Thompson, 37, a former lawyer, grew up in the plastics manufacturing business, and created the 50 Strong brand. The company makes plastic water bottles and other basic plastic products. Today, the family-owned business has 100 full-time employees, sales of more than $10m, and nationwide distribution in Wal-Mart. It recently won a contract to produce 5 million plastic water bottles for Wal-Mart, replacing a former supplier that had made bottles in China.
At Wal-Mart’s recent open call extravaganza for American manufacturers in Bentonville, Ark., Thompson arrived dressed in a blue jacket and big red beaded necklace to make the case for making products at home. “We want to prove that made-in-America products can be done at the same price as imported products,” she says.
Open call is the one day a year when Wal-Mart opens its doors to pitches from American manufacturers, however small, as part of the retailer’s pledge to add $250bn in U.S.-made goods to its shelves by 2023. At this year’s event in late-June, more than 500 entrepreneurs trekked to Bentonville from across the country to pitch their products, Shark Tank-style, in 30 minute meetings with the retailer’s buyers. Nearly 100 of them — including Thompson, who was pitching new, inexpensive plastic storage pockets where consumers could put kitchen or bath products that clutter the countertops — received an immediate yes.
Thompson’s father, Randy Carter, started the family’s plastics manufacturing business, called Precision Thermoplastic Components, or PTC, back in 1982. The business did contract manufacturing for other companies, and had expertise in injection molding, extruding, blow molding and product assembly. It was a tough business as manufacturing moved overseas, where costs were cheaper. “We would have products where we would have the business, and then lose it to a supplier in China,” Thompson recalls.
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