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Retailers offer their thoughts on American-made products

AMID RISING COSTS OF RAW MATERIALS AND INTERNATIONAL DISTRIBUTION CHALLENGES, "MADE IN AMERICA" BECAME A TRENDING TOPIC AT LAST MONTH'S HIGH POINT MARKET.
     Of course, most U.S. retailers prefer to stock their stores with American-made products when possible, but a plodding economy limits that possibility for many. Retailers have square footage to fill, and oft en the most efficient way to do that is to purchase imported goods at lower price points. Sound business decisions aren't always the most patriotic ones, unfortunately.
     It's hard to say if Made in America will make a comeback. Right now, the concept is more romantic than practical.
     "Idealistically, Americans would like to buy Americanmade because it's patriotic, but the reality is we didn't send it all overseas overnight, and it's not coming back overnight," said Kathy Lorenzo of Southern Wicker and Interiors, Birmingham, Ala. "Even if the American public wants an American-made product in furniture, we're not set up to do it. We've created the problems, and we would have to develop within the country a whole new craft smen scenario. I think it's a long-term proposition."
     Still, retailers like Pat Valle and Kathee Radford of Wall Nutts in Marietta, Ga., walked the High Point Market with American-made on their shopping lists.
     "I am definitely more interested in Made in America (than before)," Valle said. "We have been asking every manufacturer where (their product) is made. I realize it is more expensive, but if it's in the ballpark of what we want to pay, we'll look for Made in America."
     "Sometimes it is hard to find products that are made in America," Radford said. "For example, silk plants made in America are very hard to find."
     Linda Greene of Furnishings 411, Greensboro, N.C., thinks Made in America would benefit if the High Point Market dedicated space exclusively to the concept.
     "I look for Made in America every year," Greene said. "I wish there was a building here that carried nothing but Made in America, and I've talked to retailers and buyers who love that idea."

“ When I want a good, quality product, I want Made in America. But if I’m just looking to fill space, then I’ll buy (products) made in other countries.”

Brenda Fraser
Cornerstone Interiors, High Point, N.C.

Brenda Fraser
Linda Greene“ I wish there was a building here that carried nothing but Made in America, and I’ve talked to retailers and buyers who love that idea.”

Linda Greene
Furnishings 411, Greensboro, N.C.

“ I think because of the economy, people are seeing how we are getting affected and want Made in America. Just the other day, we had a customer come in and and specifically request it.”

Kathee Radford
Wall Nutts, Marietta, Ga.

Kathee Radford

Price points versus patriotism
     Ultimately, however, the Made in America concept needs to experience greater demand before it can claim a larger percentage of a retailer's floor space. Many customers are still hurting, so they are showing more interest in a product's construction quality and longevity than where it was made. In other words, value is paramount.
     "I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but I haven't had the customer influx for Americanmade because I've found that customers are continuing to look for value," Lorenzo said. "Now if we can get value back in this country, my customers would be thrilled. But until my customer wants me to pursue (Made in America), I'm going to look for value, whimsy, color and comfort in every product I purchase."
     Some retailers are playing tug-of-war with themselves, weighing the costs and benefits of a feel-good decision versus a more economical one.
     "When I want a good, quality product, I want Made in America," said Brenda Fraser, Cornerstone Interiors, High Point, N.C. "But if I'm just looking to fill space, then I'll buy (products) made in other countries."
     Although lower price points are still driving the market, retailers recognize the potential selling power of Made in America.
     "I think because of the economy, people are seeing how we are getting affected and want (products) Made in America," Radford said. "Just the other day, we had a customer come in and specifically request it."
     "As retailers and wholesalers, we're looking for a handle," Lorenzo said. "We're all looking for that little morsel that says, ‘Wow, this is the hook.' But overall, we don't have the backing to support Made in America (as that handle)."
     At this stage, Made in America is a definitive underdog, but the good news is that this country loves the underdog. Likewise, the casual industry is rooting for domestic production to rally back.
     Greene referred to an importer she knew of that couldn't get its containers sent in time to show at High Point. The instance provided more evidence of the need for domestic manufacturers. "I think it's going to come back," Greene said. "I just think a little bit at a time, it will come back."

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