Lowe’s is teaming up with a reality TV star to help small businesses — especially those with minority owners — win a chance to get their products into the chain’s stores and onto its e-commerce site.
Daymond John, part of the cast of ABC's “Shark Tank,” will play a similar role for the retailer in the coming months as part of the chain’s new “Making it … With Lowe’s” contest.
From Sept. 15 through Sept. 25, diverse small business owners can apply on Lowes.com/MakingItWithLowes. After Lowe's identifies an initial 375 small businesses, the pool will narrow to 75 who will be invited to submit more in-depth stories via video.
The search will culminate in a one-day virtual pitch challenge hosted by John where five diverse small business owners will pitch their product "live" to Lowe's CEO and other executives for the chance to become a Making It… With Lowe's small business partner. Leading up to the pitch, John will mentor the group as they prepare for their biggest pitch ever. No cash prizes or investment will be offered, but the chance to get new products before Lowe’s shoppers stands as the main reward.
"Making It with Lowe's is giving these minority-owned businesses a much-deserved chance to shine while uncovering unique, smart products that will make Lowe's shelves even more appealing to customers," John said. "The pandemic has created a situation where business owners are constantly pivoting and deepening their creativity and problem-solving abilities, especially minority-owned businesses who have more at stake, more to lose. I can't wait to get started.”
The program was in the works before the pandemic forced retailers to delay offerings and otherwise improvise, said Bill Boltz, Lowe’s executive vice president of merchandising. He said he and other leaders at Lowe’s conduct their own internal “shark tank” every quarter to determine what products to feature in the retailer’s marketing campaigns.
As for this new program, “it started as an avenue to find potential new suppliers and bring new ideas to Lowe’s,” he told Retail Leader. If anything, the pandemic drove home the challenges that small businesses and suppliers face in the larger world of retail, he said.
Typically, he said, it can take two years for a new product to make it to Lowe’s, assuming its producers are working from a rough draft, Boltz said. Some products can take 12 months or as quickly as a matter of weeks to make that journey, however, depending on where production stands.
The new program’s judging phase will likely run into November. The finalists will be announced and featured on Lowes.com later this year, and the Making It … With Lowe's results will be revealed on Lowe's social channels in early 2021.
The new program builds on Lowe's commitment to diversity and inclusion. In July, Lowe’s more than doubled its small business grant program to $55 million, providing financial relief to minority-, women-owned and rural small businesses. The donation has fueled emergency grants in historically underserved communities to help small business owners navigate challenges during the pandemic.
"When Lowe's introduced our grant program for minority-, women- and rural-owned small businesses impacted by the pandemic earlier this year, we were humbled by the overwhelming response for the grants and we were impressed by the creativity, passion and vision from hundreds of thousands of applicants – and we instantly knew we wanted to do more," said Lowe's President and CEO Marvin R. Ellison. "Offering our customers greater access to products being created by diverse small business owners allows Lowe's digital and physical shelves nationwide to better reflect the diverse communities we serve and ensures our customers have access to the most innovative and valued home improvement products in the marketplace."
Lowe’s is not the only major retailer using the “Shark Tank” formula to find new suppliers and products.
Earlier in September, Walmart said its own shark tank will be swimming with 850 entrepreneurs and small businesses on Oct. 1 when the retailer hosts its first ever virtual Open Call event. The event is not new but has been pushed backed in this year of the pandemic, and has gone virtual, as have many other conferences and events, including a recent marketplace-focused conference from Amazon.