for people in sales roles to combine sales skills with a strong analytical background. Category management used to be the most analytically demanding role on supplier teams. Now, shopper-insights managers and market-research managers are the next level of category management. We are seeing more shopper-insights managers, where these roles were few and far between five years ago. There is still a talent shortage for these advanced skills.
How should suppliers cater to millennials? Suppliers need to be well-versed in e-commerce and the digital marketplace. Digital cannot be a tacked on strategy. Supplier teams risk becoming dinosaurs if they lean too heavily on packaging and display ads to deliver their message. They need to become skilled at social listening to learn what’s being said about their brand, their product, and their category
Interviewed by Anne D’Innocenzio.
Answers edited for clarity and length.