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These three businesses exemplify how manufacturing products in the United States is not only possible, but beneficial for business. — Getty Images/choness

While it might seem like just about everything we buy these days is made overseas, the truth is that U.S. manufacturing is still a vital industry. Manufacturing accounted for 11.3% of America’s gross domestic product in 2018, and as of December 2019 there were 12.86 million manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

If you’re thinking about manufacturing domestically but need some guidance, we can help. Read on for advice from three business leaders who are committed to proudly making their products in America.

(Note: The Federal Trade Commission provides specific standards that a business must meet to legally promote their products as “Made in the USA.” It’s a good idea to read through these requirements before claiming that your product is indeed American-made.)

Sara Irvani, CEO of Okabashi Brands

Company background: Although an estimated 99% of footwear in the U.S. is imported from other countries, shoe company Okabashi manufactures its entire line of footwear from a 100,000-square-foot factory in Buford, Georgia. Specializing in comfortable flip flops and sandals, each pair of Okabashi shoes travels only 7% as far as the average imported shoe, and all proprietary material is made in the USA and is 100% recyclable.

Best advice: While many businesses are discouraged from manufacturing in the U.S. because of the high costs, Irvani said you can keep costs under control through “just-in-time” manufacturing, a method in which a business only orders goods as they are needed to reduce inventory costs.

“When you import from another country, you’re going to have to order inventory ahead of time, sometimes six months to a year in advance, and meet a factory’s minimum order quantities,” Irvani explained. However, if you use a U.S. factory, you can often order in smaller quantities and experience cheaper and faster shipping. “For instance, you can order just enough for the first month and then see what does well and how many you need going forward,” Irvani said. “This way, you can have the perfect inventory—not too much and not too little—which is the best thing for your profitability.”

[Read: At Okabashi Brands, Sustainability Has Double Meaning]

The reality is that so many of us have no idea how the things we buy are made.

Anna Brakefield, founder, Red Land Cotton

Natalie Kaddas, president/CEO of Kaddas Enterprises

Company background: Based in Salt Lake City, Kaddas Enterprises specializes in thermoforming, the process of heating a plastic sheet and molding it into a finished product. The B2B company can custom design products to fit a business’s needs, and also offers their own line of BirdguarD products, which are used by power utility companies around the world to prevent animals from causing power outages.

Best advice: To find great employees, Kaddas suggested tapping into community networks and business and trade organizations. “We’re members of the Utah Safety Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Utah Manufacturers Association,” she said. “These are all touchpoints where you can say, ‘Hey, we’re looking for people, can you recommend anyone?’” Kaddas said she has even gotten some of her best production and line-level employees from the Utah Refugee Services Office. “If you build your network and get involved in the community, word will get out that you’re a good company to work for,” she said.

Kaddas also said that if your product is going to cost more than your competitors, make sure your customers know why they should spend more. “Define your value proposition—how do you create extra value?” she said. “For us, we can collaborate with a company and custom design for them, which you’re not going to get from a Chinese manufacturer.”

Anna Brakefield, founder of Red Land Cotton

Company background: Red Land Cotton produces bed sheets, bath towels and other home linens made with cotton homegrown on Red Land Farms in Moulton, Alabama. Anna’s father, Mark Yeager, is the owner of the farm and built his own cotton gin to provide strict quality control over the cotton fibers. From the spinning of yarn to the final cut and sew, all of the company’s linens are entirely made and manufactured in the southern United States.

Best advice: When it comes to finding a factory, Brakefield said it’s a good idea to hire an expert in your industry as a consultant. “We have found that most industries here in the USA are a tight-knit group and ‘everybody knows everybody,’” Brakefield said. “A consultant that is knowledgeable and has connections to the industry can make proper introductions and recommendations. You can always cold call and set up in-person visits, but having an insider can get you a little more credibility.”

Brakefield also stressed the importance of telling your company’s “made in the USA” story to help promote your products. “We find it’s best to tell your personal story via video and well-done photography on social media,” she said. This way, when people ask questions about your product, the manufacturing process, or your business, you’ll have a way to educate them and show the value of your product. “The reality is that so many of us have no idea how the things we buy are made,” Brakefield said. “It’s imperative that we not only sell the ‘what’ but also the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ behind our ‘made in America’ products.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published February 04, 2020