As hardware retailers continue to look for ways to increase sales in a down economy, some have found a niche market in “Made in the USA” products.
With consumers keenly aware of the nation’s unemployment rate (currently at 9.4%) and motivated by value in their purchasing decisions, some retailers are reporting a growing number of consumers who are looking for American-made products.
To meet that demand, retailers like Beaumont, Texas-based M&D Supply are requesting more “Made in America” signage from American manufacturers. What they can’t get from the manufacturer, they supply themselves.
The 37,000-sq.-ft. retailer has begun labeling its domestically manufactured products throughout the store with “Made in the USA.”
For purchasing manager Aaron Hagan, the move is a sign of the times.
“It seems like it becomes more important when times are tough, and we as a nation realize how little we are producing domestically,” he said. “We should always be looking to support those domestic manufacturers. Unfortunately that’s not always the case.”
But Hagan isn’t looking to stock just any products with a USA stamp on them. For them to offer any value to his customer, they still must have the right price point.
“If you’re competitively priced and you’re made in America, people are going to pick that up as opposed to the imported counterpart,” he said. “We can’t stock our shelves with domestic product if it’s going to be overpriced and price ourselves out of business.”
The store has been looking to increase its domestically made offerings, and has cited good relations with companies like Bully Tools and Lupine pet products. He said they’re even looking to take on an American-based chain manufacturer, which would mean purchasing American-made steel.
“We’re trying to put America back to work,” Hagan said. “If we can buy it and make sure somebody else has a job, that’s just the best thing that we can do.”
M&D isn’t the only company looking to include in-store signage to point its customers to American-made products. Tony Esposito of Wallingford, Vt.-based Nail it Down Hardware is also looking to emphasize its American-made products. Esposito already has identified approximately 40% of his inventory as domestically manufactured.
“In a way that’s sad, but that’s pretty darn good too,” he said.
Esposito said most of those products are paints, chemicals and cleaners.
Upon ordering miniature flags to use as signage, Esposito ran into a moral dilemma. All of the flags he found online were made in China.
“It’s amazing how many American flags are made in China,” he said.
Luckily, Esposito was able to find a local Vermont distributor that carried American flags manufactured in Kansas City, Mo.
Nail it Down is just one of many Vermont retailers that are working toward providing more domestically and locally produced products. Esposito pointed to a local radio station that dedicates time slots to promoting companies that sell or produce local and American-made products.
“The whole region is trying to promote American-made. Buy local, support American-made, etc.,” he said. “I guess people are becoming more aware of it. We’re seeing it in the newspapers as well.”
The local movement aside, Esposito sees the drive for American-made products as more of a national initiative. He said he’s noticed more national advertisements touting American-made products as well.
“It’s grassroots in communities like Vermont, but I have friends in New Jersey who are doing the same thing,” he said.
There are other ways to promote U.S.-made products. Karp’s Hardware of East Northport, N.Y., relies more on product placement to sell American-made products.
Alan Talman, owner of the Long Island Do it Best retailer, uses his Channellock assortment as a key example. Talman said that he places his Channellock line at the customer’s eye level, while placing his lower-end import lines below, with mid-range imports above.
“So you have to bend down to reach the import line, whereas you’re looking at the Channellock line. So it’s a little bit subtle,” he said.
Talman said his key customer base is professional contractors, and having the higher quality, American-made tool at eye level is usually enough.
The increased demand for domestically manufactured product has been significant over the past two years, but Talman said he’s seen the trend growing steadily for at least the past six or seven years.
“We get customers who ask, ‘Why can’t I get American-made nails, or why can’t I get an American-made screwdriver?’ So we show them, yes you can,” he said.
Talman said he’s noticed that quality has always been a motivator to buy American over imported brands, especially in hardware. He thinks the difference now is that people are buying American-made products because they’re also looking to buy local products. And the more local, the better, he said.