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Market Perspectives: Supplier Diversity in Retail with Le’Spencer Walker

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In this installment of Market Perspectives, we explore the concept of Supplier Diversity with insights from Le’Spencer Walker, Director of Merchandising Vendor Development at Target. Readers will understand the importance of supplier diversity, the core challenges faced by diverse-owned businesses, and how Target is working to overcome these barriers to create a more inclusive marketplace.

What Does Supplier Diversity Mean?

Le’Spencer Walker, Director of Merchandising Vendor Development at Target, offers an insightful perspective on the meaning and significance of supplier diversity within the retail industry. Walker explains, “I developed a deeper understanding of ‘Supplier Diversity’ when Target launched the Merchandising Vendor Development Team, the team I helped stand up. I learned that Supplier Diversity (SD) is a national community of hard-working industry leaders and National Government Organizations (NGOs) that develop processes, and programs, and build awareness that drives equity with and for businesses/enterprises with a majority owner who is of a diverse background.”

These businesses, often classified as small-business enterprises (SBEs), minority-owned enterprises (MBEs), and woman-owned enterprises (WBEs), represent a wide array of diverse ownership, including BIPOC, LGBTQ+, Veteran, and People with Disabilities owners. Walker emphasizes that the SD community is “closely connected across all dimensions of differences aligned to driving success for those who have been underserved.”

At Target, the Target Accelerator: Activation and Growth team (formerly known as Merchandising Vendor Development) aligns with the national definition of SD and is committed to fostering equity within their business models to support the growth and success of diverse-owned business partners. This commitment is part of a broader effort to create a more inclusive and equitable retail environment that benefits both the suppliers and the consumers they serve.

What Challenges Do Diverse-Owned Businesses Face When Applying for Shelf Space?

Diverse-owned businesses face a myriad of challenges when seeking shelf space at major retailers like Target. According to Le’Spencer Walker these challenges are not singular but a combination of various factors that evolve over time. Walker explains, “Often times there isn’t one set of challenges but an organic selection of a few at once that change over time. We assess these aspects in our Supplier Intake Form and when the time is right the process moves forward fast. We often say, ‘no today doesn’t mean no forever.'”

The core challenges typically fall into two main areas: retail-readiness and Target merchandising strategic alignment, with a mix of financial preparedness. Retail-readiness encompasses several critical factors, including product manufacturing/production, logistic excellence, marketing planning, partnership aptitude, and overall experience in mass retail. Walker emphasizes, “We do not want to bring a partner to an assortment possibility when they are not set up for success or not prepared for the expectation of the buying team/mass retail. If you are firing on all cylinders in a positive direction in all these, you most certainly enabled an unlock to the next step towards assessment of an assortment opportunity but if not will most certainly keep you in our ecosystem.”

Merchandising strategy, on the other hand, is described by Walker as both an art and a science. It involves aligning a product’s success with Target’s merchandising direction for a given assortment during a specific period. This alignment can be challenging but is crucial for long-term success. Walker notes, “A product may be built with immense quality and sells well but the true challenges come with the Venn diagram model of that success with Target’s merchandising direction for that assortment in that given year or two model.”

Target’s Support and Business Strategy

Target remains committed to fostering open dialogue and assessing the capability, viability, and feasibility of potential partners through their Supplier Intake Form and tailored introduction/pitch deck documents. This approach ensures a thorough and supportive assessment process, enabling diverse-owned businesses to navigate the complexities of mass retail and achieve success.

In the next article Le’Spencer will dive deeper into the specific resources Target provides for diverse-owned suppliers and discuss how these initiatives impact the company’s overall business strategy. Stay tuned!

Is there is a question or topic you would like to see covered in this series? Email [email protected] with subject line “Market Perspectives”.