What it takes to be an American Manufacturer: When challenged by flagship “American” brands to beat Chinese manufacturer on price, just say no.
When Zootility was asked to beat the price of a Made in China product in order to be placed on the shelves of a prominent American retailer, they were surprised and taken aback: the retailer’s branding exuded Made in America, outdoorsy pride, and it seemed disingenuous to be more concerned with profit over provenance given the retailer’s market niche and overall branding strategy.
You know the type. Rustic, woodsy advertisements. A retailer with a real Americana vibe. A dedication to promoting outdoorsy-ness. Do-it-yourself-y-ness. The kind of stuff that really makes you proud to be an American.
You pick up the waders closest to you, thinking this is it, this is the year you finally hit the river with your buddy known only as “Slippery” and he’ll show you that spot he’s been talking about for years, but something on the tag catches your eye. Made in China. China? But you’re here, in the Mecca of Americana, of Made in USA, the place that is, or you thought was, single-handedly keeping millions of small towns in America in business because of its steady demand for American-manufactured goods.
Sure, this retailer has a long and storied history, which supported American manufacturing for decades. But at some point in the not-too-distant past, they switched to compete on pricing, and started sourcing many (most) of their goods overseas. Their branding and marketing never made this transition and they surely never sent their customers the memo about why this retailer made the switch. It’s an unfortunate and too common situation in many industries and this retail scenario was a wake up call for our brand, Zootility.
Zootility was established on the premise that we could reinvigorate American Manufacturing. We set out to deliver amazing products while paying our workforce well as we evolve into a more dynamic work environment. We’re on track to roll out more new American made products in 2017 and we are headed to London next month to participate in our first Euro industry trade event. It is an exciting time at Zootility. We’re a very young brand and we are not gullible.
When we took our awesome products and pitched that retailer with hopes of seeing Zootility on their shelves, here’s what we heard: “Hey, great idea, but can you beat the price of Chinese-made competing products …. because we won’t stock Zootility unless you can beat the China price.”
Our reply: “Of course we can’t beat the China price, because the China price is ridiculously low and we all know why” (unfair and unsafe working conditions, sub-livable wages, little-to-no environmental controls, cutting corners, etc.)
So what happened next? You guessed it, we are not on their shelves. Nor do we want to be.
When retailers source purely on price and won’t stock American goods, then customers can’t buy them, and the American manufacturing renaissance is dead in its tracks. Even worse, if retailers stock non-American goods but tacitly make consumers think they’re American through their branding, then they have stolen the opportunity. They don’t pay the cost penalty of doing things “right”, but convince consumers they are supporting those initiatives. This is what is most dangerous to American manufacturers like us.
Thousands of products are sold under homegrown, American-made branding. This is misleading and unfair to consumers — and to other American manufacturers, who need the cooperation of retailers to bring American-made goods to the masses.
Brands in all kinds of industries do this: they profit off the image — if not the reality — of supporting made in the United States. If they have some made in USA products, isn’t that at least a good thing? Yes and no.
As a proud American manufacturer, Zootility makes the best product possible for our customers, at the best price that we can afford. We want our retailers and our customers to place value in purchasing Made in USA goods, to understand the importance of doing so for their economic well-being and the economic well-being of their communities.
If you care about the ideals of workers rights, the environment, trust, and ultimately quality, here’s what you can do. Find products you like that are Made in the USA and buy them for your friends. Go to your favorite retailer and ask them to stock Made in USA products — and make sure they know that you would rather buy a higher-quality American product than pay the lowest cost possible for an imported equivalent. We know not everything can be manufactured here. But for the things that are, wouldn’t you rather buy them? You could be saving your neighbor’s job — or your job.
At Zootility, we manufacture everything, from cutting sheet metal to the finished product packaging, in the U.S. It’s not a marketing gimmick. We’re not trying to pull any imported wool over anyone’s eyes. We don’t just choose one obscure line of products to manufacture here to feign legitimacy as an American manufacturer. We also don’t charge a premium to the customers who want American-made at any cost. We make all of our products in the US and strive to provide the best price we can, given the boundaries we aren’t willing to cross. We believe our company can positively contribute to the reinvention, reinvigoration, and reimagination of American manufacturing, and we can do it on our own terms.
If lowest prices are your number one while misleading consumers, then America and American manufacturers like us suffer. Here at Zootility, being values driven and staying true to our identity while respecting our customers, is number one.
So from now on, when you’re shopping, read your labels. Is it Made in USA? We are.