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Wham, Bam, Thank You Sam’s: The 30-Minute Product Pitch

ROGERS, ARK. — In its quest for new, novel and constantly changing CE SKUs, Sam’s Club has begun employing a novel method of sourcing.

The No. 2 warehouse club started out last year by inviting thousands of suppliers to submit their products for consideration, and whittled down the pool to 400 hopefuls.

Then, in what technology and entertainment senior VP Dawn von Bechmann described as a cross between “Shark Tank” and speed dating, vendors had 30 minutes to pitch their products to a panel comprised of a divisional merchandise manager, a buyer and members of the Sam’s Club operations team, who were empowered to make decisions on the spot.

The result, von Bechmann said, were 100 tech-forward items that could be sold for less than $100 and quickly rotated in and out of Sam’s Club’s assortment.

“Newness is important to our members, who visit us 17 times a year on average, but we can’t afford to change out our assortment every time,” she said during a media tour of a Sam’s Club store here this month.

Instead, Sam’s buys enough of the impulsetype items to blow them out quickly, which generates “a greater sense of urgency” and the excitement of a “treasure hunt” shopping experience.

The program, dubbed “30 Minutes to Win It,” was not without its initial trepidations however. One of the first products purchased in the 30-minute pitches was a selfie stick, and Sam’s Club bought a lot of them.

“I almost shot the buyer,” recalled von Bechmann’s boss, executive VP and chief merchandising officer Charles Redfield.

But buoyed by in-store demos, the chain completely sold out its stock within two weeks, he said.

Since then, the venue for the program has switched to International CES, where Sam’s Club buyers fanned out last January to offer invitations to eye-catching exhibitors.

“We got to see suppliers who would normally be too small for Sam’s,” von Bechmann said.