Two years ago, Winky&Dutchy Inc., brought its business to central New York, moving much of the company to the village of Port Byron. Now, Winky&Dutch is making a different kind of move — this time to over 3,000 Walmart stores nationwide.
Last month, Winky&Dutch CEO Alice Globus visited Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, to pitch her products during the retail conglomerate's 5th Annual Open Call. The event is part of Walmart's commitment to purchase an additional $250 billion in products made, sourced or grown in the United States by 2023, giving dozens of American entrepreneurs shelf space at their stores each year.
This year, Winky&Dutch was one of them.
Founded in 1987, Winky&Dutch started in a machine shop in New York City, where Alice's father, engineer Ronald Globus, had begun experimenting with photography, cameras and lenses. And it was while working with something called a venticular lens that Ron had an idea, and he began making "winkies," charms that looked like little buttons with eyes that moved back and forth.
Since then, the company has amassed quite a collection of products, including handcrafted metal charm bracelets, earrings, necklaces and cufflinks that feature more than 800 unique, vintage images, and soon, some of those products will appear in the sewing and jewelry aisles at Walmart.
On June 13, Alice was one of more than 450 entrepreneurs invited to pitch products to Walmart buyers. According to Walmart's press office, around 100 of those entrepreneurs moved onto the next step, with some getting "on-the-spot deals."
Alice compared the event to "speed dating," as businesses were assigned 30-minute slots to meet with different buyers. Then, she said, there was round two in which the businesses set up tables and buyers walked the floor to see what they liked.
Alice said Winky&Dutch focused on presenting its sew-on buttons, a "craft good item" intended for Walmart's sewing section. It was ultimately one of eight New York companies to be selected on the spot, and it was all due to the company's new patent-pending technology.
"As exciting as buttons can get, for the fashion industry, having the ability to wash your clothing is huge," Alice said. "Some buttons can't even be hand washed or dry cleaned — you have to physically remove them before washing. ... What makes ours special is we can wash them."
For the past two to three years, Alice said, Winky&Dutch had been toying with technology to make their buttons machine washable. Historically, she said, plastic buttons or charms have used an adhesive like glue to secure the image inside, which meant the product could not get wet.
Then, earlier this year, the small business finally figured it out, and Winky&Dutch filed for a patent in June.
Alice said she believed Walmart buyers were impressed with their new technology as the company brought in its compliance department to make sure the product worked. When it was clear that the buttons were, in fact, machine washable, Winky&Dutch was asked to be a new Walmart supplier.
But as it turned out, Alice said, buttons were just the beginning.
"We showed examples of how the buttons could be used — on jackets and pillows and different items, and one of the buyers saw what our items looked like and asked if we had any charms (for the craft jewelry aisle)," Alice said. "Then, a third option opened up with the lawn and garden department, and we talked about doing buttons on cushions and pillows."
Currently, Alice said Winky&Dutch is finalizing the paperwork to begin selling packs of buttons and charms at Walmart next spring. Talks are still in the works with the lawn and garden department.
According to Alice, Walmart restocks their shelves once a week, and with an agreement to stock at least 3,000 stores and Walmart.com, Winky&Dutch will be plenty busy building up inventory to meet demand. She said the company will begin hiring more people to meet production, which could mean the creation of up to 20 part- and full-time positions in Port Byron.
"We're very ecstatic that they were interested in our product and they want multiple items in their store," she said. "It's been a lot of work, but it's been a fun and exciting and pleasurable experience to work with Walmart."