Business Startup AR

Arkansas’ Business Ecosystem includes a Spot of Tea

In a new weekly series, Matthew A. Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, examines the state of business in Arkansas. Catch him each week exclusively on Arkansas Money & Politics. 

Noted fictional space traveler Arthur Dent knew something wasn’t quite right, but it took him a few seconds to identify the problem.

“Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important,” Douglas Adams wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “Suddenly he realized what it was. ‘Is there any tea on this spaceship?’ he asked.”

Dent’s quest to find the perfect cup of tea in a post-Earth universe is part of the inspiration behind one of the newest startup companies in Arkansas, and this company provides a great example of why our state is such fertile ground for entrepreneurs. Like the perfect cup of tea, Arkansas has all the right ingredients for forming successful new enterprises.

Arkansas has an unusually dense network of people with expertise in retail, supply chain, and consumer goods management. When these experts bring their skills and experiences together, the mixture can be magical – regardless of whether the startup leans heavily on the large incumbent companies in Arkansas to market and sell their goods or services.

Arthur Dent’s, for example, is the brainchild of a diverse team that’s enrolled in the Sam M. Walton College of Business Executive MBA program. They are building a new business around the idea of providing high-quality, hand-crafted, fresh-brewed tea in a relaxing environment. Their brewing technology allows customers to maximize their relaxation time and minimize the time spent waiting in line.

I have confidence that they will succeed because this team has extensive experience in logistics, supply chain management, merchandising, buying, banking, construction, consumer goods, global business management, marketing and e-commerce.

Tyler Scantlan is replenishment manager at Walmart. He has held supply chain and demand management roles at Walmart and a buying role at Target, at times managing business segments of more than $1 billion in annual revenues. For a company like Arthur Dent’s to succeed, it will need expertise in replenishment, demand management, and buying.

Skylar Wallace has spent more than 10 years working in banking and finance. His background in lending, merchant service expertise, and general banking practices will give Arthur Dent’s an advantage on the cash management side of the company. Wallace also owns a food truck, which brings operational experience to the table.

Anthony Brown, a senior project manager for the Little Rock-based global construction company VCC, has extensive experience as a commercial contractor. For Arthur Dent’s to succeed, it will need to efficiently and effectively acquire real estate and understand the intricacies of the commercial real estate business. Anthony clearly brings this expertise.

Anna Carie, an Associate Customer Development Manager at Johnson & Johnson, handles pediatric over-the-counter products for the Walmart account.  Additionally, through her education, she has worked on global business projects in Sydney, London, and Shanghai. Her expertise in consumer products will be crucial to Arthur Dent’s since it is retailing consumer products.

Matt McClanahan, the director of digital strategy at Saatchi and Saatchi X, has spent the last 10 years managing multi-channel e-commerce campaigns for some of the world’s largest retail brands across multiple markets, including the US, Canada, and Latin America. His expertise in e-commerce, data analytics, driving client and agency revenue growth, building relationships, evolving operational structure/process to deliver outstanding client service and campaign performance will clearly give Arthur Dent’s an advantage in marketing and e-commerce.

All of that experience combined into one leadership team gives Arthur Dent’s an unusually high chance for success, but the company’s access to such talent isn’t unique in Arkansas. And that’s the big point. There aren’t many other places on the planet where a team like this could be assembled in an executive MBA program. But it’s possible in Arkansas because our unique economic fabric includes so many people with experience in one or more of the following: 1) retail, 2) consumer goods, and 3) transportation, logistics and supply chain management.

As a result, a growing number of companies are emerging in these areas, as well as in in e-commerce or other related areas. In fact, when I was thinking this through, I began jotting down a list of companies that prove my point. And in just a few minutes, I had listed dozens of companies. Among them …

Shannon Bedore took her experiences with Kohl’s and Walmart, along with her MBA in supply chain management, and founded Sightline, a consumer goods consulting company. … Doug Degn, started as a pharmacist and spent 24 years with Walmart and retired as executive vice president of merchandising and is now on the board of directors of NowDiagnostics, which makes over-the-counter health test kits. … John Ballentine used his packaging experience with J.M. Smucker and Campbell Soup as the foundation for co-founding the innovative packaging company Tango Press. … Kevin Higgins used his transportation experience from Walmart, J.B. Hunt, and Transplace for Orion, which focuses on sourcing and procurement. … And several former Procter & Gamble executives, including Ross Cully (Harvest Group), Bill Waitsman (@OneStoneEcomm), Rick West (Field Agent), Dan Sanker (Case Stack), Allan Peretz (Bold Retail) and Henry Ho (Field Agent), have helped launch successful startups.

If nothing else, the wealth of talent and experience in Arkansas is creating a rising economic tide from these entrepreneurs that lifts them as well as more established companies. But there’s another lesson, both for those with the entrepreneurial bug and for those better suited to other business pursuits. Regardless of your business or your role within a business, you have access in Arkansas to a wide-range of experts who are creating an ecosystem of business success. Business leaders in Arkansas can, and should, tap into that ecosystem for everything from partnerships to advice. So, reach out. Invite someone to talk over a cup of tea, perhaps at Arthur Dent’s. 

Matthew Waller AMP Walton College

Matthew A. Waller is the Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair, and Professor of Supply Chain Management.  As Dean he leads the Walton College, which has over 6,000 undergraduates and about 500 graduate students.  He has been an active entrepreneur most of his life.  He was co-founder of a software company which had over 100 employees as well as a consulting firm.  He is an inventor on the following patent: Waller, M.A. and Dulaney, E.F. System, Method and Article of Manufacture to Optimize Inventory and Merchandising Shelf Space Utilization, Patent No. US 6,341,269 B1. Date of Patent: January 22, 2002. His opinion pieces have appeared in Wall Street Journal and Financial Times.  Dr. Waller is an SEC Academic Leadership Fellow.  He is coauthor of The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management: Principles and Strategies for the Efficient Flow of Inventory across the Supply Chain, published by Pearson Education. He received a B.S.B.A. summa cum laude from the University of Missouri, and a M.S. and Ph.D. from The Pennsylvania State University. He is the former Co-Editor-In-Chief of Journal of Business Logistics.  Matt is coauthoring a book with Kirk Thompson, Chairman of J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. about strategy and how J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. applied various business strategies. 

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