Rogers store looking for Made in America

story and photo by Scarlet Sims, special to The City Wire

ROGERS — Amid the Arkansas blown glass, art and handmade baby hats, foreign made items, like key chains and baby shoes, are marked down 50% at B LaRue, an eclectic boutique in Rogers.

Owner Beth Cook is selling off foreign items at a discount to clear the way for merchandise that is “Made in America.” She is in the middle of dropping about 14 lines of items carried in the past and replacing them with goods from businesses that manufacture and assemble products in the U.S.The long-time businesswoman is risking her livelihood to support the idea that customers want brands labeled “Made in America.”

“I think people want to buy USA made. I want to be the proof in the pudding — yes, you can buy American made,” Cook said.

Cook is part of a nationwide trend to buy items made in America, said Larry Brian, director of the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Center through the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

A 2010 Adweek Media-Harris Poll revealed that 61% of Americans say they are more likely to buy an item that is advertised as “Made in America.” Harris is marketing-research firm, and Adweek focuses on publications and marketing, according to an October 2011 press release.

The poor economy and high unemployment rate are making people want to support U.S. business, according to Brian. And Cook believes if more people bought items made in America small businesses could be sustained keeping more jobs available here at home.

“I just want to encourage small business in America,” Cook said. “We make quality products. And we need jobs.”

This August 2011 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco shows that products from China account for 2.7% of U.S. personal consumer expenditures.

“A total of 88.5% of U.S. consumer spending is on items made in the United States. This is largely because services, which make up about two-thirds of spending, are mainly produced locally,” noted the report.

According to the report, Chinese imported goods consist mainly of furniture and household equipment; other durables; and clothing and shoes. In the clothing and shoes category, 35.6% of U.S. consumer purchases in 2010 was of items with the “Made in China” label.

In the last decade, manufacturers rushed to China to take advantage of low wages there, which meant U.S. job losses and more China-made merchandise, according a recent report by the Boston Consulting Group, a global-management advisory firm. But as the inflation rate continues to surge throughout China, the group predicts the wage gap between the U.S.and China will continue to narrow and hopefully draw more manufacturers back to America. By 2015, the group predicts manufacturers will once again be looking at increasing U.S. production.

Brian said there’s room for growth in the meantime. Only about six small manufacturers in Arkansas produce and assemble American goods, according to a website that collects company data under that criteria. The site launched in 2010 and tracks mom-and-pop producers, said Mark Reasbeck, founder. Nationwide, more than 1,000 small manufacturers are listed on his site.

Chambers of commerce in Bentonville and Rogers did not know of any other local stores focused on selling items made in America. But along with B LaRue, Walton’s 5-10 store in downtown Bentonville does sell American-made products, according to the Walmart Visitor Center.

Cook said she worried initially about trouble finding American-made items, but that hasn’t been the case. She said there were many businesses touting U.S. made goods when she recently traveled to market in Atlanta.

Now that B Larue has changed its focus to American made, Cook said wholesale marketers are seeking her out. On Tuesday morning (Jan. 31), a merchandising salesman presented Cook with a variety of products made in the U.S. She is convinced American products are a higher quality and comparable in price to items made in China. Cook also likes the fact she can talk directly to U.S. manufacturers and restock items that are broken in shipping.

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Brian said despite the made-in-America trend, customers are most likely to buy whatever is least expensive. Cook knows her efforts are not likely to help the economy overall, but she hopes maybe her decision will help save one or two jobs for Americans.

“I’m not going to make a dent, but it will make me feel better,” she said.

Cook points to a display of brightly colored dishes and glasses from Bentley Drinkware, a company based in Perryville, Ark. Picking up the plastic glass that carries a lifetime guarantee, Cook said, “There’s a lot of pride in American products.”

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