April 24, 2007 / 7:55 PM / in 12 years

Suppliers move to Bentonville to service Wal-Mart

By Nicole Maestri

ROGERS, Ark., April 24 (Reuters) - When Cameron Smith, an executive recruiter, arrived in northwest Arkansas in the early 1990s, there were 48 Wal-Mart supplier teams working near the retailer’s headquarters in Bentonville.

Today, he says, the figure has jumped to 1,218 as U.S. companies like Procter & Gamble Co. (PG.N) that supply products to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT.N) have converged on Bentonville, and he expects that number to grow as Wal-Mart sets up more direct relationships with Chinese suppliers.

Smith, as head of executive search firm Cameron Smith & Associates (CSA), has watched the explosive growth of local supplier teams first-hand, helping suppliers like H.J. Heinz HNZ.N and Wrangler fill job openings on their teams that service Wal-Mart accounts.

While Wal-Mart does not require its suppliers to have offices close to headquarters, Smith said proximity gives them a step up. A local presence means a supplier can be at the beck and call of Wal-Mart, and not have to hop on a plane every time they need to visit the retailer.

“You’re not here to sell Wal-Mart, you’re here to service Wal-Mart,” Smith said.

Smith, in an interview in his office in Rogers, Arkansas, just a few miles from Wal-Mart’s headquarters, said one of the biggest surprises for a supplier looking to hire local talent is the salary that the positions command.

A listing on the CSA Web site for a customer marketing manager has a salary range of $100,000 to $125,000, while a national account manager is advertised with a salary of $140,000.

“This is not a training ground. The best of the best is doing this,” he said.

To watch their costs, Smith said some suppliers are hiring local workers on a part-time, contract basis. That way, they gain the advantage of a local presence and can eliminate the need for constant flights in and out of Bentonville.

With Wal-Mart now trying to work directly with its Chinese suppliers rather than through importers, Smith said he is now starting to work with more Chinese suppliers.

CSA, along with Global Supplier Development, is holding a conference in China in May to help Chinese suppliers understand how to conduct business directly with Wal-Mart instead of doing it through a broker or importer.

Smith said he does not necessarily expect Chinese firms to send Chinese employees to work in Arkansas. Rather, he expects them to hire local, Bentonville-area talent that understands what the retailer wants from its suppliers.

“It’s demanding,” he said of being a Wal-Mart supplier. “It’s all about relationships.”

((Editing by Phil Berlowitz; Reuters Messaging: nicole.maestri.reuters.com@reuters.net; +1 646 223-6173)) Keywords: WALMART SEARCH/

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