Wal-Mart, a mass merchandiser launched decades ago by Sam Walton, is a force to reckon with in terms of exposure, pricing and proliferation. Getting an invention into the Wal-Mart merchandise line is difficult but not impossible if your idea is unique and your price point is low. Believing in your concept will empower you. Some legwork and a trip to Arkansas can seal the deal.
Invent and evaluate the item. It’s not enough to come up with a clever brainstorm. You must also estimate the cost of manufacturing large quantities of your product idea to compute the value of the item. Divide the total cost by the number of units produced and that is your baseline price. Double the figure and that’s your wholesale price. If Wal-Mart buys your idea, they may manufacture it overseas, making the origination cost really low.
Protect your invention by applying for a trademark or patent. These applications are expensive if done through an attorney, but you can handle this part of the job yourself. Visit an Internet-based legal site (see Resources) to learn what is required to protect your intellectual property via a patent or trademark. Applying for a copyright won’t protect you; ideas can’t be copyrighted.
Don’t spend money on packaging. Next time you visit Wal-Mart, notice that products are showcased in boxes, on backer cards, in plastic sleeves, blister packs and other packages bearing the Wal-Mart brand. If the company buys your idea, they will package it and you needn’t worry about this step.
Prepare a professional presentation. Create a list of features and benefits to support your argument for adding your invention to the Wal-Mart product line. Features are a product’s unique properties (it’s strong, safe, inexpensive, sturdy). Benefits cover the emotional selling points (saves mom time; makes you look beautiful; is trendy).
Make an appointment with the appropriate contact at Wal-Mart’s corporate offices by sending a query letter to 702 SW 8th Street, Bentonville, Arkansas 72716-8611 or call the main number at corporate headquarters: 1-800-Wal-Mart (1-800-925-6278) to reach the best source. If you are persistent, you might be able to track down a marketing or product development person by phone, at which point you can ask additional questions.
Avoid giving away invention details when you make your first contact. Your correspondence should be succinct and professional, covering this information: You have invented a unique product that is exactly the type of item a typical Wal-Mart shopper would find attractive. You would like Wal-Mart to be the exclusive distributor of your product and want to make an appointment with a marketing or product development staffer to present the idea. Suggest available dates for a visit to Bentonville. Once the date is booked, send a confirming note to your contact and include a copy of a nondisclosure form to protect your idea from being stolen.
Make a formal presentation. Bring several samples of your invention and plan to leave them behind. Use the features and benefits sheet you compiled to convince staff why they should consider your product idea. Decide in advance the type of compensation you seek. Some inventors sell their ideas outright, giving up all claims to the product design. Others license their ideas and receive a regular royalty. Wal-Mart has signature business policies that may preclude one or both of these, but if the conversation gets this far, you are probably on the road to a deal.
If you pitch your product to Wal-Mart and the company isn’t interested in manufacturing it, you can always approach another chain or manufacture it yourself, then sell it to the stores, catalogs or Internet sites you choose.
Don’t affiliate with companies promising to get your invention before the eyes of Wal-Mart personnel. Too many of these agencies are rip-offs. They will take your checkbook to the cleaner and leave your invention out in the cold. Call the Better Business Bureau if you are tempted to sign a contract with an agent.