For the past four years or so, the marketing of U.S. manufacturing businesses has been the main focus of my company.
Shortly after narrowing my focus to this market, I also made a commitment to buy only American made products whenever the option was available.
Why did I make that commitment? While doing research for a client, I read a book he recommended, Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion Dollar Trash Trade, by Adam Minter. I could not believe what I was reading! Basically, companies offshore the manufacture of cheap goods, which are then imported to the U.S. where they fall apart and get thrown in the trash or recycling bins. Then, a lot of this stuff gets shipped to China and other countries where it’s broken down and remade into more cheap crap.
In addition, I was horrified to read of the awful working conditions, which have been confirmed by other experts, including Peter Navarro, who wrote Death by China.
On top of that, I was reading books about the decline of U.S. manufacturing and realized there was no way I could work every day to promote the businesses of American manufacturing companies – only to turn around and shop the shelves of Target, Home Depot, etc. without regard for where products are made.
I’ve never regretted my decision to buy American whenever possible. But, I have been a little surprised by some of the well-meaning feedback I’ve received. While some people are excited about my “buy American” pledge, others are concerned I’m making a political statement – a statement I might come to regret.
But the truth is that my decision to buy American isn’t political at all.
What’s Behind My “Buy Made in America” Pledge
When you commit to buying “made in America,” two things happen: one, you quickly learn you can’t impulse shop and two, you end up doing a lot of research. Because, let’s face it, if you’re shopping at your typical big box store, your choice of made-in-America products will be slim.
In the course of doing your research, you learn that companies making products in the U.S. are more than names or logos. You discover where they’re located. You learn their history. You might end up talking with their sales or customer support teams – or even the owners or founders!
You quickly learn that these companies are made up of real people. People with families, cars and mortgages. Many of these companies are family owned. All have a story to tell.
In addition, you learn just how critical these companies are to the towns, regions, and states in which they’re located.
An Example: Fletchers’ Mill
For years I relied on the inexpensive salt and pepper shakers I bought back in college. I would also buy those whole pepper containers with the built-in grinder from the supermarket. After going through a fair number of these, I realized it was time for an upgrade!
So, I set out to find a replacement – made in the U.S., of course.
As you might expect, many cheaper pepper mill models are made in Asia. A few of the more expensive models are made in Europe.
But some are still made in the U.S.A.
I eventually settled on the Glenburn salt and pepper set from Fletchers’ Mill and ordered it online. Here they are – handsome, aren’t they? It’s a delight using them – they’re incredibly well-made.
Let’s deconstruct this salt and pepper set for a moment.
The set is made of wood (Fletchers’ uses sustainable forestry practices and recycles all wood waste); the salt shaker has a rubber stopper in the bottom and a metal plate on top (which I’m assuming would have been stamped). The pepper mill has a metal internal grinding mechanism – which would have been machined to tight tolerances in order to deliver the very smooth grinding mechanism. The mill also has a metal screw on the top.
Suffice to say, all of these parts would either need to be made in house (using machines that quite possibly were made in the U.S.) or brought in from other suppliers.
And then, of course, the product needs to be assembled, Q.C.’d and shipped.
As you can see, even a relatively “simple” product, such as a salt shaker, can involve sophisticated supply chains and processes – all of which require highly skilled labor!
In addition to pepper mills, the company also manufactures wooden kitchen implements, such rolling pins. This arm of the company was originally developed by the Vic Firth Company, which Maine Wood Concepts (now Fletchers’ Mill) bought in 2012.
Vic Firth was the principal timpanist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 40 years. Frustrated with the inconsistent quality of drumsticks on the market, he created his own pair. He eventually started selling them to his students and other percussionists, and in 1963 the Vic Firth Company was born. He eventually expanded his line to include wooden kitchen tools.
Cool, right?! This is why I love telling manufacturers’ stories!
The Hidden Advantages of Buying American
There’s another reason to feel good about buying American: you end up with products of excellent quality and function. Of all the items I’ve purchased in the last three years that have been U.S.-made, only one fell apart and that was a pair of shoes. I promptly emailed the manufacturer, who was appalled and sent me a replacement pair immediately.
The higher quality makes sense: manufacturers here in the U.S. oversee their own production processes. The sad truth is, they can’t have this same oversight when products are made overseas – and it’s a real problem. (For a full discussion of this topic, please see the following books: Death by China by Peter Navarro, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster by Dana Thomas, and Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppell Shell.)
But what about U.S.-made goods costing more? Yes, sometimes they do – but many of the companies making goods in the U.S. also sell direct (e.g. online), which helps keep costs in check. I’ve found prices to be competitive, and sometimes the same, as goods made off-shore but sold in stores.
Another advantage to buying American whenever possible is that you end up buying less stuff – so you can afford higher quality goods.
Why Buying American Isn’t a Political Statement
When you buy U.S.-made products, you know your money is supporting the employees who work in the company – as well as the people who work in the community where the company is located.
Fletchers’ Mill, for example, located in New Vineyard, Maine, employs about 100 people (including shop floor and office staff). You can imagine the impact to the local economy (New Vineyard is a small town of 757 people!) if the company were to go under; everything from the local gas station and lunchtime café to the barber and daycare center would be affected.
But what I love best about buying products made in the U.S. is that I know they’re made by workers protected by OSHA standards. I’m not contributing to poor worker health, unsafe work conditions, or sheer disregard for the environment – all of which is rampant in countries where cheap goods are made.
To me, it’s really no different than supporting local farmers and producers when shopping for groceries, yet somehow shopping at farmers’ markets isn’t considered a statement of political affiliation – indeed, many people consider it vital to their health!
If you’re concerned that by pledging to “Buy American” I’m picking a political “side,” I appreciate your concern and feedback (truly!).
But I can assure you that’s not at all where I’m coming from at all.
My vision is to help bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. I do this by helping small, family-owned manufacturers grow through marketing – and by buying American whenever possible.
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