Forget those 5-slide Power Point presentations in sterile, blank canvas meeting rooms at Wal-Mart Home Office when a product isn’t selling well or there is some issue to work out with a category buyer.
The new age of supplier-retail interaction may soon be just a few steps away at the Crossmark Center for Collaboration, now under construction at 607 S.W. F Street and surrounded on three sides by Wal-Mart’s corporate office.
“It’s an exciting opportunity to bring suppliers together with retail buyers in a true sense of collaboration while using state-of-the-art technology such as virtual reality role play, video conferencing and an industrial test kitchen for food supplier demonstrations,” said John Owen, executive vice president of Crossmark.
The 18,500 square-foot building is expected to open in April and Crossmark said it will announce the center’s director in a few weeks. The site’s large-scale plan is expected to cost between $5 million and $8 million once completed.
Crossmark said it has worked with Wal-Mart on this project for a long time. As a veteran sales and marketing firm for retail and product manufacturers, the company sees this new center as ground zero for planning, problem solving and innovative solutions that help both sides better serve their customers.
Owen said Crossmark will retain its Northwest Arkansas sales office located at 3301 Market St. in Rogers, and will add a small staff at the Collaboration Center in the coming months.
He said nearly the entire center will be used for meetings with very minimal office space. The new building also will provide ample parking, always an issue for those visiting Wal-Mart’s very busy home office.
“Suppliers often have to drag bags of food, utensils and other wares into the small meeting rooms at Wal-Mart to conduct their negotiations with buyers. In our center there will be a complete kitchen where suppliers can work and demonstrate their products in front of category buyers,” Owen said.
There will be a virtual simulation lab where suppliers and buyers can see virtual displays in a store setting. This can be useful for examining modular displays – to see what works and what doesn’t before they ever build it.
The center, according to the planners, will be useful for helping suppliers work through merchandising issues with their buyers such as a particular item’s placement in the store which might negatively impact sales for both parties.
Inside the virtual tech lab, for instance, one wall may show a young mom with a two small children in her cart who came to the store for diapers. The second screen shows the trouble she went to getting both children out of the car seats and into the store. Another screen communicates her discontent with having to walk to the back of the large store just for diapers. Another screen could show the total market for diapers in the U.S. and together the supplier and retail buyer could hammer out the best solution – which is to drive more sales overall.
THE TYSON EXAMPLE
Owen said the Collaboration Center is designed to be a useful venue that facilitates actionable behaviors to improve overall performance. It’s not just a think tank where ideas are tossed about, but a conduit for conversation and demonstration that lead to better end results, he said.
Down the road in Springdale, meat giant Tyson Foods Inc. built a similar venture in 2006, know as the Tyson Foods Discovery Center. The $52 million investment has proven valuable as it has given Tyson Foods a competitive advantage with its customer base.
Food service customers come from all over the world to meet with Tyson food scientists and chefs in the center. Together they formulate new menu items, test new food products and give their customers a working prototype for manufacturing the new products in a matter of three days. The Tyson Center was ahead of its time and now competitor Cargill has a similar facility in Wichita, Kan.
The Crossmark Collaboration Center has set out to be the next phase for retail planning in Northwest Arkansas, much like the Tyson Discovery Center is for food service innovation.
“Our suppliers are critically important to our business success and we continue to seek out new ways to partner with our suppliers to better serve our customers,” said Deisha Barnett, corporate spokeswoman with Wal-Mart. "Some of our best ideas come from meeting with our suppliers."
While the center is not a Wal-Mart sponsored project, Crossmark and the retailer agree it will facilitate collaboration equally between the two parties.
Now based in Plano, Texas, Crossmark’s history dates back to its 1905 origins in Fort Smith as Johnson & Hunt Merchandise Brokers. The company is a global enterprise with more than 34,000 employees and offices throughout North America, Australia and New Zealand.