by Tina Manzer
While great toys are made in every country, you still can’t beat the safety and quality of American Made,” says fatbraintoys.com. The Nebraska-based manufacturer and retailer is proud of the fact that, in addition to offering its customers carefully chosen toys from around the world, it also presents “the single largest selection of American-made toys found anywhere.” (At last count, the number was 406.)
It is, in fact, unusual to find that many in one place. Specialty toys are sourced from around the world, which supports our stores’ “you won’t find it anywhere else” boast.
Still, 88 percent of the toys sold in America are made in China, according to 2016 statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce. But why wouldn’t they be? Manufacturers here would be crazy not to take advantage of China’s low-cost labor force.
“Call us crazy; lots of people have. But ‘made in America’ is how we like our Flying Turtles to roll,” says Jules Mason from Tennessee-
based Mason Corporation. “Every realtor I know says the most important thing is ‘location, location, location.’ We couldn’t agree more when it comes to manufacturing, and we readily admit to being control freaks when it comes to our Flying Turtles.”
Mason Corp is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. “After three decades, we continue our commitment to enjoy and embrace the benefits of day-to-day oversight of our production, product quality, and customer service. It’s the only way we know to achieve what’s most important to us: quality, quality, quality.”
Eighty-five percent of U.S. consumers think American-made products are better quality than those made overseas, according to the Boston Consulting Group. That perception helps give American-made products and the retailers who sell them an edge these days. It’s also part of the reason some consumers are willing to pay more for a product that carries the “Made in USA” sticker. The same can be said for safety – nearly half of American shoppers say they believe Made in America products are safer than the ones made overseas, according to a study from Harris Interactive.
Buying from the toy factory around the corner has practical benefits for storeowners, too. “Being here works to our retailers’ advantage,” explains John Gessert, president of American Plastic Toys in Michigan. “We can react more quickly to their orders.”
American Plastic Toys has “provided quality play at prices American families can afford” for the past 50 years, John points out. When the company was founded in 1962, it made a commitment to make toys in Michigan, John explains. “We are proud to have been able to continue that commitment for more than 50 years. By keeping the company in the U.S., we can oversee every aspect of production from the tools to the manufacturing process down to the smallest components.”
America: the big local
In terms of selecting brands to purchase, “consumers are shifting toward values, not value,” said a report from consulting firm ATKearney. In addition to the practical reasons for buying American-made products, there are other, more social reasons that make it the “buy local” movement on a grander scale.
“When we talk about the value of ‘made in the USA’ here at BEKA, we talk about supporting local businesses: keeping money in the area, supporting a wide range of employment opportunities, contributing to local taxes and the regional economy, etc.,” notes Jamie Seeley-Kreisman. His family-owned business has produced high-quality wooden play products in Minnesota for more than 40 years. “When stores purchase our products, in addition to supporting BEKA’s employees and owners, they also help support –
• the folks who provide us with sustainably harvested hard maple,
•the family-owned company that makes the boxes our products are packaged in,
•the local hardware business that provides us with all sorts of screws and bolts,
•the guys who keep our saw blades sharp,
•the landscapers who plow our
parking lots and clear our sidewalks in the winter, and many more.
“When you understand a made-in-the-USA product is ‘local’ (compared to most products offered by multinational companies) you understand the amazing impact of your buying decision,” Jamie concludes.
Michael Araten, president and CEO of Pennsylvania-based K’Nex agrees. “I love making toys in America,” he told us. “It provides us all with economic and national security, and creates a virtual cycle of good jobs creating great products for amazing Americans.”
At the recent National Retail Federation’s Shop.org conference, speaker Trevor Hardy pointed to one of the biggest challenges retailers face: “the insane trust vacuum in the world today,” based on the 2017 Trust Barometer from marketing firm Edelman. The yearly measurement reveals that trust in businesses, government, NGOs and the media is in crisis around the world.
But Hardy offered a list of ways businesses can restore trust; “hyper-localism” was one of them. “Consumers are looking for relevance and a connection to the brands they support with their dollars; there’s a craving for more localness,” he said. Hardy suggested that using customer data to personalize shopping experiences may help, but a grassroots approach is needed as well. As an example, he mentioned Pernod Ricard’s Our/Vodka. It’s a global brand, but made at independent distilleries in cities around the world.
Here are some of his other tips for earning trust.
Use technology to become “radically transparent”
Hardy urged retailers to use today’s communication technology to reveal aspects of the products they carry that consumers may not have heard about.
Perform your civic duty and educate your customers
“Customers feel we have a responsibility to drive social change in the countries and the communities in which we operate,” Hardy said. Businesses are, in fact, stepping in to do good at a time when governments are failing to do so. Consider CVS’s recent 10-day, in-store, fundraising effort for hurricane-ravaged communities in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
Consider “Explorium” retail
The race to frictionless shopping has taken the joy out of the experience, and it’s time for retailers to reintroduce complexity, Hardy said. Show the journey to purchase; facilitate it rather than dictate it. He pointed to Selfridges department stores in London, Birmingham and Manchester, which became performance venues for a while this summer to let customers enjoy shopping in a different way. The “Music Matters” program was designed to encourage “enjoyment or wonder per square foot,” rather than sales per square foot, noted Hardy. “Balancing the two makes a better business and a more engaging customer experience.”
Among the advertisers in this issue are these companies that manufacture their toys in the U.S.
Adventure Parks, see ad on page 13
BEKA, see ad on page 15
Burnham Associates, see ad on page 19
DeLano, see ad on page 20
Fractiles, see ad on page 9
Fun in Motion – mozi, see ad on page 6
IKOS, see ad on page 24
K’Nex, see ad on page 15
Mayfair Games, see ad on page 3, 52
The Mason Corp., see ad on page 15
Monkeying Around, see ad on page 28
Tedco Toy, see ad on page 49
Wikki Stix, see ad on page 44
Woodland Scenics, see ad on page 51