Does American-made make sense?
By Abby Heugel
In a perfect world, every product that a retailer needed would be available from local vendors at an affordable price and customers would flock to stores to support your destination — and the U.S.-economy. Unfortunately, that’s not often the case, but with the increased demand for American-made products it’s becoming more of a reality for retailers.
So does focusing on American-made make sense for retailers? When asked via email survey, you provided some thoughtful replies about what works, what doesn’t and what you hope to see in the future — and on store shelves.
Betsy Ratzsch Pottery
We sell only American-made work and have had since 1993 when we opened.
One key for me is that I have to be here in the shop so that when people come in I can help them. My customers wanted American made work. They knew they could get it cheaper someplace else but wanted their spending to count. I am pleasantly surprised at how intentional many people are right now.
I would love to be able to buy American made clothing. Handcrafted clothing is available at some of the shows I go to for buying and I do have some, but not a lot. I’ll know we’ve arrived when ordinary clothes are available that are made in the U.S.
The price point is a door opening to education. Readers should know that they vote with their money. Explore your neighborhood and surrounding areas when you shop. Come up with that figure of how much money stays in your community if you shop locally, as that’s always a good thing to remind people of.
Massachusetts Handworks Gallery of American Craft
Everything we carry is handmade in the U.S. or Canada. We have always grouped each artist’s work and put his or her name on the shelf. Now the sign includes the city and state they live in. Customers love that. Sometimes they’re bringing gifts on trips overseas and want to bring things that aren’t just American but from our region, state or town.
Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum Gift Shop
North Tonawanda, N.Y.
I sell as many U.S.-made items as possible, but I can’t say that I make it a point. If I did, there wouldn’t be much in the gift shop. In my experience, it’s very difficult to find a lot of U.S.-made merchandise for the retail gift trade. Ornaments, figurines, music boxes and even jewelry are, from what I can find, largely made overseas.
That being said, we do have several lines that are made in the U.S. and which sell very well — ChannelCraft toys, Folkmanis puppets, Morris Magnets and books from Dover Publications, The History Press and Arcadia Publishing are all great products for us.
North Carolina Estuarium Gift Shop
We are always searching for our own local people first and then reaching for the North Carolina vendors secondly. This, alone, cuts shipping costs. We also sell the item at the same price the craftsman does, which means we are making less money but still supporting our local artisans. People are willing to buy quality made and reasonably priced items.
We strive to support American made products, but we realize it is not always possible to accomplish this goal. More children’s items that would be of interest to kids in school groups. We are currently working on having organic cotton T-shirts made from our own North Carolina soil and cotton plants. We hope to have them in the shop by late spring.
We believe there is value in highlighting not only U.S.-made products, but fair trade and cultural products as well. But I’m finding that many vendors are doing a piece or part of their product here in the U.S. so that they can claim that in some way they are making a conscious decision to help with American economy.
I think plush and toys/souvenirs are hard to find made in the U.S. It is proving difficult to find an extensive affordable line for our needs, so we still carry items from overseas in our novelties and plush.
Redondo Beach, Calif.
When we opened 18 years ago, we were committed to be 100 percent exclusively U.S.-made products since we had heard such awful things going on with labor practices and toxicity in imports. In the last few years we have opened up to carrying imported items if they fit our stringent fair trade and eco standards. We feel it is important to support companies doing good things whether in the U.S. or overseas, and we research thoroughly before carrying any product!
Once I explain why I am carrying something that is imported (social responsibility, eco choice, doing something good for women, etc.) their tune changes and they (usually) feel good about purchasing an imported item. If I can find an item that is a great price point and it still fits our aesthetic standards (artsy, handmade, green), all the better.
Idaho Falls, Idaho
It’s not always easy to discern what is U.S.-made. We have tees printed in the U.S., but the shirts are made elsewhere, and incense that is dipped in the U.S. but the raw materials come from elsewhere. But I have noticed that U.S.-made items are almost always better quality, as many overseas items have suffered in quality and packing. The pour on the figurines has gotten thinner, the boxes are thinner and the back tags have gotten much thinner. Quality has just gone down. I sell many items that are probably purchased overseas and then carded by my vendor, and those cards have gotten thinner as well.
Customers who complain that too many of our items come from other countries simply don’t understand what it takes for us to find a balance between having nice items for sale and keeping those items affordable. Explaining this to the customer would reveal far too much about our inner workings, so it’s hard to tell people why we do the things we do and we all look like the bad guy.
Furnace Creek Visitor Center
Death Valley, Calif.
No, I try to sell the best selling items I can, but if the customers want U.S.-made product then I want to have them available. The question is, Will this trend hold as the economy gets better?”
We have to remember that we are U.S. businesses regardless of where we get our stock and that we have a responsibility to run sound businesses so that we can keep our staffs employed and support our economy.
Museum of the Shenandoah Valley
We don’t have anything people need to survive so in order for them to spend their money, especially in a down economy, I’ve found that these two criteria are essential: Locally made (or at least from the state you are located in) and if it’s not local, it better be different so there is an urgency to buy that item because they may never get the opportunity again.
Museum of the Rockies Store
I changed our product mix to hit the $10 to 40 range and bought more unique local/American-made items. That has actually increased sales the past two years as compared to previous years when we had high dollar, predominately overseas items and the economy was better.
If you are having a hard time finding unique local items to sell in your store, try scoping out your local farmers markets and craft shows for new product.
Historic Urban Plans Inc.
We are a vendor that sells to many museums, national parks, gift shops, bookstores, galleries, etc. Our maps are printed in the U.S. on paper made in the U.S. from U.S. and Canadian pulp. I’m very glad we’re able to use U.S. based materials and services in producing our maps. I think it’s equally important for me as a supplier to museums to use U.S.-made materials (packaging, etc.) in addition to offering U.S.-made maps.
However, I now offer my catalogue on a flash drive rather than a printed copy as in the past, and I noticed that they were made in China. I looked for U.S.-made flash drives but couldn’t find them.
Many of the items used to be made in the U.S., but the companies now have them made abroad. This includes iconic items like cowboy cap guns. Purchasing from China usually requires an order of 864 or more. If we ordered souvenir items like shot glasses and mugs or T-shirts from an American company, they would still be made somewhere outside the U.S. and would be more expensive than ordering directly from China. But China prices are going up and ordering from China has become more of a hassle, so eventually American-made souvenirs may become competitive.
South Haven, Mich.
Our inventory is somewhat unique in that we carry products related to our mission of preserving our American farming heritage. About 80 percent of what we sell is made in the U.S. and we try to carry as many Michigan made products as possible.
I think customers are looking for deals rather than were the item is made. They may check and see where the product is made, but if the price is right, they will buy it regardless. We are a very small gift shop with only a limited season and finding companies that offer a fair price with low minimum orders is always a challenge.
Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen Gift Shop
Glen Allen, Va.
Our shoppers come in looking for handmade pieces, especially by local and regional artists. Jewelry is our biggest seller, so while we buy some jewelry from various vendors, a majority of our accessories are consigned by local designers.
We have had a lot of success with Gurglepots at our shop. We love that they were designed by an artist in the U.S. based off a similar item he came across at a home in France. While this product has been popular, I wish the artist had chosen to have them manufactured stateside instead of in China. The big “Made in China” stamp on the bottom of each pot takes away from the excitement of the concept being conceived and designed in the states.
There is a wealth of talent in every community that may not be as readily visible as some of our vendors. Take time to get to know the artisan community around you, as they can offer museum shops unique product that is 100 percent made in America.
Heart of the Home
New Hope, Pa.
We have been proud to feature handmade American crafts for the entire 18 years that we’ve been in business. Our key areas are pottery, jewelry, wood, fiber arts, but I would love to find more garden crafts.
Of course the current economic slump has impacted everyone, so we’ve expanded our offerings of lower price point items and increased our contacts with customers through social media, a new reward program and tailored individual outreach.
Fields Pond Audubon Center Nature Store
We’re a gift store, so people are not buying necessities — they’re buying luxuries. I think the story of the product is often compelling, and that includes where it was produced. Concerns about the potential ecological and social impact of imported products and a desire to support more regional/local economies factor in as well.
Sign of the Dolphin
Madeira Beach, Fla.
Since opening our doors in August of 1996 we have cultivated relationships with hundreds of American fine craft artists. There will always be a price based customer and we carry imported goods to address that, but we definitely have noticed an increased interest in American made goods. There is a huge payoff in that we are assured of a steady stream of American hand made goods, often customized to our needs and market.
For several years we saw price as the driving factor in purchasing. Last fall and into this year we are seeing renewed interest in quality and the willingness to pay for it.
San Marcos, Calif.
We screenprint on American-made garments and own printing machines we use for hard goods such as ceramics, glassware, pencils, etc. We have lowered our minimums and begun producing product domestically with quicker turn around time for our buyers.
I think our buyers are willing to pay more for domestic items because they can buy 144s and 288s custom rather than the 720s and 1440s that you need to produce them in China.
But it is virtually impossible to produce silk tees and silk scarves in the U.S. We can bring the silk in from China and assemble it here, but there is really no way to have the silk made in the U.S.
World of Mirth
It can be difficult to find the funkier items we like to offer—baby teethers, green toys, wooden blocks, clothing and jewelry—but we realize that above all, it is important to support American made products. Some people want to buy American made but can’t get past the “Made in China” prices they are used to seeing.
Jesse James Bank Museum
We try. Unfortunately, its not easy finding U.S. made products that fit price ranges travelers like. The older generations are quite particular, and vocal, on that one. We hear how brothers and sons have fought and died for our country and how America has sold out to cheap labor and the almighty dollar.
You’d think we could find affordable American made stuff about American history. Nope. Even our Declaration of Independence is made in China. If there were a company like that here in the States that had a large selection at reasonable prices, well, we’d not even mind the artwork setup fees.
Beebe Medical Center Auxiliary Gift Shop
I don’t think the majority of customers come into the store only wanting U.S.-made items, but I think they quickly become aware of the quality differences and respond accordingly. They seem to be particularly sensitive to those items that respect the environment.
For a hospital gift shop plush animals are an important line. So far we have been able to identify only two or three companies that make these items in the U.S. Affordable handmade jewelry is also something that we would like to see more of.
Eagles Mere Museum Shop
Eagles Mere, Pa.
The only reason we would not sell a U.S.-made product would be the quantity we would need to purchase from the distributor. Since we are a very small shop, high quantity purchases are difficult for us to sell within the year and our storage is very limited. More and more companies in America are willing to work with us on many levels, which makes their customer service outweigh their competitors in other countries.
Folsom History Museum Gift Shop
I still see customers looking at the bottom of products to see where it was made and I think it influences their buying decisions at any price. I see more made in U.S. items decorated with stickers and advertising on packaging to alert buyers. It’s very hard to even find made in America goods, so we feel there is no choice. Then when you find items, the price points are too high to compete.
Flint Institute of Arts Museum Shop
The majority of our glass, ceramic and jewelry merchandise is made in America. Textiles that are made in America also do very well. It takes knowledge of the products and passing that information along to customers, like artist bios or where an item is made, so we do have to be more proactive and talkative with our customers. That enhances the experience and the sale.
It just takes a discerning eye to weed out the junk that some sales reps try to sell. Books and stationery have been tough because many things are printed overseas. Art supplies and children’s toys/games can still be a struggle, too.
American Saddlebred Museum
We feature a lot of products made by local Kentucky craftspeople like ornaments, horse fan pulls, bottle stoppers, earrings and pendants that are all made by a local glass artist as well as handcrafted items for the home such as welcome signs, mug racks, paper towel holders, wind chimes and garden weathervanes.
We have also done well with items that support causes. We have a model horse that we sell where a portion of the proceeds support therapeutic riding programs for the wounded war veterans. We also have a couple of items that support Saddlebred Rescue that have been popular as well.
Pink Posy Gift Shop at Athens Regional Medical Center
Tervis Tumblers are our best American-made products, followed by Carson’s Redneck Wine Glasses and Oh Sugar’s Nam’s Bits (cookies). I think many of our older customers do take that into consideration in their purchases. Lots of younger customers just starting in their careers or in college consider price to be more important because of their budgets.
NASA Gift Shop
Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
We always try to find item to sell that are made in America like glassware, postcards, posters, magnets, pens, stickers, DVDs, clothing, toys, stuffed animals, etc. Many pins and patches are made offshore and jackets and clothing should be made here.
Dennos Museum Store
Traverse City, Mich.
For us it’s almost more important to be made in Michigan, and customers seem to be more impressed by fair trade than made in America. I’ve found each customer is spending the same amount of dollars, but trying to get more for their money. Rather than buy two $50 items they might buy three $35 items.
Delaware State Park Nature Stores
So far our best luck is with books or local artwork that specifically pertains to our parks and we even have customers that come in and ask what is made in America in our stores. I am thinking of getting little flags stickers to put on the American made products, and a lot of manufacturers have picked up on this and are labeling their products as such.
Channel Craft is a great source for toys and games, all made in the U.S., but apparel is very hard to find. It may be screenprinted here, but the goods are not from the U.S.
American Bald Eagle Foundation
I do make it a point to buy and sell as much made in the U.S. as possible. I do not believe our guest came all the way to Alaska to buy products made in China, but I have a really hard time finding shirts made in America that say “Alaska.”
Hudson River Maritime Museum Gift Shop
As buyers for an American historical museum, we believe support of American workers and businesses is our duty and we will strive to do so whenever possible. We plan to increase interest by promoting our American-made items with signage and by training volunteers to mention this selling point. We hope this will work to increase customer desire to shop domestically and create add-on value to the merchandise at the same time.
Clothing items are difficult to purchase as made in America, although we do use local businesses for the customization.
Library Friends Shop
Unfortunately, most customers are not as concerned about U.S.-made products as they are about price. As the availability and price of American-made goods improves, so will the sales.
I remember when recycled paper and other products were first on the market; prices were through the roof. It is an evolutionary process and price follows demand. We have increased the amount of fair trade merchandise that we carry, and this is important to the socially conscious customers. If it can’t be U.S.-made, at least they feel the manufactures’ profits are going to a worthy cause.
Grand Canyon Association retail outlets
Grand Canyon, Ariz.
It’s not so much that is made in America. What sells best is what usually sells best at a tourist destination — books, shirts, magnets, postcards, matted prints, etc. “Made is USA” is just a theme that helps bring items together and identify them for the shopper who is interested in that theme, much like wildlife, history or geology.
Sales for the Grand Canyon Association have been trending up for the past four years, and it depends if customers have the opportunity to comparison shop. As a tourist destination type store, we have found better success if the customers don’t have the opportunity to comparison shop.
Joan Liffring-Zug Bourret
Iowa City, Iowa
We sell ethnic, state and regional books and cookbooks and take pride in printing only in the U.S. and our magnets are also made in the U.S. In these economic times, you have to think about what you can offer of quality at a lower price. We have taken our titles and put them online in a digital format at a slightly lower price and cost to us. Look for other revenue streams to compliment your current products, offer quantity discounts and study up on the latest technology and think about how you could benefit from it.
Acadia National Park
Bar Harbor, Maine
Being in a National Park makes it only natural to offer merchandise made in our country. Park visitors expect and seek U.S.-made items, although sometimes they are resistant to the price differential. Best selling items include local food items and crafts such as pottery.
Certain items such as branded apparel and outdoor gear are made almost exclusively in the Orient and souvenir hats have been difficult to find at competitive prices. In these cases, the brand is the key determinant. We will be offering a U.S. made alternative, but the retail will be two to three times that of the imports.
We maintain a premium line of U.S.-made product that is more expensive, but we also had to create an affordable line that is cheaper and imported to compete with lower priced toys. Both lines are thriving. We strategically chose to maintain a made in America line because of the customer goodwill, but we have to sacrifice part of our profit margin to sell those U.S.-made toys.
Newt’s Games & Puzzles
The one item that has done much, much better for us locally are the jigsaw puzzles that are made in the US. They tend to fit snug and hold together better while you are putting it together. But quality is one of the biggest reasons we still offer products from other countries. We still want quality, but some people just do not have the extra funds to buy something because it was made in the U.S.
We create small runs of decks of cards for museums, historical societies and more and would love to be able to have them manufactured in the U.S. The problem is we can’t get a U.S. manufacturer to run the decks at the same quality. Then the problem is the very high price that a U.S. manufacturer wants to charge, so not only is the quality not very good, but they cost more. At that point we just stick with a manufacturer outside the U.S. so we can take care of our customers with a competitive price and quality product.
I would vote that you do what you can to get or sell US made products, but at some point you have to understand that it just doesn’t always work.
MacCallum More Museum & Gardens
Chase City, Va.
Since we are small, we can’t carry a large inventory and the turnover is slow, meaning we can’t invest in large quantities of items and higher end items. Unfortunately, most imports are much cheaper and it’s tempting, but we try to limit what we purchase as imports when we can.
There are a lot more small companies being advertised and they seem to have niche items that appeal to the younger generation, but that’s not our normal client so we do not carry a lot of the niche products. I would like to see more American-made wind chimes that are well made, bird houses and garden items of all descriptions.
Capitol Clothing Corp.
This is our 23rd year in business and while many of our competitors went offshore years ago, we remained here. Our best selling items are our Jr. Ranger, Jr. Zookeeper, Safari, Police, Sheriff and Firefighter outfits. Though the economy has not totally rebounded, we are seeing a big increase in our sales. People prefer to spend on one quality product that will truly make a statement as a gift than a few insignificant items that don’t say much.
PO Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345
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