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Winter 2014
Born in the USA By Lin Grensing Pophal

Buying “Made in America” makes a difference in local economies. Increasing numbers of your customers are waking up to that message. Yet will they pay more for locally sourced goods? Read on.

The economy, a boost in patriotism and increasing awareness of the wide range of products made right here in the USA is boosting demand for all things local and homegrown say gift shop owners and wholesalers. While not all consumers are willing to pay the higher prices that may accompany these offerings, there is a growing niche audience of those who are. The trend spells opportunities for wholesalers, storeowners and others committed to driving demand for Made in America products.

Growing awareness

Aromatique-copyLaura Lucas is CEO and founder of Footvote.com, a recently launched online source of information on all things “Made in USA.” Lucas started Footvote based on the principle that if consumers work together to buy products made in the USA, we all benefit. “Consumer spending is about 70 percent of the U.S. economy and the choices consumers make have power,” says Lucas.

The response to the site, says Lucas, “has been just short of overwhelming.” She suggests that the economy and changes in the job market over the past few years is part of what is driving the trend for consumers to seek products made in America. “Over time I think there has been an awakening and an increased awareness about Made in America.” It’s a trend that she says is good for consumers, manufacturers and retailers.

Cinda Boomershine agrees that the economy has been a significant driver of increased interest in Made in America products. Boomershine is founder of cinda b, a line of Made in America, machine-washable and water-resistant handbags. When she started her company in 2004, she says, “it was almost a strike against me that I was manufacturing in the states—everyone kept saying ‘why are you manufacturing here?’” It took the economic downturn, she says, “to really open people’s eyes and make them aware of the importance of making choices and choosing to buy American-made products. Once that kind of idea got into people’s psyches it has become a very patriotic idea.”

At the G2 Gallery in Venice, CA, Marketing Director Bennett Rea says: “People who vacation want an authentic piece of the place they’re visiting; area residents want to support local businesses in their community. The growing segments of the population who reject corporate culture want to shop in ways that speak to them–specifically looking for fewer homogenized, big-brand products and more one-of-a-kind items that make them stand out. In an increasingly globalized world, ‘Made in India’ is no longer ‘exotic’ – it’s commonplace,” he says. “Who wants to walk into a store and purchase something that was mass-produced thousands of miles away when you can get something handcrafted from a person you can tangibly support and sometimes, even meet?” The G2 Gallery stocks Etsy sellers’ merchandise, locally made jewelry, soaps and other items.

From sea to shining sea

BabyJackBlankets-copyAs Lucas has found there is a wide array of options when it comes to Made in America gift items—from clothing to crafts to food products and more.

Terri Toner and her husband, Jonathan, started a small, local business—Pirate Jonny’s in Clearwater, FL, in 2010. The company sells Caribbean BBQ rubs, seasonings and sauces. “We are always doing events and festivals which allows us constant contact with the consumer,” Toner says. “We often hear from people that they want local.” The same sentiment, she says, comes from the retailers they serve.

Natalia Ortiz says that her own experiences as a mother, drove her belief that quality was more important than price when it came to products targeted at parents and kids. Two Hippos produces innovative products for kids, including bed rails, cot mats and body pillows. “We are proud to invent, manufacture and sell our unique products and are even more proud that we are making them in the USA,” says Ortiz who admits that she had, at one point, considered going overseas “to make my prices more appealing to the mass market.” Her biggest concern, though, was quality. “My customers love that I’m made in the USA,” she says. “Our products are expensive because of this, but I feel that for our customer base it’s worth it. Made in the USA means that the quality and attention to detail is there—as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.”

Boxai is a concept that offers “an exhibition in the palm of your hand.” It’s a box, in a box, in a box—designed in Santa Barbara, printed in Colorado and folded and fulfilled through a company in Utah. “It’s nice to help the U.S. economy, although our main motivation for being U.S. made is keeping a very low carbon footprint and knowing that workers who help to make Boxai are treated fairly,”says Mary Aspinwall, marketing director. The Boxai might be likened to a greeting card, but are presented in a 3-D format, with a blank box spring that allows the addition of a personal message.

SPARQ Home, based in Denver, offers a line of Made in America soapstone products. Founder Justin English has seen a trend in retailers buying Made in America products, especially those produced locally, he says. Products like these make it increasingly possible for consumers to do just that. The primary barriers to these purchases are price and awareness.

Price matters

BlissDesigns-copy“Aren’t Made in America products more expensive?” – that’s a question that retailers hear often and a perception they say that many consumers hold.

Eugene Fram, Emeritus Professor of Marketing from Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business and current marketing consultant keeps a close eye on trends in the business environment. He says changing consumer attitudes is very difficult. “Everybody, no matter what the socioeconomic level, loves a bargain,” says Fram. “Ask J.C. Penney.”

Anita Mahaffey is CEO/founder of Cool-jams, Inc., maker of specialty sleepwear—some made in the U.S., and some imported. “I would say that we get several requests a month from customers asking where are products are made,” says Mahaffey. But, she notes, the price has to be right. “We’ve discovered if the imported product is 25 percent or more, less expensive than the Made in America product, nine times out of 10 the consumer wants the less expensive imported product.” If the Made in America products are well made, unique and only about 10-15 percent more, she says, some consumers are apt to buy at that slightly higher price point.

While Boomershine agrees that price certainly has an impact, she notes that, “if you’re the type of person who thinks it’s important to buy American-made products, you’re willing to spend more for those products. “There is, unfortunately, still a large percentage of our population that is just going to buy the cheapest stuff out there,” she acknowledges.

Still, there are opportunities for manufacturers and retailers of these products to appeal to consumers and, as Lucas notes, the wide range of available products and price points offers ample opportunity. “I think there is a perception that Made in America is more expensive,” says Lucas, who adds that she also thinks it’s important for manufacturers and retailers to emphasize that products can be found in many price ranges. “On our site, there are some very expensive items, as there are everywhere, but there are also some incredibly affordable items,” she says. “It’s important for retailers to make sure they have some items in all price ranges so people understand that Made in America is well within reach.”

Selling American-made

cindab8-copyA key to effectively selling Made in America products is ensuring that consumers know the products are made in America. Retailers need to come up with ways to clearly and creatively convey this message.

The “back story” is key, says Boomershine. “We’re competing against a lot of other great lines of fabulous bags, she says. “I think our Made in America story and the fact that I started in a guest bedroom and it’s grown to what it is now is really important—people really rally around that.

Boomershine encourages retailers to use point-of-purchase marketing materials, signage and informed salespeople to clearly convey the existence and value of the Made in America products they carry, and says she works with retailers to help them tell the story. In addition, she notes: “We put our Made in America flags on everything,” she says. “If you see that flag, you know.”

Lin Grensing Pophal

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance business journalist in Chippewa Falls, WI. She writes about marketing and business management issues for national and trade publications and is the author of Marketing With the End in Mind (IABC, 2005).




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