What's Sam's Club Doing for Workforce Development?

It's a win-win. Retail suppliers like Sam's Club that invest in small business development are not only helping the economy, they are creating more customers for themselves. With $700,000 in gift cards and training, Sam's Club is working this double win by sponsoring a contest for a second year to build and mentor small businesses.

Sam's Club recently announced 102 winners of the American Small Business Championship. With two winners in every state and the District of Columbia, these businesses will receive a $1,000 Sam's Club gift card, an all-expenses-paid trip to a training event, SCORE mentoring for one year, and promotion throughout the year to showcase each Champion’s story.

Why is Sam's Club so big on workforce development? As the nation’s eighth largest retailer and a leading membership club, some of its best customers are small businesses. If those businesses do well, it will pay off in more trips to one of the 647 U.S. store locations as well as its online portal.

The Walmart Foundation established the Sam’s Club Giving Program in 2008, and the program is specifically dedicated to micro- and small business development. Since then, it has invested more than $11 million dollars in national and local programs that improve training and education opportunities for small businesses, and give them increased access to capital.

Each applicant had to meet certain requirements, including being in business for at least one year and generating positive revenue. An online application involved responding to the question, “What sacrifice have you made to help your business succeed?” Responses were accepted as either a 60-second video or a statement of 250 words with a photo. Each applicant also had to gather at least 100 votes for its online entry on the contest platform during the nomination period. Applicants then advanced to final judging by SCORE leadership, mentors and board members.

What kinds of businesses won this contest? Calcutta Roll Company is one example. Founded by Malini Das, an immigrant from Calcutta, this business will be using the SCORE mentorship program to go national with Indian food products. Interestingly, this winner also plans to immediately share her proceeds by using the $1,000 gift card to feed the hungry. Another winner is Emma Dagnault of Rhode Island, owner of D&E Concrete Solutions. This is a father-daughter venture that repairs and waterproofs masonry and concrete construction. The list of winners is here.

Sam's Club has figured out a way to reward success in small business while also attracting the perfect customers for its own products. Corporate investments like this are helpful for recovery from the Great Recession.