Made in USA Makes a Comeback
Buying local has become a huge deal. Grocery chains have special displays of local meat and produce, restaurants specialize in “farm to table,” you can get beer from a microbrew down the road, and on a national level the same goes with a growing number of USA-made paints and sundries. The combination of buying domestically manufactured products at a local dealer can make for a very special shopping trip! As Made in USA products are gaining ground, Made in USA labels (and hopefully those labels are made in USA) are getting bigger, sometimes bigger than the product name itself. These manufactures don’t want to miss the customer that values home grown tools.
The concept has come to represent more than a label and a product on a shelf—it’s become a rally point and even a fix-it point, in that many of the issues plaguing workers and communities in this country can look to a better future because of pride in that label. People are willing to pay more for it, and it might even be that opportunity to get price shoppers to include more factors than just dollars and cents in their decision-making process.
This combo of a local business selling products Made in the USA is a double whammy that can work to your advantage while helping the community where you live—along with the community where the product is made. This article explores how and why a few companies make their products in this country, and the positive impact this has on its dealers, employees, and also its
The Wooster Brush Company, Wooster, Ohio
“Manufacturing our tools just rooms away from our shipping department means those tools find their way into painters’ hands sooner.”
The Wooster Brush Company has been manufacturing in the USA since its founding in 1851; the city itself dates from 1808. There’s been a lot of history since, of course. Tim Yates, the company’s Communications and Multimedia Manager, points to a recent change in the importance of manufacturing and selling domestic product, especially since the economic downturn a decade back. One thing that just about everyone agrees on in this country—2008 was problematic.
“Making tools in the USA is certainly more important now than it was 20 years ago,” said Yates. “The financial crisis that began in 2008 placed companies who weren’t manufacturing their goods domestically under a microscope.” Buying USA products during those hard times made people feel they were helping their own. “During that downturn, many painters voiced to us that by purchasing an American-made Wooster tool, they knew they were helping other Americans turn around our own financial crisis. As a fitting example, The Wooster Brush Company’s American Contractor® line of roller covers launched during that period has experienced great success as a value-based, made-in-America paint applicator.”
What, No Airport Meals?
No doubt you can make quality products almost anywhere in the world, but if your company is based in this country, it’s harder to maintain oversight when it takes 27 hours and three airports just to get to your city of manufacture. “Domestic manufacturing allows us to control and/or improve the quality of a product at every level from start to finish,” Tim noted, adding that many of the elements that become parts of finished products are also made on site. “Ferrules are produced and inspected rooms away from where brushes will be assembled. Roller cores are made, plastics are molded, trays are stamped out of metal, and even product packaging artwork is created and printed all under Wooster’s roof in Wooster, Ohio,” he said.
This all makes it faster to get to market. No shipping containers to unload, no waiting at port for the latest painting tool. “Manufacturing our tools just rooms away from our shipping department means those tools find their way into painters’ hands sooner,” said Yates.
Yates believes that being a national company in a small town is a big plus, both for Wooster Brush itself and the city of Wooster, Ohio. It’s a big part of the city’s identity, and it puts a lot of people to work. “Much like our company, the city of Wooster continues to grow,” said Yates. “In 2016, the population of our namesake city was a little over 27,000. The Wooster Brush Company’s 600+ employees account for approximately 2% of the local population. Within and beyond our community, the company is viewed as a great employer for people wanting stable employment that can help support area families.” And it is known for keeping people around. “Wooster Brush recently had a 17th employee hit his 50-years of service milestone and the company also hasn’t issued any employee layoffs in 65 years. Wooster Brush is also very involved with city initiatives and area schools,” he concluded.
Occasionally, however, overseas products make sense, and after all we do live here as part of a whole wide world. We can complain that a trip from New York to Hawaii takes a whole day, but in the 19th Century, it could take months, so the world is in many ways smaller than before. “Some customers wish to stock import-level product for maintenance-level painting projects. To stay competitive with products at that cost/quality level, the company produces and/or purchases some tools overseas,” said Yates.
Bringin’ it Home
This is all well and good, but what’s weller and gooder is when it helps your store’s economy too. As pride in home made products grows, it makes more sense to feature them prominently. “Our sales force regularly reports back from visits with store personnel and painters in the field on how they are grateful to have made-in-America tools that provide quality results,” said Yates. “We also hear from stores and painters who went the other way and purchased tools made overseas to save money and then weren’t as satisfied as they’d hoped they’d be.”
While most people see 2008 as a turning point in their lives and economies, it turned people on to the importance of Made in the USA products, even if they cost a bit more. Now a decade later, the concept is still growing in popularity, so let people know you’ve got ’em! “Don’t be afraid to lean into this idea—make a red, white, and blue endcap featuring your location’s favorite Made in USA tools,” Tim urges. “Some of our salesmen have made American flag tags that attach to a peg hook’s scan tag area—this helps customers realize immediately which items in a store are made domestically.” woosterbrush.com
Armstrong-Clark Company, Sonora, California
“People are starting to understand that being made in the USA may cost a little more, but it supports jobs in our towns and cities.”
Armstrong-Clark makes exterior wood stains, and as a coatings manufacturer, producing it here isn’t unusual. But company president Brian Carter believes that there’s a lot more to come out of it than just “making it here.” There’s a sense of community that radiates out from there, and that kind of emotion can carry a long way these days, and quickly. “I think some of why people are looking more at Made in the USA is they are starting to realize the impact that buying non-USA manufactured goods is having on their community,” said Carter. “Twenty or thirty years ago manufacturing was just really starting to move out of the country. As this happened in dribs and drabs, most people didn’t pay much attention when a factory in some other community went south or overseas.”
This slow drip had a big impact, and just like that small unattended faucet drip can turn into a big plumbing problem, many individuals and communities didn’t discern the damage and face the consequences until it was too late.
“People are starting to understand that being made in the USA may cost a little more, but it supports jobs in our towns and cities,” Carter continues. “The incomes from those jobs is used to buy goods in our communities which further perpetuates jobs and tax revenues that we benefit from.” Now, in times of an economic resurgence, Carter notes that many people have money to spend on a quality product rather than getting the cheapest thing they can—which in times of financial hardship might not always be choice as much as necessity. “Products made in the USA have a long-standing history of quality,” he said.
You have a nod on top of all this, because as an independent retailer, you’re that local business selling those domestic products. What’s to lose? Carter himself will give that nod to buying from a locally owned business first, if given a choice. Even if (gasp!) it costs a bit more! “I know that when I buy from them, they are keeping that money here in my community to give jobs to neighbors who purchase from stores throughout our town. This really is important to us,” he said. “If I buy from a large store that profit is going somewhere else.”
There’s no You-S-A Without “You”.
While it’s not surprising that Armstrong-Clark’s product is Made in the USA, there is still a lot of “small and local” that affects his company’s growth, perhaps even your decision to consider stocking products such as this. “There are two major dynamics that are driving our growth that are indirectly a result of the bigger global picture,” said Carter.” The first is that we are still a family owned business. We don’t have stockholders to keep happy and so we don’t have to make decisions on how to continually manufacture a high-quality product based on what our stock price is. We don’t have layers of management that muddy the decision-making process. If our customers call us we answer the phone. We don’t have automated voice menus to surf through to get an answer to a question. Customers love that they can talk to real people, here in the USA. You cannot get that kind of service with a large global company.”
Next is where you come in, because this product is sold through independent paint and hardware stores. “In general I think people have learned that if they want a correct answer, with insight and understanding, they need to speak to someone who knows what they are talking about. I think the smaller independent stores are more successful because they are independently owned and therefore have less turnover, at least at a managerial level, than big box stores and global brands,” said Carter.
“I also think independents are more tied into their communities,” he continued. “How does the local store of a global company get involved in a community when the regional manager or director lives two states away and he is taking direction from someone in an office on the other side of the country? Yes the big companies donate materials and money to the local community, but I don’t know that the people in that community have the personal connection they have with the independent store owner or manager that donates as well.” armclark.com
Warner Tool, Plymouth, Minnesota
“Warner’s emphasis on domestic manufacturing allows us to be more responsive and less vulnerable to these fluctuations.”
People are watching, notes Keith Herwig, CEO at Warner Tool. Some of it’s emotional, some of it’s quality control, some of it’s definitely politics, but there are definitely some eyes out looking for a flag on the label. Herwig, whose company makes its tools stateside whenever it can, tells us he’s seen an increased importance put on domestically made products. According to Perception Research Services, he quotes that four out of five shoppers notice ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ claims on packaging, and 76% of those shoppers claim that they are more likely to purchase a product after noticing the ‘Made in the U.S.A’ claim.
Both contactors and end consumers have expressed a greater desire to purchase products made in America, he pointed out. “This provides you a real opportunity to differentiate your offerings and appeal to the desire to support jobs in America.”
With all sorts of issues going on in the world, it helps to just do it here rather than get a whole bunch of countries involved simply in getting a product to the border. If you’ve farmed out your production to the Klingons or the Romulans and an interplanetary conflict starts up yet one more time, then what? “Over the past few years we have seen many issues impact the U.S. economy, from labor strikes in the ports, to shortages of shipping containers, to the more recent efforts to normalize trading through the imposition of tariffs,” said Herwig. “All of these disrupt the supply chains for dealers and other retailers trying to get products for their customers. Warner’s emphasis on domestic manufacturing allows us to be more responsive and less vulnerable to these fluctuations.”
Make it Local, Buy it Local
There is an impact beyond just price that carries over into your store; when you choose to stock products made in this country, your decision is also helping keep jobs in this country. “The local impact is substantial when you consider the immediate Warner team members and their families,” Keith told us. “From there the suppliers of raw materials, equipment, transportation… there are a significant number of people impacted when the entire population of people and companies are considered.”
Plus, the staff at Warner enjoys being part of a company that does this. “We love being close to the customer and being able to take those insights directly into our engineering and manufacturing teams to help our dealers and end users,” said Herwig. “Over our 91+ years in business, we have traveled all around the world and seen many manufacturers in operation, we know that our investments in our capabilities allow us to compete in the global market, while delivering products that excel in helping customers achieve professional results.”
Flag Down Your Customers
Warner’s dealers have reported a positive response when they highlight products that are Made in USA, and Herwig pointed up some easy ways to bring this to your customers’ eyes. “Some dealers will add small flags to the display or find other ways to bring attention to products that are manufactured domestically,” he said. Or customers may just ask. “Some consumers will ask specifically for Made in USA options while other express a sense of pride when they know they have purchased a domestically manufactured product.”
Like most companies, however, including his—and including yours—bottom line matters, so if you can leverage this for more sales, that’s perhaps the most encouraging factor of all. American holidays are often a great time for that extra punch. “In addition to what is mentioned above, some dealers will do special flyers or in-store promotions around specific holidays that naturally bring out patriotic themes such as Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Veterans Day. Warner also supports the national campaign to increase the visibility of Made in the USA products by using a mark that is easily identified and licensed by many vendors across industries [pictured above]. See www.madeintheusabrand.com for more information about the program,” said Herwig. “Warner is proud to be a USA manufacturing company that provides jobs and opportunities for its team members.” warnertool.com
Peel-Tek, Bastrop, Texas
“Made in USA is the only way to achieve the quality that we must have for this particular product.”
Peel-Tek 150® is a temporary protective liquid masking surface coating designed to use in place of or in conjunction with painter’s tape. The product is made in America, and as far as they know, not made anywhere else. “This product at this quality is not available outside of USA that we know of,” said Scott Halbert, company owner and president. In fact, he continues, Peel-Tek 150 shows American ingenuity at work. “Peel-Tek is unique in that no one that we know of has ever developed a product like this that can do what it does. Focus has always been on trying to reengineer tape to meet the painter’s need instead of thinking outside the box and using a liquid product, which often makes more sense.”
Making it here makes the difference, he believes. “It is paramount to quality control and performance of the product. We have tried lesser manufacturing companies and they just don’t work, so for us, Made in USA is the only way to achieve the quality that we must have for this particular product. The Made in USA claim is very important in today’s economy, given all of the issues going on in the world regarding trade, etc. I believe it lets people know that we care about our country.” peel-tek.com
Just like low-odor paint was once a novelty, Made in USA is turning the corner. Think of it this way: you might go to a restaurant for “home made pies,” but how often will you take your out of town guests out for frozen pies shipped in? We used to take Made in USA for granted, but now it’s almost got that comfy “home made” feeling. Slowly, our food chain is changing. You might say people are starting to “buy healthier.” peel-tek.com
Corona Brushes, Tampa, Florida
contributed by Ben Waksman
“In an age where these traditions are largely lost or forgotten, we have not forgotten.”
At Corona, “Hand Made In USA” is more than just a phrase. It is a truth that we display proudly and prominently on our packaging on each and every brush and roller. We believe that the combination of the Corona brand and “Hand Made in the USA” on our packaging tells a powerful story. We are a fourth-generation family company. We started in Cuba, but left it all behind in 1961 to escape communist domination and begin anew in Tampa, FL, where we have been ever since.
We are immigrants ourselves and we employ many people who immigrated to this country. We are proud to be Americans and we take equal pride in manufacturing products here in America. We have always featured that aspect in our packaging because we think it is important. We may all come from somewhere else but once here, we are Americans.
In an age where these traditions are largely lost or forgotten, we have not forgotten. We still carefully build our products by hand, using methods and recipes created over four generations.
We do it to create better working tools that provide painters more efficient applicators. Brushes and rollers that, from the first use, provide superior coverage because they pick up more paint and release it evenly and smoothly with every stroke and every roll.
We opt for the best materials. Many are sourced in the U.S. For example, the DuPont solid, round, tapered synthetic filaments, our stainless-steel ferrules, and most of our roller fabrics, tubes, and more are all sourced in the USA. We do go overseas for materials when we need to, for example, the natural hog bristles from China or some of our roller fabrics. But the important thing is that all the materials undergo a special Corona process in our Tampa plant to become efficient painting tools for the professional the discerning DIY painter.
In the end, painters are looking for tools that work. If a good brush or roller is made overseas, the painter will buy that. Our job at Corona is to continue to work hard and create tools that make a painter’s work easier to do better in less time, so the painter will continue to count on Corona. coronabrushes.com