Sara and I replaced the original 18-year-old garage doors on our home this fall. At the same time, we upgraded four antiquated exterior lights.
We searched online for U.S.-made lighting options, which proved limited. We relented and bought a set that, as I suspected, turned out to be made in China.
They were junk. The next day, I was at FedEx sending them back. I redoubled my search efforts and found Barn Light Electric Co. in Titusville, Fla.
Without the extra work, I wouldn’t have learned how Bryan and Donna Scott built the company out of a passion for old light fixtures; I wouldn’t know that Barn Light supports a work force of 80 people, including some recovering drug addicts; and we wouldn’t have four beautiful new lights proudly made in America.
Barn Light’s great story is that much better because it bucks the decades-long decline in American manufacturing. Even as recently as the 1990s, half of all clothing bought in the United States was made here. Today, it’s down to just 3 percent.
That staggering reversal of fortune has wreaked havoc on communities and families across the United States. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.
We as consumers have the power of our purses to demand American-made products. And there’s no brighter time, no righter time, than the holiday season.
Don’t let retailers off the hook
Holiday retail sales in November and December, according to the National Retail Federation, are expected to grow 4.3 percent to 4.8 percent, to between $717.45 billion and $720.89 billion. That compares with an average 3.9 percent annual growth for the past five years.
Imagine the benefit to the U.S. economy if we devoted even a fraction of that projected increase to buying American. My challenge to consumers is to ask a simple question with each holiday purchase you make this year: Is this made in the USA?
If not, look for a similar product that is. And if not, ask why not. Don’t let retailers off the hook. Encourage them to rethink what they’re doing. If retailers hear enough clamor for American-made products, they just might work harder to offer them.
We spent nearly twice as much on the Barn Light sconces than we did on the imports we returned, but the former are more attractive and more durable than the latter. Getting good value and helping to employ fellow Americans can be sources of great satisfaction.
Simply looking out for sales or signing up for an email newsletter in exchange for a discount code are great ways to hedge against the sometimes higher costs for domestic goods.
A craft beer experience
Yet another strategy: choose quality over quantity, especially when gifting to adults. I’d rather receive one thoughtfully chosen U.S.-made gift with a good story behind it than a greater quantity of generic stuff made wherever the labor was cheapest.
The approach I’m suggesting isn’t unknown to American consumers. Every day they vote with their pocketbooks in favor of domestic craft beer, sales of which grew 5 percent in 2017 while overall beer sales fell 1 percent, according to the Brewers Association. A growing segment of the population yearns for the high quality, selection and sense of community that craft brewers deliver, even if it has to pay a little more for the product.
If you want craft beer type experience with a broader assortment of American-made consumer goods, then look no further than local makers. In our area, these talented crafters offer everything from candles and soaps to pottery and jewelry to home décor and leather goods at pop-up events put on by the likes of Harrisburg Flea, York Flea and Creatively Lancaster.
Doing the sometimes hard work of seeking U.S.-made products instills discipline and a sense of purpose. What’s more, buying American is a great way to add new meaning to the holiday season.