The American-made comeback has strengthened with criticisms of foreign-made products making headlines; Team USA's 2012 Summer Olympics uniforms being made in China or last year's garment-factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 people are just two recent examples. Many buyers want U.S.-made products. According to Consumer Reports, 78 percent of consumers would rather buy a U.S.-made product if given the choice, with 60 percent willing to pay more for it.
U.S. manufacturing offers many benefits, such as job creation, safer working conditions and stricter environmental regulations. The increased desire for U.S.-made goods also has promoted some companies to begin "reshoring," or bringing manufacturing back to America, according to the April 22, 2013 TIME magazine article, "Made in the U.S.A." While wages in China and other countries remain lower than those in the U.S., rising shipping costs have made manufacturing in the U.S. more profitable in some instances.
Ahead of this American-made wave, some promotional product suppliers have been manufacturing stateside since their inceptions. Read on to learn not only how to please patriotic customers, but also which U.S.-made benefits can satisfy any client.
Both HumphreyLine, Milwaukie, Ore., and Garyline, Bronx, N.Y., have predominantly U.S.-made product lines. Mel Ellis, HumphreyLine's president, and Scott Denny, Garyline's vice president of sales and marketing, both agree: The demand for "Made in America" is returning.
Some clients want products created on home soil, so HumphreyLine's new multi-line representatives are excited to now have a full line. "It means a lot to them," Ellis said. "Reps spend a lot of time chasing problems. And when they're chasing a problem, they're not making any money [and] they're not getting around to see their customers. It's dead time or negative time for them. And the customer is asking for 'Made in America.'"
Denny insists that even if clients aren't partial to homemade goods, they are won over by their other perks. "They're buying American because they know they can get a good price and delivery when they need it," he said. "That they're proud that it's an American thing, that's maybe a small percentage of it. That they get the stuff and they have a successful event that they couldn't have planned for way, way in advance, that's the story every week."
STAYING TRUE TO RED, WHITE AND BLUE
Garyline made its debut with necktie hangers in 1963, but discontinued them after necktie production moved overseas. The company then switched its business to sports bottles, along with other plastic products that can compete with similar imports. It employs 400 union employees who make 95 percent of its line in its New York factory. Labor-intensive items, such as totes and towels, as well as a few low-cost plastic options are made in China to lower costs.
"If it's cheese, you can pay a lot for cheese because some people love that special, expensive cheese," Denny mentioned, comparing U.S.- and overseas-made goods. "But with most promotional products, if it's comparable in terms of quality and delivery and availability and service level, you have to be competitive [with price]."
HumphreyLine, which created the Humphrey flyer about 60 years ago, offers a variety of plastic and personal care products. It only imports components, such as neoprene, and pen sanitizer spray pumps and barrels—none of which are available domestically. For everything else, 32 workers oversee the automated machinery—which Ellis equates to a second industrial revolution—at its Kentucky-based manufacturing facility.
Relocating production overseas became a topic of conversation among executives about 10 years ago, Ellis, who purchased the company with his wife in 1991, noted. However, his team ultimately opted to stay put in order to maintain control over product quality and service, a decision he vows to never change, especially with recent attention on product safety.
"My conscience is clear," he stated. "And those are things we didn't see 10 years ago when we made the decision not to go overseas. As it turns out, the quality of the product coming from China is uneven to say the least, and unsafe on some occasions, and their accepted work practices would not pass muster in this country."
WHY SELL 'MADE IN THE U.S.A.'?
Ellis enjoys competing with importers and has many stories of overseas orders that went wrong. One distributor prepaid for 35,000 folios from a Chinese factory and received the wrong item less than a week before a client's event. A retailer bought 120,000 bracelets designed for preteen girls that contained significant amounts of cadmium. Those sold had to be recalled and the remaining stock was useless. "I love being able to deliver the product the client wants, done properly, and shipped and completed on time," Ellis said. "So yes, I love competing with imports. It's both from a product-safety perspective and a customer-service perspective."
The quick turnaround is the biggest benefit of buying U.S. made, Denny added. Importers not only have longer ship times, but also do not always have the needed item in stock. "The ability to manufacture here allows us to make whatever is needed," he said. We do orders every day for large quantities that we don't have in stock, and our customer never knows because we mold more while we're preparing the art."
Another reason for choosing American made is the unknown that may come with imports, Ellis noted, citing an importing supplier once received a lip balm order that was not labeled with flavors. "So I asked the national sales manager of this company, 'If you don't know what the flavor is, what else do you not know about the lip balms?' Many distributors would be extremely reluctant to sell anything that goes on the body that is not American-made in origin with our highly sophisticated regulatory apparatus that we have in place," he said.
Even if those foreign-made lip balms cost less, the risk may not be worth it. "Let's say you save a nickel on the lip balm, and you sell 1,000 lip balms," Ellis said. "You save $50, but what is the risk you've exposed yourself to? What if your client does break out in a rash. … What if the SPF isn't 15 and the user gets sunburned at the beach? You're going to hear about that."