'Shark Tank,' Wal-Mart style

Wal-Mart's Shark Tank
Wal-Mart hears American-made pitches
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In an office 34 miles outside Boston, in Groveland, Massachusetts, two entrepreneurs have been crafting what they hope will be a perfect product pitch to the world's largest retailer.

Two side-by-side whiteboards outline the selling points of KettlePizza, a metal insert that converts a charcoal grill into a pizza oven. While the information on each whiteboard is largely the same, the organization and presentation styles are vastly different.

"I wish I knew right now how it is going to be in that room," said George Peters, KettlePizza co-founder and vice president. His board touts the advantages of using the product to create a picturesque pizza experience.

Al Contarino, Peters' co-founder and KettlePizza president, has geared his board towards the specs and engineering of the product and talks about how these features help a backyard chef achieve "pizza mastery."

On Tuesday, the duo will deliver their pitches to Wal-Mart at the retailer's second Made in the USA "Open Call" event.

While KettlePizza is already available at Crate and Barrel, and, landing a deal to sell in Walmart stores would be a game changer, said Contarino. He said the company's biggest challenge right now is building awareness, and a Wal-Mart deal would help solve that.

'Made in the USA' game changer?

Over two days, more than a thousand meetings will take place between Wal-Mart buying teams and potential product suppliers, like KettlePizza. It's part of the retailer's commitment to buy $250 billion in Made in the USA products over the next 10 years. The company made the pledge in January 2013 before its new chief executive and U.S. CEO were in place, but the retailer said it remains committed to the project.

Given Wal-Mart's size, many hoped the initiative would boost jobs and encourage domestic manufacturing. Analysts also speculated about whether the move would boost the retailer's sales, given the growing desire among consumers to buy Made in the USA products.

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So far, Wal-Mart is not detailing how much progress it has made towards the $250 billion goal other than to say it is "right on target of where we need to be to accomplish our goal," according to spokesman Kory Lundberg.

Wal-Mart has more than 100,000 suppliers, but it will not say how many provide "Made in the USA" goods.

Al Contarino and George Peters, co-founders of KettlePizza, outside their home office in Groveland, Massachusetts, as they practice their sales pitch for Wal-Mart.
Source: CNBC

"According to our suppliers, about two-thirds of what Wal-Mart spends to buy products in our U.S. stores are made, sourced, assembled or grown domestically," Lundberg told CNBC.

However, that is the same estimate Wal-Mart gave in January 2013 when the Made in the USA initiative began, so it is difficult to gauge the progress.

At last year's "Open Call" event, Wal-Mart met with more than 800 suppliers, and made deals for more than 100 products afterwards. For some, the response was immediate, as in the case of Jarratt Industries. Wal-Mart liked its taco plate so much that it ordered 1 million on the spot.

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However, it is hard to quantify whether there's been a measurable business impact for Wal-Mart. The discount retailer isn't revealing how sales of Made in the USA products are doing compared with other comparable goods manufactured outside the U.S. But Lundberg said, manufacturing closer to consumers shortens the supply chain and drives down costs such as transportation and energy, giving the retailer more flexibility to respond to changing trends or consumer demands.

Also, a recent Consumer Reports survey reveals that almost 8 in 10 American consumers said they would rather buy an American-made product than an imported one. More than 60 percent say they would be willing to pay 10 percent more for it, but it's hard to know if consumers are really following through.

Creating jobs

Wal-Mart also wanted the initiative to help boost domestic job creation, and that's also important to suppliers like KettlePizza.

"Jobs are important; it's a ripple effect for a family, and you know that they have a steady income, and they can take pride in what they make. And that's very important to us," Peters said.

If Wal-Mart does want to work with KettlePizza, Peters and Contarino know they will have to ramp up production, which will also create more jobs, shifts and opportunities at KettlePizza, and their 15 major U.S. suppliers.

"Most of the suppliers are very excited. There would have to be some changes, facilities changes, employment, new employees, running second shifts, new machinery and equipment, but it's all very doable," explained Contarino.

Quality is also a high priority for the KettlePizza founders, and it comes at a certain price—one that's higher than what some might classify as an "everyday low price." The KettlePizza kits are priced from $139.95 to $399.95, which is higher than a number of the charcoal grills sold at Wal-mart that it is designed to fit inside.

Wal-Mart does not dictate what prices should be to these suppliers, but as with all products, it will advocate on behalf of its customers to make sure "we are delivering a low price," Lundberg said.

Peters said KettlePizza will not sacrifice quality and thinks its pricing is fair.

"I think they will be sensitive, though, because it's made in the U.S. and people will look for quality items," he said.