When competing against imports, American-made products can have several advantages. The key is to make sure your customers know your strengths.

Here are the four rules to beating the imports in the market. The American-made product must do the following:

* Match or exceed the competition in quality

* Have packaging, shipping, and production innovations better than the import

* Offer customization to beat the commodity approach of imports

* Educate customers in total savings of less inventory, shipping times, and quality issues

I realize this is not a total answer to illegal product dumping, but let’s use the recent issue of Chinese plywood as a case study for this discussion.

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We can’t win on price, because the Chinese manufacturers are mistakenly buying the market on price alone. We simply can’t compete to make even poorer decisions than they are.

But we can compete on quality. Recent history tells us that Chinese plywood manufacturers buy the market with a low price and then have serious quality issues on subsequent shipments. As plywood manufacturers, we need to educate our customers on the recent drywall and pet food incidents that caused massive problems worldwide. When quality issues surface in the plywood, the Chinese manufacturers won’t be around to take the heat. The pocketbooks of American distributors or manufacturers who used the plywood will be the closest targets to be sued.

We can also compete on delivery. American Plywood doesn’t have to wait for the container to arrive. We can ship faster and create Just-in-Time programs for our customers.

American manufacturers already are innovating plywood with newer green adhesives, better cores, and stability. We can continue to push on innovations that the imports can’t match along with mixed products per load, cut-to size sheets, pre-finished plywood and laminated faces.

Harley-Davidson Motorcycles faced this same issue in the 1980’s. The Japanese cycle manufacturers started dumping the large street cruisers in direct competition to Harley’s main product lines. Harley appealed to the US Courts and won a five-year declining tariff on large motorcycle imports to buy them time to retool. In less than the space of four years, Harley finished their retooling, rescinded the tariff a year early, and has beaten the imports ever since.

Made-in-America products have so many advantages over imports, it is up to us as woodworking manufacturers to use, educate and market those differences.

* This article is the fourth 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.

Harley Davidson and Plywood Lessons 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 [email protected].

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