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Vendors Benefit From Expanded Small Business Services At Sam's Club

Posted On: 9/3/2008

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BENTONVILLE,AP -- Sam's Club is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a renewed commitment to meeting the needs of its small business customers.

The warehouse club caters to a large base of vending, mobile catering and foodservice operators by facilitating the shopping process to save them valuable time. Sam's also strives to assure its business members that there's no need to look elsewhere to source the most popular products or beat its highly competitive prices.

In its effort to better serve the growing small business community, Sam's Club recently opened its inaugural Business Center, in Houston, TX, which offers an expanded selection of merchandise and services to meet the unique needs of vending operators, foodservice industry professionals, convenience store owners and other small business niches.

"We have a high percentage of business members at this location as well as many businesses in this market that we will be able to better serve by focusing our efforts on delivering business merchandise and solutions specific to the independent business owners' needs,"  said Sam's Club Business Center general manager Tony Puente.

New business member services launching at the Houston store include vending machine lease/purchase plans and the availability of specialty vending items not previously in stock. Members can also take advantage of Sam's new document management services and mailbox rentals as well as an onsite full-service copy/print/ship center. Additional business center services and products will be added throughout the inaugural year, according to the company, through its commitment to remain current and relevant for business members.

PHOTO: Sam' s Club co-managers David Winslow (center) and Ruben Rosa (right), and membership marketing sales manager Frank Engel of Sam's Club in Secaucus, NJ, work closely with vending customers to ensure national candy favorites packaged for individual sale are always in stock, and that ample variety is rotated regularly to help operators maximize consumer interest.

Chris Beaudin of All Texas Vending (Houston) is a loyal Sam's customer who will be among the first to access the expanded products and services of the first store in the nation with a devoted business center. The Texas operator told VT that while he sources much of his product from vend distributors, he has been also shopping at the warehouse club for eight of the past 17 years he's been in business to take advantage of the rock-bottom prices he finds on many items.

"Some prices are quite a bit lower than the distributors can offer because there's a lot more involved in them getting the product to the operator. I go item by item and if I can save 10¢ per unit at Sam's, it adds up and it's worth the trip to me," he told VT. "They have a great selection of frozen food, candy, soda and chips. And I always see new items to try."

With 593 stores nationwide, Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart, began as a wholesale club devoted to helping small business owners save on everyday items they needed to run their operations. Through the years, the format evolved to include individual consumers and the merchandise mix grew to encompass everything from fresh meats and produce to electronics and furniture. Sam's also expanded its services for both business and individual consumers with the addition of onsite tire centers.

"While much has changed since the beginning, we are still a membership warehouse club and we recognize our foundation is the small business owner," said Greg Johnston, executive vice-president of operations at Sam's Club. Small business members, with limited storage capacity and financial resources, typically shop at their local Sam's Club four or five times a week as opposed to individual consumers whose orders are smaller and visits less frequent. The company's goal, according to officials, is to do all it can to personalize the experience and meet the unique needs of its business members, which it strives to have make up at least 60% of its base. 

"We try to get to know our business customers one on one. We want to know how their business is doing and what we can do to help. We don't deliver product, but we do everything we can to make it quick and easy to shop at our stores," membership marketing sales manager at the Secaucus, NJ, Sam's Club store, Frank Engel, told VT.

Sam's Club business members benefit from exclusive early morning and after-hours "Gold Key Hours," when shopping is not open to the general public. They also have the benefit of using Sam's Click 'n' Pull and Fax 'n' Pull services, through which they can order online or fax in their order in before 5 p.m. Sam's Club employees pull the products by 7 a.m. the next day, and the operator simply retrieves his or her order and bypasses lines by paying at a register designated to those ordering through the service.

"I have a great relationship with Priscilla, who handles my Click 'n' Pull orders; it's very personalized service and it's great to always deal with the same person and know it's going to be done right. I'm in the store five days a week to support my three routes and I feel like I'm not just a face. I walk in, pay and my order's already on a cart, ready to roll out the door; it can't get much better," said Beaudin.

From candy, chips and soft drinks to frozen meals and ice cream, Sam's offers a wide range of items packaged for individual sale and well suited for vending. The single-serve items designated for resale are merchandised separately from bulk-packed products to facilitate shopping for business customers. Sam's associates are also available to guide business owners through the store and explain the layout to help them efficiently locate the items they need.

Core retail favorites, including vendible candy and chips, are guaranteed to always be in stock, and Sam's rotates other popular and new items regularly to help business owners keep variety fresh and exciting.

Sam's regularly brings in new items, provides samples to its business customers for trial in the field and holds focus groups to gauge their popularity. It also personalizes service for the business owners it serves by taking into account special requests and trying them in small quantities to determine if they generate enough sales to become regular offerings.

Mobile caterers and vending operators are among the foodservice professionals who take advantage of Sam's Club's wide range of freshly prepared foods and baked goods labeled with nutritional information for individual sale, along with items such as condiment packets and disposable serving trays, utensils and paper goods. In fact, many mobile caterers make their daily purchases at Sam's and stock their trucks for the day's deliveries in the store parking lot. Route professionals from many industries also manage their time by scheduling their tires changes at the Sam's Club tire shop while they shop in the store.

Sam's Club serves more than 47 million U.S. members with locations nationwide, as well as in Brazil, Canada, China, Mexico and Puerto Rico.