The pandemic has changed or perhaps even accelerated consumer purchase patterns and changing brand affinities, as some companies are doing well in timely fulfillments and others are not. Through all of this there is a general feeling that we are all in this together, and thus a company that focuses on American-made products may fill a much-needed psychological as well as material void.
Geralyn Breig, CEO and Founder, AnytownUSA.com, speaks to this phenomenon, as well as her company’s role in navigating the consumer journey during the pandemic.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
Charlene Weisler: Tell me about AnytownUSA.com.
Geralyn Breig: Back in 2014, what was not being covered in the news in the U.S. was that hundreds of shoe/clothing factories were being burned down in riots in Vietnam.
As president of Clarks Shoes at the time, I had my fall line go up in smoke. It seemed like a good time to investigate manufacturing here at home. I did a lot of research and consulted with trusted advisors to make sure this was the right idea.
I found a BCG study which says 78% of people want to buy American, but they don’t know where to find it. Then, I grabbed two former colleagues with merchant/buyer experience, and we began traveling the country, going to trade shows and large juried craft shows to talk to the seller community and see if this was something they were interested in.
They certainly were. American makers are tired of being pushed around by large marketplace sites. They need a place where they can be seen, and not price-shopped next to a cheap low quality import.
Weisler: Why the importance of U.S.-made products?
Breig: When you shop at a local store filled with imports, you keep 67 cents in a community. But when you buy from a maker in the USA, you keep the whole $1 in a community. One guest on our podcast, “The American Made Marketplace,” called it “the circle economy.”
This is not just an economic story. Three out of four Americans surveyed believe made-in-USA products are better quality, and made with greater rigor and safety due to our regulatory environment. And, local products do not ship from around the world, so they are also more environmentally friendly.
Weisler : How is the pandemic impacting spending?
Breig: The impact will be extensive but has not yet been calculated. Clearly the global supply chain was massively disrupted, with both production and shipments halted. At the same time, businesses deemed nonessential here in the USA — that’s pretty much everything but food and groceries — have also shut down. It’s too soon to count the impact of all of this other than the 10% and rising unemployment rate.
However, it is very apparent that the smart money is learning the limitations of adhering to a strict just-in-time inventory strategy, and, of 100% off-shoring. The winners this year will be those with inventory to sell, and that means those with a capability to produce close to home, sell online, and distribute direct to customers.
One relevant quote from Executive Director of the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association, David Chenevert: “The silver lining that’s going to come out of this situation, is the rezoning of a lot more component parts and products being shifted back to the United States."
Weisler : What are some of the challenges in U.S.-made? What are some of the benefits?
Breig: With less than 5% of products that we buy in most categories made in the USA, the primary challenge is simply finding them.
For example, in 1960, an average American household spent over 10% of its income on clothing, and about 95% of those clothes were made in the United States.
Half a century later, the average American household spends less than 3.5% of its budget on clothing and only 2% is made-in-USA.
Bad actors take advantage of this by naming their company American this or that when their line is actually imported. And many mislabel their items “Made-In-USA” when that designation is reserved by the FTC only for items that are “all or virtually all” comprised of Made-in-USA materials. So, scarcity and confusion reign.
What we saw was an opportunity to create a marketplace that was trusted, not just huge. Our site is selling by invitation only, sellers’ identities are validated, and items sold are certified made-in-USA in compliance with FTC guidelines.
Weisler : Can you talk about any of the data you collect on spending in your business and how it is impacted by the recent events?
Breig: We launched about 18 months ago, so we are an early-stage business and sales have been doubling or tripling every month versus year ago for some time now. But April 1 was a major inflection point. Since then our sales increase jumped daily from +1000% to +10,000% versus year ago. Traffic and new users are up over +30%, and even our average order value is up +20%.
I think this crisis has shaken people out of their Amazon coma, and encouraged people to try new things and to care just a bit more about where the items they buy are coming from and who is benefiting from their purchase. We are delighted to provide a platform for USA makers who are small to medium businesses, and have had their livelihoods upended.
Weisler : What is your best-selling product?
Breig: At the moment, we have U.S. makers who have pivoted their production from their devastated businesses such as children’s clothing, travel gear or beauty products to make face masks for kids and adults, and hand sanitizer. These makers are donating hundreds of items in their communities, and, selling here to make up some of the sales they have lost due to retail channels shutting down.
In “normal” times though, our top sellers change with the seasons. For example, jewelry at Valentine’s Day, beauty gift sets at Mother’s Day, flip-flops in the summer…
Weisler : What do you see as the future of your business?
Breig: We are serious about building a thriving USA maker community. Currently, we are building a suite of services of all types for our sellers. And, we’d like to expand our marketplace to all forms of made-in USA goods that buyers are having an increasingly hard time finding. Even trusted food brands like Oreos have been off-shored, so we’d like to bring a “farmer’s market” of certified USA made and grown foods online, and there’s so much more.