Saturday, September 07, 2013

You Better Believe That It Matters To China!

In the 80's, I remember telling everyone that we should try to buy american made products.  Back then, there was a very clear campaign, promoting how clothing with the "Made In The USA" label mattered to celebrities, Carol Channing and even a future murderer...

The propaganda to continue making clothing here in the U.S. was an attempt to save the fair paying, union controlled jobs.  Thus the catchy union label tune was made...

Back then being proud of american made products still meant something.  As fantastic as that video was, this movement would eventually fail.  So, where did it go wrong?  I went out last weekend to go see the American Made Movie, a new documentary, hoping that it would answer that question...

IMDB describes the movie:
"American Made Movie looks back on the glory days of U.S. manufacturing when there was a more balanced relationship between the goods produced and consumed, and illustrates how technology and globalization have changed the competitive landscape for companies doing business in America, as well as overseas."
After showing how the jobs went overseas, accurately attributing changes caused by a free trade policy and cheaper foreign labor costs, the movie partially concluded that if Americans demand for products to be made here, then things could change.  Which would lead to an increase in decent paying jobs, better quality products, a stronger economy and free ice cream for everyone!

It is a nice notion and would be awesome if that is how it could work.  However, I do not see that happening.  Things have changed since those good ol' days.  Both men and women now work as equals, people can do most of their shopping online without leaving their home, and a third world country can make better things than we can do with robotic machines.  Congress isn't even willing to make any real  incentives.  (Surprise!)

...but does the U.S. have an advantage by being able to make a better quality product?

Earlier this week, I decided to go talk to Courtland Hickey, the self-proclaimed Costume King of Chicago, at Chicago Costume.  (Many times he made my old TV show look fun and colorful.)

Courtland showed me two similar top hats.  There was a cheap looking felt hat, which had some poor stitching, and then there was the sharp silk version.  Both cost about the same.  So my point that the U.S. can make better products has been made...Right?  The answer is absolutely YES...only if the U.S. had China actually make the hats for them.  The better top hat was made in China.

Not everything that Courtland showed me was made better in China.  For example, the latex masks from China had poorer detail quality with colors bleeding and the masks had a rubber odor, where the masks made here did not have either of those qualities.  Both the U.S. and China have to get the crucial raw material of rubber from the Para rubber tree, which is indigenous to South America.  This makes the initial costs on the same level, but again, it is the production costs that changes the price of the final product.  Courtland told me, that he thinks, in a decade, China will produce a better quality mask.

He also showed me straw sombreros, which, for the most part, are made in Mexico.  Soon China will be the leading world maker of sombreros.

How can the U.S. compete, when even Mexico is also losing to China.  China doesn't have unions or strict guidelines.

With two brick & mortar locations, (and even more locations for Halloween), Chicago Costume, not only has thrived and survived over the years, but now they are doing well competing with the interweb.  I clearly understand this battle, as I too was once in the midst of that same dilemma.

For a couple of years, I was the marketing manager for a group of Thomas The Train stores, and right after I left the company in 2007, a bunch of the wooden toy trains were recalled.  It was discovered that the paint used on these toys contained lead.  The target age for these toys were 3 and up.  So many of those kids would often chew on the trains, as if they were dogs gnawing on a bone.  So a great product became a health hazard.  The trains were made in China.

A few examples are not a scientific way to determine if China is producing bad products for our country or not.  Before we had unions and strict regulations, the U.S. made plenty of crappy products too.  The difference is, we got better, then went went for the cheaper route and outsourced it.

We really need to start thinking about how we are can also thrive and survive in this cyber and international market.  In time, China will get it's act together, and it will make good quality products.

What will we make in the U.S.A.?  Military weapons, food and entertainment; like this summer's hit tune Blurred Lines (Hopefully that will be the last mention of that!) and other great songs...

Wait, I do think the new song The Fox by Bård Ylvisåker and Vegard Ylvisåker of Ylvis are NOT from the U.S..  Great, now we have to worry about Norway?  

 Tony Lossano, Broadcast Producer (TV & Radio, Chicago), amateur bicyclist, a fantastic dog walker, and has never been married to Alyssa Milano.

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