Topic: Retail Sales

Retailers: Can You Make Made in the USA Matter?

By Bob Phibbs

made in USAI was asked by James Bickers on the Retail Customer Experience podcast, “Do Americans really care about "Made in America? Especially when they - and retailers - can save a few bucks, if it's not made in America?”

I answered, “I think they do care, even if the popular sentiment among retailers is that it doesn't matter.”

Yes, there is an element that is all about price, but customers are waiting for leadership from someone to be able to make “Made in America” work.

That has to come from you and your staff.

Manufacturers have created a world of fast-forward retail fashion, where clothing is cheap so customers never grow up with the experience of having a good wool coat that stays in style year after year, a shirt that doesn’t shrink or a belt that doesn’t wear out in a year. This is true not only in fashion but in hardware, in furniture, in dinnerware and all products manufactured in the USA.

Retail buyers have bought into it as well.

Sheridan Orr, managing partner of the Interrobang Agency who was also on the podcast said, “I think people care whether it is made in the USA when they sit there at a computer and are sharing on Facebook what an outrage [the Ralph Lauren Olympic uniform] is, but I've seen over and over, when you get into the store, people start going, ‘Wow, that's $20 less, I could do something else with that $20.’ The other problem is you can't even make the quality argument anymore because the quality from overseas has gotten so good. What we need to do is find other ways to make ‘Made in America" matter.’”

Sorry, I’m not buying it.

When I was doing retail sales training in a hardware store a couple weeks ago, I asked the young man, "So, which is the best fish hook you have here?" He said, "Well these are cheap so you won't worry when you lose them." I asked, "What about these?"

He answered, "Well these are made in America." And I said, "Well, what's different about them?" Their manager jumped in and said, "Those are extra sharp and not only will hook the fish better but keep it there."

I had to ask, “How much difference in price is it?"

The first salesman answered, “These are $2.99 a pack so about $1.50 more for it to be made in America."

I had to challenge his thinking a bit…

"But doesn't the fisherman really want to hook more fish? Isn't that what we're trying to sell? That you're going to spend five hours out on a river. You want to hook that fish instead of it getting lost? Do you see that the more expensive one is really the cheaper one?"

The salesman’s eyes lit up, "I get it now. I’m new to the sport and figured I was losing them because of my skill."

That kind of challenging perception is what's missing at the store level. That's why people hire me to do retail sales training. Until a customer has someone explain why a floating chest-piece is important to the fit of a sport-coat, that single-needle tailoring gives a better drape or a reinforced placket on a garment means it will avoid creases, customers will settle and think that's what every garment does.

And when that's the case, they just buy based on price.

Few seem to know how to sell anything anymore - they can only point to price.

Let's face it. If we don't get around the idea that training people must include what's good, better and best, then no retailer will still be in business. That’s because selling at retail will become a race to the bottom. A race marked with frayed hems, stuff that shrinks, and all the other cheap amenities that take the place of quality that I, like many boomers, demand in products we buy.

Yes there is a big difference in buying a Hickey Freeman suit made in Rochester or a Hart Schaffner Marx made in Chicago than any knockoff version.

I’ve used Pendleton shirts since I was a kid because their wool is off the first shearing of the sheep so it is softer, tighter and less likely to shrink. All of their wools are woven in mills across the Pacific Northwest.

Or checkout a Woolrich shirt - compare their $75 shirt against the boatload of $14.99 promo flannel shirts you’ll find this fall.

We should all take quality over price every time. But that only happens if we’ve been trained on what to look for...

Which is quality. Which is what you get when it is made in the USA.

As in New Balance shoes who has five factories in the northeast and is the only company still manufacturing athletic shoes in the US.

Or from high fashion designers like Nanette Lepore who makes her garments in NYC and is at the forefront of the movement to save the city’s Garment District.

Even to the uniquely American invention Spanx which are (mostly) made in the USA.

Quality is what we are talking about here. And remember it’s not only quality in clothing, but in hardware, in furniture, in dinnerware and all products manufactured.

And if you aren’t talking about Made in the USA quality with your customers, not that it is just made in the USA but that has the features and benefits of being made in the USA then your customers will be unhappy with the products you sell them.

Sell quality – it gives you a leg up on your competition.

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