Made in the USA: What it Means, Why it Matters
Mention the importance of American-made products among your family, friends and business associates, and you’ll likely create some lively conversation and generate some strong opinions as well; it’s a subject about which many consumers are extremely passionate.
Made in the USA is a topic numerous mainstream publications addressed last year: TIME’smanufacturing perspective included coverage of the number of jobs created nationally in the last three years, while The New York Timesran a series that, in part, examined the challenges associated with manufacturing in the U.S.
In that series, The Timesreported that a significant majority of respondents (63%) to a national phone survey believed American-made products were of higher quality. Another survey reported in Bloomberg Businessweekput the number of Americans that would pay more for U.S.-made products at around 80%—and additionally, found a majority of Chinese consumers surveyed would also pay more. In fact, its findings highlighted the enormous—and often overlooked—branding power of American products.
So what, specifically, about U.S. made products is attracting these consumers? When a company touts its products as Made in the USA, what messages is it striving to communicate to its customers? And just as importantly, what messages are resonating with those customers?
The latter question is doubly important, and should be asked frequently, because the actual term Made in the USA is often confusing to people. Consumer Reportsis regularly inundated with queries from readers about bewildering labels on all types of products, and when an item includes multiple components or processes—for example, when the main ingredient originates from one location, smaller parts are sourced from different areas and actual assembly and/or completion takes place in an entirely different country—identifying a product as American-made becomes increasingly complex. Consumers who do place a high value on U.S. manufactured goods are often left scratching their heads over unclear or seemingly contradictory product messaging.
The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Business Center offers this definition, in part: Made in USA means “all or virtually all” the product has been made in America. That is, all significant parts, processing and labor that go into the product must be of U.S. origin. Products should not contain any—or only negligible—foreign content.
So a crucial first step for flooring manufacturers and retailers who want to promote American products is to help their customers understand what companies actually mean when they advertise Made in the USA. For instance, consumers looking for rugs on Walmart’s website can view pages dedicated to products specifically made by American workers. Using Made in the USA as a search factor on MohawkFlooring.com, for example, allows shoppers to instantly see numerous hard- and soft-surface floors that are produced domestically. And Mohawk Home’s website features a “Still Made in the USA” video that emphasizes the company’s American heritage and longstanding tradition of supporting domestic jobs and promoting involvement in local communities.
By familiarizing themselves with the sourcing of materials used as well as the manufacturing processes involved to create their products, retailers and salespeople are doing much more than simply clarifying a confusing issue for their customers; they’re providing reassurance and validating the deep desire many people have to support America.
In addition, retailers who use attractive stickers, banners, counter cards, and so on to designate U.S. made products are opening the door to crucial relationship-building conversations with both current and potential customers, discussions that can further identify which facet of Made in the USA is most significant to that particular consumer.
For many people, especially in the last few years, that “most significant” component is the creation and protection of American jobs. It’s become the crux of the Made in the USA message and the one resonating most strongly for people on a personal level: Companies that manufacture products in the U.S. generate vital jobs for Americans, rather than providing jobs in another country by hiring those residents to make the same product.
Here, a company’s history is priceless. Mohawk, for instance, now the world’s largest flooring manufacturer, originated in the U.S. over a century ago and within just a few decades had created thousands of new jobs—many in areas of the South where industry was especially needed. With dozens of locations throughout the United States, and manufacturing operations across the nation, Mohawk has consistently demonstrated one of the most-valued components of American made manufacturing: Making a significant investment in both local and national economies over the years that has substantially contributed to job growth.
In fact, the Atlanta Business Chroniclerecently recognized Mohawk for adding the most jobs in Georgia last year, going from 25,100 at the end of 2012 to 32,100 at the end of 2013. Many consumers feel strong loyalty to companies that have a rich American heritage, and that loyalty provides those companies with an invaluable marketing tool.
Obviously, the quality of a product or service is another extremely important consideration, and as The New York Timesreported, research indicates a majority of consumers, both domestically and internationally, believe American made goods are generally better.
However, once again, education is key: If customers aren’t aware, or don’t understand how, using certain materials and manufacturing processes can improve a product, they’re less likely to recognize, or appreciate, the intended quality of that item. When the value is clear, though, consumers and end users interested in buying American made goods are very often willing to pay extra for those products.
Retailers can reinforce the message of better quality by displaying positive consumer reviews on their website, emphasizing key points that differentiate their products or stores and highlighting unique stories that directly or indirectly help our nation and its citizens.
For example, Mohawk keeps over three billion bottles annually from landfills to create a stronger PET fiber, so retailers can point to the product’s better performance features as well as the company’s ongoing commitment to the environment and clearly show added value for the consumer.
Laminates that carry the NALFA Certification Seal are higher quality and, as a result, have a longer lifespan, thereby minimizing flooring replacement and reducing local landfill waste. And locally sourced woods from forests, deemed sustainable by outside agencies or third parties, speak to numerous issues important to customers: Greater quality control from start to finish, creation of more jobs domestically and responsible environmental stewardship across the nation.
For many people—those who lived through the Great Depression, the thousands of service men and women who’ve sacrificed for this country, those who’ve struggled to find jobs in the last few years and millions of others—the desire, and choice, to buy American made items is often highly emotional and deeply personal.
Companies, including retailers, which recognize this and empathize with that desire, are frequently able to connect with consumers on a level that surpasses any amount of clever marketing. Ultimately, that empathy and understanding pays off, not just in more closed sales and higher profits for individual businesses, but in more jobs for more American citizens, greater national economic growth and the ability to reclaim our nation’s competitive manufacturing advantage.
In short, Made in the USA helps make the USA better for all of us.
David Duncan serves as the senior vice president of marketing for Mohawk. A leader in the flooring industry since 1990, his creativity and strategic vision serve residential, commercial and international divisions for Mohawk Flooring. For more information, you can call (800) 266-4295, or email firstname.lastname@example.org