After 20 years as a cabinetmaker and now as a sales rep, I have learned what makes an American vs. Import program work: price is an issue, but not the most important issue.
The most important issue in differentiating between the two products is innovation. Americans, as a whole, love inventors. We admire people that see a problem and create a unique solution. The more simplistic the solution, the better.
Innovation can come in many forms: it can be in a product’s performance, customization, quality, shipping, packaging, and even payment.
A company that has seen the light of success through innovation is Century Components. Century is a small Amish company that saw the needs of cabinetmakers for components that were not only American made, but better. The market was flooded with cheap, imported lazy Susans, trash containers, and drawer racks. Every importer was offering the same style, with the same commodity volume approach to pricing. Cabinetmakers were constantly faced with consumers who could buy the same products at big-box stores for half the price they were charging.
In walks Century with several innovations that changed the market. Century offered American-made lazy Susans with solid wood construction and hand-bent rails to help the cabinetmaker differentiate his products from the import. They offered to customize the size of the Susan to most any diameter to beat the one-size-fits-all commodity approach of the imports. Century also created a just-in-time shipping program to alleviate the overstock of susans from the importers. Lastly, Century did it at a price that was close enough to the importer to help the cabinetmaker stay profitable.
The point is that Americans will buy American-made products when the innovations create a total value that improves their product.
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Recently, several articles have come out on Asian imports creating disasters in the American market: Drywall that falls apart, chairs that collapse, and plywood with poor glue bonds. Tie those stories in with the constant reminders of overseas working conditions and pictures of cities covered in sooty smoke and the American consumer is ripe for any reason to support American products. All we have to do as manufacturers in the woodworking market is show them it is possible.
The resurgence we are seeing comes from American manufacturers doing what comes naturally to our American ideals. Americans do a better job at innovation of product design, creativity in product delivery and packaging, and customization delivered on a just-in-time schedule. Consumers are looking for these answers. It is our job to teach them the difference and give them the option.
* This article is the second in a series of four guest blogs entitled "Made in America" by industry professional Bill Riebau. Every Saturday, Woodworking Network will publish another installment of Bill's discussion. Join us next week for Part III: American-Made Products in the Winner’s Circle Again.
Bill Riebau grew up in the family cabinet business covering his blisters in sawdust. After 20 years building cabinets and running the 60 man shop, Bill turned that experience into an Independent Rep business specializing in new innovations for the woodworking industry. You can reach Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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