In the course of writing this month’s cover story, Made in the U.S.A., I read a lot of opinions about American-made goods. Just about all of these opinions were heated and fell into one of two camps: Patriotic and exasperated.
I know any topic is fair game these days. But I was still surprised this topic brought out the ornery in everyone.
The patriotic camp is the easiest to sympathize with. Their message is essentially: Buy American and you create American jobs. Who can argue against that? But naturally, most didn’t stop there. They added, either explicitly or in tone, that those who buy imports are anti-American.
That second message got on the nerves of some economists, who rushed to write detailed stories about how silly the first group was. The irritation was strong enough that even ABC News’ Made In America series, which urges viewers to purchase more American-made products – but not only those products – came under fire for being naïve and even dangerous to the economy.
It’s an admittedly complex issue, not one that should be treated lightly. But what’s wrong with trying to make American goods just as alluring as Pashmiri scarves, French perfume or Egyptian cotton?
One economist blogged about how, if the fact that something is made in America is the only criteria for making a purchase, and if an imported version of the same item can be bought at half the price and equal in quality, then we’re subsidizing a business with poor management. Either quality or efficiency (and therefore cost) needs to improve before consumers should reward the American company with money. Weak companies create an even weaker economy.
Good point. But again an overly simple one.
I know if I bought an American-made stereo over an import, and the stereo had one problem after another, I’d avoid buying from the company again. I’d probably get ticked enough about it that I’d return it and then buy a more reliable brand, even if it’s a foreign one. I’d self regulate.
Sure, a poorly run company can benefit from the Buy American trend, but only in the short run. If its products don’t deliver, the dollars will dry up.
Tell Your Story
So, how can garden centers be smart with their American-made products?
The polarizing arguments aside, buying American-made goods is definitely a strong trend. And it’s a natural for independents. It dovetails neatly with an independent garden center’s strengths.
Your customers come to you, in part, because they feel a connection with you and your family. They like buying from you. They enjoy supporting their local economy through you and your staff.
You can tap that same appeal with your products. If you have a farmer’s market in the summer, you already do that by labeling where the squash was grown and where the corn was harvested. If you have a local grower who does a terrific job with foliage or species begonias, play that up, too. Fantastic small growers who don’t have the capacity to supply Lowe’s or Home Depot are worthy of special displays, after all.
Hard goods can hold the same appeal. Do you know your vendor’s story, about how many employees they have, where their manufacturing facilities are? Craft a story for your best American-made products that your customers can relate to, and you may be surprised at the results.