Fall 2012
Born in the USA By Heather Johnson Durocher

Your customers are pledging allegiance to the red, white and blue – by buying American-made products. Are you?

My customers love shopping for Made in the USA products because...

Here's what our Facebook friends had to say!

  • They love knowing their hard-earned money is staying in the USA
  • Trust that it is a quality-made product
  • It supports your neighbor
  • Supports families and businesses right here in the U.S.
  • Gives a true sense of community
  • Made better!

What do you think? What makes you and your customers buy American? Post your response on our Facebook page.

Today Chris Hazelwood sells in his shop the beloved American-made dishware he himself grew up using, the popular lines of Hadley Pottery of Louisville, KY. But along with helping continue a tradition for others, Hazelwood says as a retailer he appreciates the family-like feel he experiences working with a U.S. manufacturer.

Just one example he offers: Hadley Pottery, founded by artist Mary Alice Hadley in 1940, will re-create discontinued pieces for its retailers. Each piece is handcrafted and handmade. “They’ve made a half dozen different items I’ve found,” says Hazelwood, owner of Peggy’s Place in Chapel Hill, TN, who has found old designs on eBay and through family and friends. “I love that about them. I can call them and say, ‘Can you make this for me?'”

It’s this kind of personal touch—and close business relationship—that is helping nurture an ever-growing interest in products that are both handmade and created in the States. You may want to consider stocking up on such products—everything from jewelry and dishware to home décor—for a few other reasons, too, says Lynn Switanowski, president of Creative Business Consulting Group in Boston. “It allows you to show USA pride with customers—especially if economic conditions [are not so great] in certain retail locations,” Switanowski says. “Many customers feel strongly about keeping the dollars ‘home’ versus abroad. It also allows for your store to have a point of differentiation amongst your competition—including big box stores.”

Supporting local artists is another reason you may want to increase your American-made stock. “By becoming a source for up-and-coming new designers and craftspeople, your store will be a place to showcase local talent and it will show your customers that you have a deeper connection to their local community,” she says. “Being part of a local community is what independent retailers can do very well … it shows your community that you care about what is around you.”

Made in the U.S.A.: stronger than ever

Carol Murphy, who with her husband Michael, has owned gift shop Murphies in Richmond, VA for 10 years, says supporting American artisans has been an important part of their business since the beginning.

“We’ve always tried to deal with artisans at good price points and artisans who are business people—our customers do appreciate that,” she says, adding that she’s seeing the push to buy American grow stronger every year. “I think it’s sort of always been there… but as things were getting pretty bad—people outsourcing everything to China and Thailand and people here were losing their jobs—people started being even more aware.”

Artist Dodie Eisenhauer, who creates wire jewelry with daughter Jenny Turner, is encouraged to see this shift toward even more American-made products in the marketplace. “We’re seeing a whole big movement back to handmade and in the U.S. It’s very gratifying to see it come back and see people care. I feel appreciated again,” says Eisenhauer, who before designing with wire was a painter for many years. The mother-daughter team’s business—Village Designs in Daisy, MO, which began wholesaling in 1989—creates necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings and other pieces in 20 different colors. “Everything is wire—we use very little of anything else. We use steel wire, copper wire; we use wire mesh in brass and aluminum,” Eisenhauer says. “In jewelry, it’s silver-plated copper and some of it is sterling silver.”

Each item is unique because it is handmade, and this makes all the difference for customers who want to find a treasure or a gem that’s like no other, Eisenhauer says. Most pieces retail for between $12.50 and $28. “When you think of mass productions, there’s no meaning. It’s one of a million. You might like it, but it doesn’t have any individualism about it,” she says. “We make it for them, and they have chosen [the colors and styles]. For example, we sell to Cape Cod and they want beach colors. So we make that for them. Getting away from that mass production is important today.”

Lin Dryer, owner of Branelli Beads in Grand Rapids, MI, says no two polymer clay beads used in her jewelry are alike. The business, which employs local artists to design and create necklaces, bracelets and earrings, has doubled its business in the past year since starting, Dryer says.

“Our prices are 15 cents less than my competitor in China,” she says. “It’s taken off like hotcakes. I find out that people are getting sick of China and getting sick of things not made in U.S.A. Everybody is trying to get back to their roots and to made-in-the-USA. People will pay the price if it’s a good quality product and it’s made in the USA.”

Branelli Beads’ earrings retail for less than $10; prices start at $3.50. Another popular item she sells: Hand painted crystal nail files (area art students create the 30 different designs freestyle). These retail between $6 to $11.

Telling a story

Customers will like knowing products you carry are made here as well as how exactly they’re created and by whom, say both shop owners and manufacturers. Village Designs, for example, will share the German heritage behind the business (“Eisenhauer” is German for “metal worker”) and how each piece is named for a person who left a lasting impression on Eisenhauer and Turner during their childhoods.

“It helps to have that story,” says Eisenhauer, who prints out the Village Designs story for shop owners to display. “They always want our story and usually frame it. Anytime the end buyer can relate to the item they are purchasing, that makes it sweeter—it’s so much sweeter. So when they give it as a gift, they can say, ‘This was made by these two women… ‘ It’s just part of the gift.”

Some shops may prefer to verbally share the story of the handmade products they carry. Either way, Eisenhauer says she definitely knows which stores carrying her products are sharing the story because they tend to sell a lot more.

Product story is huge for Hadley Pottery, says Fred Meyland-Smith, who is part of the six-person private equity partnership that bought the venerable business in 2009. Meyland-Smith himself grew up using Hadley pieces. The partnership bought the company from a longtime Louisville resident who had owned it for 40 years, having purchased it from Mary Alice Hadley’s widower.

“Hadley is home,” he says. “Hadley brings back the traditions of my family—it’s my family seated around the dinner table or gathered for Thanksgiving.” Hadley Pottery has 18 pattern lines, with its country line the most popular. Pieces are sold separately and customers enjoy mixing and matching to suit their own tastes and home styles, Meyland-Smith says.

Industry expert Doug Fleener believes the story behind a product is likely even more important than the fact that the item is made in the U.S.

“I think there’s this rise in this ‘handmade products with a story trend,'” says Fleener of the retail and customer experience consulting firm Dynamic Experiences Group in Lexington, MA. “I don’t think we’re back to that place where it was ‘Buy American.’ I just don’t think there’s a large population of the population that makes a decision to buy because it’s made in America … But I do believe that when they find something that they like and it’s made in America, that’s an added bonus.”

A “back story” may be about the artist, a particular part of the country, or an organization that’s supported through the sales of the item. “People, especially women, are very driven by the stories behind the products. The more the story is there, the more there’s that connection between the artist and the customer,” Fleener says.

“There’s a real advantage if you can find that local artist,” he adds. “People do like supporting local people, and you know it’s made in the U.S. because it’s local. The other advantage is you can have events like ‘Meet the Artist’ in your store.”

Waving the red, white & blue

When Ed and Margaret Szakonyi attend gift shows these days, the couple behind the 40-some year-old business, Artistic and Custom Woodturning, Inc. in Roselle, IL hears from plenty of people who want to buy American-made products. “We put up signs that say, ‘Made in the U.S.’ and ‘handmade.’ I think it has generated more customers than 10 years ago,” says Ed Szakonyi, who makes the “lodge-look” wood lamps and bottle stoppers that the business sells.

Laurie Freivogel, a glass fusion artist in Oak Park, IL, createsart that’s both functional and decorative through her business Kiku Handmade. One of her longstanding products is the belt buckle, which comes in myriad styles, such as one featuring a Vintage Schwinn printed with red enamel on powder blue glass then layered over clear and fused. It’s approximately 2.25-inches by 3.5 inches, fitting up to a 1 3/4 ” wide belt. Another popular gift item: 5/8-inch square necklaces that are suitable for children, men and women, she says.

Freivogel believes American-made is important to her customers, and she also looks for U.S.-made products when considering purchases.

“The people I talk to and the people I email with, it’s so important. I’ll pay a little bit more to know someone made it, or I’ll buy it in my independent local shop and know they got it in the U.S.,” she says. “U.S.-made, independently owned is huge. I think that idea is slow to take hold, but I think it’s getting out there. Most of the people I know are independent artists … and they’re in their studios and making everything by hand.”

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Heather Johnson Durocher

Durocher is a northern Michigan-based journalist who writes frequently about business for newspapers and magazines. She has contributed to USA Weekend, Woman's Day, Parents and American Baby. Visit her website at HeatherDurocher.com

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