Maximize Your USA-Made Merchandise
Tips and tricks to make the most of your made in the USA product assortment.
Retailers only have so much real estate in their shops. Between bags of pet food, slat walls overflowing with toys and floor fixtures filled with all things pet, finding space for a designated made in the USA section can be a challenge—but that’s where maximizing minimal space with eye-catching, domestically made merchandise makes the difference.
“Retailers shouldn’t hesitate to dedicate in-store displays or sections to USA-made products,” said Ward Johnson, co-founder of Minneapolis-based Sojos. “A clear commitment to made in the USA products can go a long way toward providing the assurance of quality and safety pet parents are looking for.”
So how can retailers make the most of their USA-made section? Here’s what industry sources recommend.
Amy Schumann, marketing communications representative for West Paw Design, suggested endcaps as an effective, efficient way to display and promote U.S.-made merchandise. The Bozeman, Mont.-based company has been manufacturing a range of toys and beds for dogs and cats for 20 years.
“We recommend creating an endcap with just American-made products as another way to differentiate [them],” she said. “By merchandising these toys in a unique way, consumers are able to quickly discern that not only are they getting the safest toys and beds available, but they’re also helping support American jobs.”
Show the Flag
Paula Savarese, president of Dogs Love Kale/Healthy Treats, based in Naples, Fla., said using flag signage is an in-your-face approach to instantly communicating “American made.” The treat company recently revamped its packaging and added an American flag with “Made in the USA” verbiage.
“A made in the USA display should be the first thing that someone sees when they walk into the store,” she said. “Flags are a great way to highlight the merchandise. When you look at all of our products, it’s clear that they are made in the USA.”
Using shelf talkers and signage to highlight made in the USA products is another effective approach, said Jaime Rowe, founder of Ello Pet Supply, based in Wheat Ridge, Colo. She added that retailers can successfully stock USA-made products with similar SKUs using shelf talkers and signage.
“A great way to increase made in USA sales is to create an endcap of made in USA products,” she said. “We also suggest to store owners to put the products in the same aisle with similar products. For example, put the made in USA treats in the treat aisle. The trick is to make them stand out. We give retailers a shelf talker that has a USA flag and the words ‘Made in USA’ under the flag. It sets off the product and prompts a conversation with the customer.”
A Section Within Sections
Adam Baker, founder of SodaPup/True Dogs LLC in Boulder, Colo., recommended that retailers create a made in the USA section within each department.
“Made in the USA sections should be within a department—toys, food, treats—but should not attempt to combine different product types into one made in the USA section,” he said. “This is because of the consumer’s hierarchy of needs. For example, they might be going to a pet store for dog food. Their highest need is for food. Once they get to the food section, then they might look for food that’s made in the USA. If retailers merchandise all made in the USA products in one section together, it will be harder for the consumer to find, negatively impacting sales.”
Pet product retailers can also find out-of-the-box ideas from retailers in other marketplaces, said Lanette Fidrych, president of Cycle Dog-Earth Friendly Pet Co. in Portland, Ore.
“We believe it is always good to draw inspiration from the world’s best retailers [outside the pet industry],” she said. “If you look at what they are doing, they are segmenting by brand and telling brand stories. This has proven very effective.”
Highlighting the Benefits
When educating customers about USA-made products, retailers should tout the benefits of buying locally, said Jaime Rowe, founder of Ello Pet Supply, based in Wheat Ridge, Colo.
“The benefits of a made in USA section is that it shows that you care about local products and you support local businesses,” she said. “You can also trust that the product is made in a safe, regulated environment. The product might cost a little more than products sourced overseas, but sometimes that is not the case. Our pets are our family members, and they are worth it. Based on our sales, most pet owners agree with us.”
Another upside to promoting these products is that domestic manufacturing helps keep production dollars in the country, said Ward Johnson, co-founder of Sojos in Minneapolis.
“U.S. manufacturing also eliminates the need to divert production dollars to transportation costs and other inefficiencies that are unavoidable with imported goods,” he added. “That, plus growing consumer demand, will no doubt continue to attract more and more manufacturers to the advantages of in-country production.”
Retailers can support that effort by talking to their customers, and education starts with a simple conversation.
“We love working with pet boutiques because they know their customers well,” Rowe said. “Talk with your customers about their needs and show them the pet products that are made right here in our own backyard.”
Trends In The U.S.-Made Segment
Pet owners want U.S.-made products—particularly food and treats—and more and more manufacturers are making goods that meet that demand, said Amy Schumann, marketing communications representative for West Paw Design, based in Bozeman, Mont.
“Over the past few years, we’ve noticed that other pet product manufacturers have begun making their products in the U.S. for safety reasons,” she said. “This is especially true when it comes to pet food; there are far stricter regulations in the U.S. as far as ingredients and manufacturing practices. We have noticed consumers are becoming more educated on the safety benefits of American-made products and, therefore, leading the charge for safer toys and food.”
Ward Johnson, co-founder of Minneapolis-based Sojos, agreed.
“Today’s consumers are keenly interested in where their pet food is made, how it’s produced and how it compares to others in terms of nutrient content,” he said. “Raw food has become an important part of the ‘made in the USA’ movement—with pet parents looking for safe, convenient ways to feed their pets the freshest ingredients possible.”
Retailers should stock USA-made merchandise for anything that goes into a pet’s mouth—and not just food—said Adam Baker, founder of SodaPup/True Dogs LLC, based in Boulder, Colo.
“Pet consumers were focused primarily on made in the USA food and treat products because there were multiple cases of imported Chinese products that caused illness and death,” Baker said. “Over time, consumers have taken a broader view toward made in China [products] and are looking for other types of made in the USA products like toys and supplements—both of which also go in a dog’s mouth.”
Paula Savarese, president of Dogs Love Kale/Healthy Treats Inc. in Naples, Fla., echoed the sentiment. “Food, treats, toys—really, all products that are not only made but also use ingredients that are USA sourced are becoming the first ones sold off of the shelves,” she said.
Jaime Rowe, founder of Ello Pet Supply, based in Wheat Ridge, Colo., reinforced the notion that pet owners are increasingly looking for domestically made and sourced products in a variety of categories.
“Customers are looking for a variety of made in USA products,” she said. “We even have stores that [focus only on] made in USA. Our most sought after products are treats, toys and wellness supplements. We call it our ‘Big 3.’ We have seen tremendous growth in the segment in the past 12 months. It was a side conversation in the past, and now we get requests for endcaps to be 100 percent made in USA products—and it’s not even for a Fourth of July display.”
Industry participants weigh in on how—or if—the current political climate will affect domestic sourcing and manufacturing of pet products.
Amy Schumann, marketing communications representative for West Paw Design in Bozeman, Mont.
“Currently, we see manufacturing in the U.S. as challenging because the supply chain can often be very restricted, so we’ll be curious to see what comes of this new political climate.
“When we started manufacturing in 1996, we could source a high-pile fabric from six mills. Today, we have only two options. This means that not only have we lost some technical capabilities, but there isn’t as much demand for innovation from the remaining suppliers. Also, labor is more expensive in the U.S., so a manufacturer must be very
focused on creating products that [can] be made with higher labor rates while also being focused on improving manufacturing through lean manufacturing technology and working with industrial engineers. Thankfully, the U.S. has a great support network of public and private consultants who can help manufacturers grow and be successful over the long term.”
Jaime Rowe, founder of Ello Pet Supply in Wheat Ridge, Colo.
“We are coming into uncertain political times. I feel like every time I turn on the television or read social media posts that something new has changed or more turmoil arises in our government. Only time will tell what new policies and/or regulations will be created in the industry. I tell my fellow business owners to just keep moving forward and continue to do what we do best for our communities where we can make a difference.”
Paula Savarese, president of Dogs Love Kale/Healthy Treats Inc. in Naples, Fla.
“If our new president has anything to do with importing pet products into the U.S. from other countries, I believe the costs will increase and that will help with products that have ingredients that are sourced and made in the USA.”
Adam Baker, founder of SodaPup/True Dogs LLC in Boulder, Colo.
“I don’t think that companies who currently manufacture overseas will proactively begin sourcing in the USA. It is difficult to make the economics work unless the Trump administration imposes a duty that levels the playing field. So the administration needs to make the first move before companies will change their sourcing strategy. Furthermore, the manufacturing infrastructure in the USA is not what it used to be. Bringing manufacturing jobs back to the USA can’t happen overnight.
“Large retailers like Petco and PetSmart have more exposure to the current political situation because they compete based on price and are heavily reliant on
inexpensive imports including all of their private-label programs. Independent retailers, on the other hand, compete on unique assortments and expertise. They
can diversify their product assortment toward more made in the USA products and hedge against the risk of a trade war. This helps them in three ways: They have a unique assortment from the big-box stores, they give consumers what they want—made in America—and they evade their risk in the event of a trade war. So, independent retailers should buy more made in the USA products.”