From Saddle Brook, N.J., to Garden Grove, Calif., factories in the United States are turning out products to be used in or around the home. On the following pages, Home Channel News editors profile a diverse collection of domestic home channel manufacturers.
The companies here have many things in common. They unanimously face competition from low-cost imports. They believe their U.S. operations offer an advantage in quality control. And they report a rise in awareness of the “Made in the USA” label.
Here are their stories.
1) Arrow Fastener
Saddle brook, N.J.-based Arrow Fastener not only makes its iconic, chrome-plated T50 staple guns (pictured) in the Garden State, it also makes the staples in the same building.
That’s an important part of Arrow’s “Made in the USA” story, according to president Gary Duboff.
“The tolerances on our tools and our staples is very exacting — thousandths of an inch,” he said. Too much play in the magazine would lead to wiggles and jams. “Controlling the manufacturing process really allows us to offer a higher quality product across the board.”
Arrow has been telling that story since 1929. In those 81 years, the company has learned that a “Made in the USA” label has to be backed by value to score with customers. “We’ve done our research,” Duboff said.
Arrow has also learned that speed to market is an advantage for the domestic manufacturer.
Duboff said it’s difficult to measure the impact on sales of a Made in the USA label, but he believes it’s important to the Arrow brand. “We believe that keeping a substantial manufacturing presence here really instills a sense of reliability in the minds of the people who use our tools.”
2) Bully tools
Steubenville, OHio — Chinese manufacturers had better be wary of Mark Gracy — he wants to take their jobs and give them to Americans.
As the president of Bully Tools, Gracy’s face adorns the company’s latest ad campaign, which features a cardboard cutout of a Chinese businessman holding a photo of Gracy, labeled “Chinese enemy #1.” The faux-businessman’s message is clear: “Boycott Bully Tools, this man is stealing our jobs.”
Gracy said the campaign has been very well received at trade shows, where his main obstacle is attracting retailers who walk the show floor.
“People walk by with blinders on. We’re trying to get their attention,” he said.
It must be working. The company has recently increased its product line to about 230 items. According to Gracy, last year sales were up 360% in this new product category. Based on sales already booked for this year, the company is on track for a minimum of 100% growth in 2011.
But it’s not just American retailers who have taken notice. Gracy recounted an encounter with a Chinese manufacturer from the import section at a recent Do it Best show.
“He saw that and busted out laughing. Then he came real close to me and said, ‘Last week we closed a factory, that’s your fault,’ ” Gracy said. “He got what we were trying to do with it, and he wasn’t offended.”
Aside from stealing Chinese jobs, Bully’s marketing also strays from traditional Made in America signage by instead stressing that they are “100% American Made.”
Gracy himself hasn’t been able to nail down exactly what constitutes “Made in America” and what does not, and feels that some manufacturers have been a bit aloof with their Made in the USA marketing. Gracy said the result is a public perception where Made in America might only mean the product was assembled here, or that only certain components are made here.
At the end of the day, Gracy doesn’t think where his products are made are their biggest selling point, but rather their quality and price that ultimately makes customers choose Bully Tools over its competitors.
“I strongly believe people are not buying my product because it’s American-made. That’s what get’s their attention; it doesn’t give them the buying intent. You still have to give them compelling reasons to buy. You have to give them value,” he said.
3) Maze Nails
Peru, Ill. — Maze Nails bills itself as “one of America’s last nail makers.” It produces 100% of its nails in Peru, Ill., and president Roelif Loveland, a fifth-generation descendent of founder Samuel Nesbitt Maze, delivers this message to customers on the company’s Web page:
“It’s great to find nails that won’t bend when you drive them — nails whose heads don’t pop off — and exterior nails that give decades of trouble-free and rust-free service. That’s the benefit of buying American nails.”
But the problems caused by imported fasteners go beyond having to run for a pair of pliers to yank out a cheap nail, according to Loveland. He sees the trade imbalance with China as having “immensely damaging effects” on the United States, in terms of dwindling jobs and the loss of our nation’s own manufacturing base.
The “Buy American” provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has helped a number of U.S.-based companies, particularly in construction projects.
“The ARRA has helped to get a good amount of Maze Nails specified and used on government projects using stimulus money,” Loveland told Home Channel News. “It has also helped to introduce our products to many buyers who may not have realized that there are still a few healthy, domestic nail producers left in the U.S.”
These mandates may cause a bump in revenues, but customers will return to their favorite products. “The ‘Made in the USA’ aspect only goes so far,” said Tom Koch, sales manager for Maze Nails. “You must also have superior quality to differentiate your product from the imports. We’ve heard many buyers say, ‘Your prices are just too high,’ but we hear far more often from the guy actually swinging the hammer in the field who says, ‘Keep on doing what you’re doing, I’m tired of the poor quality of so many of the import nails.’ ”
Sheboygan Falls, Wis. — When toilet seat manufacturer Bemis asks customers about their priorities, consumers list “seat stability” as No. 1. Other concerns, such as hygiene and styling, outrank where the product was manufactured.
But Bemis doesn’t just sell to homeowners through the big retailers and hardware stores. The 110-year-old company, headquartered in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., does a lot of business with wholesale plumbing suppliers. Plumbing contractors and other trade professionals are a big part of its customer base.
“Many of these trades are union heavy,” said Bob Davis, director of business development for Bemis. They tend to support companies that don’t send jobs overseas to save on labor costs, and Bemis emphasizes this in its ads in plumbing trade magazines.
But union loyalty is only part of the story.
“The union guys still believe in the ‘Made in the USA’ quality,” Davis said. “That’s what we hear in our ‘voice of the consumer’ [surveys] with plumbers.”
Bemis makes two types of toilet seats, wood (compression molded) and plastic (injected molded). The company manufactures under several other labels, but Bemis is its flagship brand. The company CEO, Peter Bemis, is the fourth-generation executive to run the company, which now employs 1,600 people.
5) Flame Engineering
LaCrosse, Kan.-based Flame Engineering has been manufacturing flamers, torches and all sorts of propane-powered burning tools under its Red Dragon brand in America since the company was founded in 1959. Now celebrating 50 years in the business, the company reports annual sales of about $6 million and employs about 30 workers.
While its roots have remained local, its reach has gone global. Aside from the company’s U.S.-based customers, its distribution reaches Canada, Mexico, South America, Australia, Great Britain and even Belgium.
And it’s growing. Jason Pivonka, VP of Flame Engineering, said he receives about three new inquires per week from international customers.
The company has seen an increase in import competition over the past 10 to 15 years. Pivonka said that while the cheaper price point of those items may initially intrigue customers, he receives a lot of customer complaints about the quality and safety of imported flamers.
“They don’t want to take the chance of getting burnt or hurt terribly, so they look for a quality product, for somebody like us that’s been in the marketplace for well over 50 years,” he said. “They want gas tight connections. They don’t want propane spewing everywhere.”
In May 2000 the company received the OSHA Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) recognition and has spent the past 10 years working to improve its safety and health management program. Since then, the company has celebrated nine and a half years of no loss-time accidents.
6) The Monkey Hook
Garden Grove, Calif. — The Monkey Hook twists into a wall to hang pictures or artwork when there’s no stud to hold a nail. Not only is the small wire product made entirely in Garden Grove, Calif., but it’s packaged and distributed in the nearby Elwyn facility in Fountain Valley — a non-profit organization that helps find jobs for handicapped Americans.
The product is in distribution in more than 30,000 stores in the United States and Canada, and other than a “Made in the USA” logo on the packages, hasn’t relied heavily on the patriotism factor. Founder David Kurrasch said it hasn’t had to. For Monkey Hook the domestic manufacturing strategy is more a matter of management than marketing.
“It works for us, and we leverage the fact that we get things done faster for our customers than other people,” Kurrasch said.
Kurrasch said he is only about an hour away from all of his key vendors, including wire former Cove West. That’s a big difference from overseas sourcing, where the time differences alone create communication problems.
“When we put our order in, we have our hooks the next day,” he said, an arrangement that would be “totally impossible” with an overseas supplier. The alternative for Monkey Hook is not attractive, “unless I wanted to order very large quantities, pay for them in advance and sit on them for a year, which for a small company like ours is a problem.”
The feel-good story really begins at the packaging stage, where a relationship with Elwyn provides steady employment to handicapped Americans. “They love us and we love them,” Kurrasch said.
Meanwhile, like others he sees a tide slowly gaining for Made in the USA.
Cleveland, Tenn. — Cleveland Tubing manufactures Flex-Drain drainage pipe right here in the United States, but nowhere near Lake Erie.
It’s actually Cleveland, Tenn., where the factory churns out the flexible drainage pipe. Geography and the company’s Southeast location is a big part of its domestic-manufacturing model, according to Dave Polisky, marketing manager.
“About 80% of all the drain pipe used in the U.S. is within 500 miles of our plant,” he said. “So we’re positioned in the area where we can serve our customers best.”
In addition to product features (it bends, it stretches, it holds its shape), the company has several supplemental stories to tell potential retail customers. It’s a company rooted in a small town, with small town values. It’s also a female-owned company — Cathy Boettner bought the business from her family and continues to run it day to day. And of course, it’s a Made in the USA company.
“We know we get a boost from being Made in the USA,” Polisky said. “Though we can’t really quantify it, it’s in the top three questions when we reach out to new customers.”
The plastic tubing makes sense to manufacture domestically, he said. “We’re here to stay,” he added.
8) Wooster Brush Co.
Wooster, Ohio — Few companies can claim a longer tenure as a “Made in the USA” manufacturer than Wooster Brush — operating out of Wooster, Ohio, since 1851. The company’s biggest sellers are its ultra pro paintbrush and super fab rollers.
“Retailers are appreciative of the fact that we continue to make our products domestically,” said Scott Rutledge, VP marketing for Wooster Brush. “That’s not the primary criteria they use to select their supplier. They engaged in competition, and they have businesses to run. But it’s gaining.”
He pointed to the example of a store in Dayton, Ohio, that sold only products Made in the USA as one manifestation of the trend.
In the global village, it’s increasingly difficult, he said, to qualify for that “Made in the USA” label for all products. “Though all of our products are designed, made and assembled here, there are still some components that are hard to get here.” For instance, it’s getting harder to find domestic producers of wooden handles, for one thing.
The company harbors no interest, however, in following that trend to overseas factories.
“We’re a 160-year-old company that has been able to change with the times, innovate, and bring new products to market and still maintain a manufacturing base in the United States,” he said. “We want to keep our 560-plus employees busy here; we feel a responsibility to our employees and their families.”
9) Zoeller Co.
Louisville, Ky. — Nothing much sexy about sump pumps, but that doesn’t eliminate a company’s bragging rights. Take Zoeller Co. of Louisville, Ky., which states: “Our submersible pumps are 100% factory tested underwater for dependability from the instant they’re plugged in.”
Could company president John Zoeller still say that if his pumps were made in Guangzhou?
“We would not be able to control the manufacturing process and our quality processes nearly as tightly if we were operating in China or elsewhere,” Zoeller said.
Founded in 1939, Zoeller Co. is the oldest independently owned U.S. pump manufacturer in the United States. The firm also makes municipal water and sewage systems. It uses cast iron as a raw material, which is sourced in Ohio and Indiana. Many of its competitors chose to source, and assemble, offshore.
“We like to support other U.S. manufacturers, and we have great relationships with our domestic suppliers,” Zoeller said.
Offshore suppliers also get in the way of innovation and design, according to Zoeller. But when push comes to shove, it’s the delivery of goods — when and where customers need them — that makes the difference.
The supply chain and control advantages aren’t the only things keeping the family operation in Louisville. “We make it a priority to keep our product made in the U.S. because we think it is the right thing to do,” Zoeller said.