American manufacturing has been in steady decline since the 1990s. Recently, however, there’s been a resurgence of interest in buying items that are Made in the USA, and a peak in interest for bringing manufacturing jobs back to America.
There have been a few times in recent history when consumer demand for American-made has peaked. This happened in the wake of the Sep. 11 attacks and again after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
Uncertainty about the pandemic and its effect on citizen’s health and the economy only heightened fears and highlighted vulnerabilities. Supply chains were interrupted, leaving Americans with limited access to everything from crucial medical supplies to PPE, apparel, gifts and beyond.
As part of a goal to boost manufacturing in America, President Biden recently signed an executive action that administration officials believe will close loopholes in “Buy American” policies for the federal government.
According to the Reshoring Initiative, a nonprofit organization with a mission to bring well-paying manufacturing jobs back to America, more companies are driven to “reshore” as a result of the pandemic. The term “reshoring” refers to the transfer — a business operation that moved overseas — back to the country from which it was originally relocated.
The survey, Manufacturer Interest in Reshoring, Hiring and Apprenticeships Increasing During COVID- 19 Pandemic (ThomasNet), revealed that 69% of manufacturing companies aim to bring production back to North America — compared with 54% in February 2020.
There are times when Made in the USA products are more important based on what’s happening culturally, politically and socially. “With the impact of COVID-19, social justice issues and a contentious election in 2020, retailers were looking for ways to make doing business easy, convenient and efficient. Stocking well-made, domestic products was undoubtedly an important part of that equation,” said Susan January, vice president of Leanin’ Tree, a card manufacturer in Colorado.
Located in Pennsylvania, Eric & Christopher, a textile company that creates decorative pillows, totes, tea towels, aprons and more, has seen demand for Made in USA products has increased over the last several years.
“The recent spark is a result of the strong focus on small businesses and supporting local industries. Early in the pandemic, high demand and lack of resources for PPE for front-line workers was a focus. That only accelerated the demand,” said Christopher Kline, owner of Eric & Christopher.
“American-made products are typically available for immediate shipping, which appeals to retailers that need to keep shelves full. There’s also an uptick in customers who want to support American jobs. Buying American-made products creates jobs and directly supports the livelihoods of our families, friends and neighbors,” said Barb Morina, president and founder of Journals Unlimited, a journal manufacturer based in Bay City, Michigan.
“A big part of our brand and company legacy is that our greeting cards are made in America. Over the course of 2020, Leaning’ Tree saw increased retailer attention thanks to a resurgence of interest in American-made,” said January.
Pat Wallace, director of marketing for Leanin’ Tree added that consumers place value on these types of products. “In many cases, they’ll pay more for products that are Made in America. Retailers have also experienced frustration and concern with pandemic-related uncertainty about local restrictions, closures and store traffic. The last thing a retailer needs is uncertainty with overseas manufacturing and delayed deliveries,” he added.
Despite temporary store closures and more restrictive budgets for many consumers and retailers, demand remained strong for certain categories. “People couldn’t buy ‘snail mail’ cards and ‘pick-me-up’ gifts fast enough,” said Erin Smith, co-owner, Wild Rumpus Room, a curated showroom of artisans and entrepreneurs with locations in Dallas and Las Vegas.
“As the current world situation rages on, it’s become clear that we need to stand behind what we believe in and what we want — for American businesses to remain afloat,” said Smith.
SUPPLY & DEMAND
“Demand for American-made has gained momentum. Inexpensive items from overseas aren’t reliable. No one knows when and if they’ll get here,” said Smith. She added that all categories of artisanal items are performing well— from greeting cards to hand-poured candles and handcrafted wine racks crafted from recycled barrels.
The Internet and social media platforms helped create a more global perspective; many retailers have recognized the impact of supply chain issues. “They’re examining how workers are treated as well as the environmental impacts of mass producing in countries that lack environmental regulations. They’re also looking at the effects of shipping long distances. Lastly, we can always count on American products to be of high quality,” said Morina of Journals Unlimited.
Leanin’ Tree predicted that retailers will continue to buy from domestic manufacturers in 2021. “Retailers want to ensure that products will land on shelves so they can meet consumer demand for items that enhance their relationships and/or quality of life,” said January.
Wild Rumpus Room noted products with stories are relevant. “Retailers can relay those stories in their stores or via online marketplaces. This gives products a huge boost. This has always been the case, but with inexpensive products from China not so reliable, this hit home with many consumers,” said Smith.
Journals Unlimited shared outdoor titles will continue to trend throughout the year. Made in the USA products that support being outdoors are a win-win for sellers and consumers. Morina advised retailers to keep shelves stocked, as “People still yearn to engage in some form of retail therapy and they’re still purchasing gifts.”
Leanin’ Tree noted COVID-relevant cards will remain popular throughout most of 2021, and that card designs will continue to reference pandemic related topics — masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing, and more.
Beyond get well, encouragement and sympathy cards, Leanin’ Tree noted that cards celebrating milestone birthdays, graduations and weddings will perform. “We don’t expect that to shift or change until the pandemic is more widely controlled, and retailers and consumers return to their normal social and retail habits,” January said.
Wild Rumpus emphasized that heartfelt gifts will remain strong. “People need to heal from a catastrophic year. Humor and the ‘we got this’ mentality will continue although I think the time for gifts and cards joking about COVID has passed. People are tired, want to move on and are hopeful about the future,” Smith said.
Smith shared that gifts that send a thoughtful message or simply serve as “surprises” to let others know they’re being thought about will also perform well.
According to Eric & Christopher, retailers are requesting customized designs that are related to the history of the area they’re in or something unique about their town.
Optimism was certainly in the air at the January 2021 gift shows. “Buyers were there to ‘buy’ and were not particularly price conscious. If they saw something they thought was fantastic, they went for it,” concluded Smith