According to retailers and market vendors from across the spectrum, consumers are increasingly responsive to the “Made in USA” message. What’s firing this trend? Possible explanations include continued fallout from the recent recession as well as changes to the global economy, both of which provide opportunities for market sellers everywhere.
What is Made in USA?
According to the Federal Trade Commission, a product can be labeled as “Made in America” if at least 75 percent of the finished product is “US content,” including parts and labor, based on the cost of the goods sold. The product must also be final-assembled in America. It seems straightforward, but this can lead to some confusing situations. For example, many of Toyota’s cars, which are manufactured and assembled in the United States, are more “American” than Ford’s cars, even though Toyota is a foreign-owned corporation.
To keep things straight, organizations like the Made in the USA Foundation and activists like Roger Simmermaker, author of How Americans Can Buy American, became active in identifying American-made products. “When it comes to buying American, I tell people to start with the smaller items,” advises Simmermaker. “I also advocate buying American-made products from American companies, which can be harder than you think. Swiss Miss is American, and Carnation is owned by the Swiss.”
It may sound confusing, but it’s not impossible to find American products. Simmermaker publishes a popular retail e-guide that connects buyers with manufacturers of American-made products, while the Made in the USA Foundation runs a large certification and labeling program.
Joel D. Joseph, chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation, says that virtually any product can be sourced in America, and there are more and more resources to help retailers locate America-made products. “We have people asking us for American suppliers,” Joseph says, “and 99 percent of the products we look for, we can find something.” There are, however, a few industries where it can be harder to source American. Top among these is electronics, which tend to be dominated by Asian manufacturers. Apparel is another. The US apparel industry moved overseas in mass numbers decades ago, seeking cheap labor.
A major perception hurting American-made products is many people just assume American-made products are more expensive. This might have been true in the 1980s, but it’s much less true today, say both experts. Why has this changed? First, wages in manufacturing countries like China and India have risen at the same time American wages have stagnated (once adjusted for inflation). Second, shipping costs have increased along with the price of oil, so every overseas product has a shipping surcharge built into its price. The result is that American products are competitively priced in many industries.
Intangible benefits of buying American
There are currently no numbers on the size of the Made in America market, but there are still plenty of obvious benefits for market sellers to feature American products. The most obvious is supporting the American middle and manufacturing class, especially younger people, who suffered the worst during the recession of 2008-2009. “It used to be that Americans 60 and over preferred American-made products,” Joseph says. “But now we’re finding that males age 18–30 are the strongest supporters of buying American. We think it’s because they came to the realization that if people don’t buy American, they won’t have a job.”
In 2013, the unemployment rate for men aged 25 to 34 was 9.2 percent. For adults aged 18 to 24 without a bachelor’s degree, the unemployment rate was a staggering 19.7 percent. Considering that about two-thirds of the economy is consumer spending, it’s clear that ordinary Americans choosing to buy American-made products directly benefits American workers.
Buying American is also better for the environment. The carbon footprint associated with American-made products is much smaller than it is for comparable products that have to be shipped across the world. No matter your opinion on climate change, companies and countries are looking to reduce their carbon footprint, especially in light of international proposals like “cap and trade” that would make it more expensive to have a larger carbon footprint.
Global manufacturing companies operating overseas are also coming under increased scrutiny for their vendors’ working conditions. Companies including Nike, Walmart, Sears, Disney and Apple have all been criticized for hiring overseas vendors that operate unsafe factories, or treat their employees unfairly.
With growing interest and availability of American-made products, the question becomes, how can market vendors benefit the most? The first task is to stock American-made products, and then let shoppers know. The Made in the USA Foundation and other advocacy groups can help. A $50 membership buys you two door signs that proclaim, “We stock American-made products.” You’ll also get shelf tags to help identify specific products, as well as a listing on the organization’s website identifying you as a source of American-made products.
Other organizations certifying American-made include the American Made Matters group, launched by the Bollman Hat Company. Located in Pennsylvania, Bollman operates the oldest and largest hat-making factory in the United States, says company president and CEO Bon Rongione. According to Rongione, American Made Matters was launched to help educate consumers about the powerful benefits of supporting US companies.
On American Made Matters Day, November 19, the organization hosts events in conjunction with its 300 partners and network of ambassadors. “We ask everybody that day to buy one American-made product,” Rongione relates. “Our ambassadors will be conducting tours of American factories, holding talks, and hosting events about why it’s important to strengthen the country, reduce our environmental impact, and obviously provide jobs.”
Products that meet the American Made Matters criteria can display the American Made Matters logo. This means that at least 50 percent of a product’s final cost is derived from American products or labor, and that the product is final-assembled in the Untied States. This standard is a little lower than the FTC definition of 75 percent American products and labor, but Rongione says there’s a reason for it: apparel has been one of the hardest hit sectors of the economy, so every little bit helps. “We wanted to create a standard that was easier to comply with, and make it possible for manufacturers to meet it and increase demand,” he advises. “We hope it will grow from there.”
For more information on the Made In The USA Foundation, visit www.madeusafdn.org or to find the American Made Matters, visit www.americanmadematters.com.