Greenspiration Home Goes Out On A Limb for American Made Home Décor Manufacturers

By Trish Holder

Several months ago, the sawdust hit the fan when it was discovered that Shanghai-based retailer, Da Vinci Furniture had been making its supposedly Italian-made furniture in China.  To make matters worse, Da Vinci was charging the same high-end prices for substandard furniture made of questionable materials.   A little investigation revealed a hideous and not-so-creative cover-up that could only be worthy of soap opera drama.  Young and the Restless writers, are you listening?

So let me summarize this for you:  Affluent Chinese consumers were ticked off to find they had paid good money for furniture made in China. Does anyone else see the irony here?

There was and continues to be a lot of hullabaloo over the controversy.  Simply Google “Da Vinci Furniture Shanghai” and you’ll get some idea.  The story originally broke in July 2011 and news is still trickling in.  As recently as a few days ago the China Daily reported that Da Vinci was fined 1.33 million yuan ($211,777) – a sum that many argue was but a slap on the hand for this level of consumer deception.

Most Retailers Not Going Out on a Limb for American Consumers
Several months ago Tom Russell, an associate editor of Furniture Today reporting on the story wrote, “Chinese consumers are pretty savvy folks who demand truth in labeling.”

Is there a message there for U.S. consumers?  Do we care where anything comes from any more?

I know I do, and I know a lot of people tell me they do as well.  But I also hear many homebuilders, manufacturers, retailers, marketers, etc. they say that U.S. consumers (meaning you and me) don’t care – as long as the price is right.  The implied message here is that until most consumers start demanding American made building materials and home décor items, these folks aren’t going to go out on a limb for “savvy” Americans who do care.   And if my shopping experience this Christmas is any indication, they are staying true to their word.  Most retailers are decidedly not going out on a limb.  A recent shopping trip to various home goods retailers, both large and small, convinced me of this.  I couldn’t find a single thing that was made in the U.S. or Canada at TJ Maxx, and nothing more than some handmade earrings at a local home décor and gift shop.

Would it really destroy the profit margin of these businesses to stock just a few American made goods?  How else are we to learn how to discern the difference in quality, as clearly the “savvy” Chinese have learned to do?

Having the “You-Know-What’s” to Go Out on a Limb
I have to wonder, what do Chinese consumers think of American consumers?  Are they laughing their butts off?  If I were them, I’d have to chuckle.  Our own manufacturing practices meet the highest standards in the world, but instead of supporting our economy and investing in quality, we continue to buy cheap crap from other places.  Presumably so we can have as much cheap crap as possible.

But what is a consumer to do when there are no other choices?  Well, you’re on your own when it comes to clothes, shoes, and electronics; can’t help you there.  However, I can help you find home décor goods that are made in the US.  In fact, Greenspiration Home has invested time and money in an initiative to introduce consumers to more American made choices for their homes. It is called our American Made Décor Pick-Week campaign.  Each week we scour the internet for American made (and preferably environmentally responsible) home décor items that really catch our eye.  We interview the companies and write a news release about our pick and distribute it through our own paid newswire service and various social media.  Some of these releases get over a thousand reads.

Are these companies advertisers on Greenspiration Home?  No.  But we’re betting that at least a few will become advertisers.  After all, we’ve stepped out on a limb for them because educating American consumers about domestically sourced home materials and goods is a big part of who we are.

Win or lose, at least we had the “you-know-what’s” to gamble on something we believe in.   The question remains:  Do you?

8 Responses »

  1. Supporting our national and local economies makes much more sense than buying home decor items as well as any other. Unfortunately, our first priority is to support our personal economy; that means buying as cheap as possible.
    Retailers who offer made in USA wares usually charge a high premium and these good end up sky high. The problem is that retailers apply a formula to determine the price of an item. Higher cost items are exponentially more expensive.
    I believe we all want to buy more local products and are willing to pay more. But when the price difference is close to double, the choice becomes simple.

    • Rony,

      I must respectfully point out that not all consumers place their personal economy as their “first priority.”

      I want to talk about this as though we are a business making a purchasing decision, and then I want you to think about it the same way as if you are the consumer.

      Any good business person who has been trained in purchasing management does a needs analysis. They establish what is needed and then they write a specification. Some do a poor job and establish their need based entirely on one thing – price. But others set their standards based on specification and then search for the best qualified product at the best price that meets or exceed that specification.

      Here is the rub. When a purchasing manager does not set the specifications based on their real needs, then they have failed their company and ultimately their customers. If the item they are purchasing looks similar to the product they have specified, and the only thing they specified about the item is the price, you might not be looking deeply enough to determine if all of the specifications have been met. Appearance is not everything that is in a product.

      Let me give you two examples. Both are real events and both were observed first hand. The first one was in an office environment. The company I worked for had a need to replace some very old and very worn out office chairs. Pretty easy, right? Look at the picture and place the order. The pictures looked similar and they were a bargain. Well, we got the chairs delivered to the office and they were rolling swivel arm chairs for the conference room and for the offices. Many chairs were delivered by the staff to the offices and everyone was smiling that they got a new chair. I passed the receiving room where the chairs were being taken out of the boxes and saw a few parts laying loose on the floor. This was not good! They came out of the box broken. But if they rolled, they were delivered to the conference room. Even if the arms or other parts were not quite right, they were accepted without being returned. There were about 40 chairs and 4 of them could not even be distributed to the offices or the conference room due to defects. That is a defect rate of 10%.

      Now, most office personnel did not think much of this and started to use their new chairs. within the first week they started to break. Really, this was not funny. Thankfully the old worn out chairs had not been disposed of yet. one by one, the broken chairs were returned to the receiving dock and the old chairs were retrieved. within one month, the failure rate was up to 60%. This is not a story where I am going to tell you that I read the label and it said that the product was made in another country. I do not actually recall, and I do not really care where it was made. The failure was the fact that purchasing did not set some specifications for the chairs, but bough strictly on price.

      The next is a personal story. I needed to buy a bed frame with headboard and two dressers and two night stands. I knew I wanted oak because of the appearance and durability of the wood. I wanted it to be solid wood. I wanted it to look appealing, and on the dressers, I wanted the drawers to have rolling drawer glides. There was only one way to buy this type of product. I had to go ask for the product with the specifications that I wanted. The only place I found the rolling drawer glides and solid oak and an appealing appearance was from an American made product from a company who does their manufacturing in Michigan. Michigan has some wonderful oak forests that provide great wood. I bought the furniture. I could afford it. I knew it would last a lifetime, and it has. I bought it to specification, and when you buy on price only, your get what you pay for.

      This is how I build homes. I set the specification first and then look for the best price that meets that specification. Some things like lighting fixtures are not often made here in the USA unless it is at the very high end of the quality spectrum. But for the specifications that I write, the lighting fixtures were from other countries. That happens. Some customers passed my homes by to buy from another builder across the street based on his lower price. I could easily point out all of the different specification between those homes and my homes. The clients who bought the other homes were not discriminating based on specifications, but primarily on price. Within a year, we outsold the other builder, and he eventually stopped building in this community. I wouldn’t say we won, or that we beat him. I liked having his product there for buyers to look at and make a choice. The buyers made their choice and bought our homes more often than his.

  2. I agree with Rony; as a husband and father that will do anything to take care of his family in tough economic times, I have to buy inexpensive and if that means not buying local or American-made, so be it.

    It’s how my small biz was started. Our family was hit with a one-two punch of economic downsizing and a major health issue that left us will quite a stack of bills to pay. I started [my business] because my son needed a bed and we couldn’t afford it (American-made or not). So, I built one from an untreated shipping pallet.

    Would I like the guarantee that everyone in the Triad would buy my product and save a pallet from a landfill or from being born? Sure! But I’m still on the other side of the budgetary fence and understand that not everyone (especially with NC sitting worse than the national unemployment average) can do so.

    • I think it goes without saying that not everybody can pay extra for American goods when they need what they need right now. But many people can afford to pay extra — whether it is for the quality or for the satisfaction that buying American produces.

      I, like many others, however, am frustrated that Big Box stores can’t manage to stock a few more American made choices. I’m not talking a total transformation. I’m talking some options here and there.

  3. Great article Trish. My company makes American made furniture with pride. I too am on the front line with this issue. I’ve had several Asian companies try to knock off my designs. Found a local store who I offered my products soon after carry one of these knockoffs, and it was 50% more expensive and looked horrible. Asian companies copy my website pictures and offer the product on their sites! I hear the story everyday, my customers who want a unique American made product that is built to last for generations. My style is French Industrial and that was a time when they made things for industrial use, but added beauty and timeless style to it. We were mainly residential, but now do mostly commercial jobs because of our quality standards.

    Many of my restaurant clients have purchased [brand] chairs. Used to be US factories I’m told. They soon failed in use. They make a pretty chair, although it looks a little flimsy to me. So they changed their website verbage to say “residential use” which implies NOT COMMERCIAL. They can’t return them, they are out of luck. I’ve been asked to fix them! I came up with a commercial grade Toledo influenced chair. But I speak to so many clients who can’t justify spending another $50 – 100 per chair. They choose to buy an ugly Asian made chair over the beautiful one that they desire. One that their customer will love and probably want to buy.

    I’ve had some American national chains looking for American made product. There is a small movement taking root, like the Green one.

    We buy cheap food, it’s bad for us, eventually kills us. Seems Americans are used to cheap stuff and throwaway furniture. Buy it for a season, it breaks and/or goes out of style, we replace it. The Government is a huge culprit. There should be some HUGE import taxes on imports. That would bring factories back here. All the old ones went out of business. I know, I see their old working equipment being repurposed all the time.

    Thanks for listening to my rant,
    Greg Hankerson

  4. American manufacturing is slowly making a comeback in the furniture industry. My company manufactures custom sofas, sleepers, sectionals and chairs in High Point, NC. When we opened in 2007 we were the first new furniture manufacturer to open in High Point (a city that has called itself the Furniture Capital of the World for nearly 100 years) in 5 years. Probably half a dozen new furniture factories opened in 2011. Even some of the big manufacturers are starting to look at the economics of relocating from China back to the U.S.

    Most fabric mills also deserted the U.S. iover the past 20 years. During my first three years in business I bought all of my 100% cotton fabrics from overseas. American cottons were 50% higher which was just too much of a jump even though they were superior quality.

    Last year, however, the price of raw cotton in China nearly doubled in price. My supplier raised prices by 30% without warning, a price increase I refused to accept on general principles. Now the American cottons were only 20% more expensive. I took the chance, stopped buying the imports, and brought in very high quality eco-friendly American cottons (which were the most expensive fabrics I had ever bought.)

    Almost from the day the new American cottons arrived, our sales of cotton fabrics doubled. Despite raising my average sofa prices by $150 to make up for the additional cost, the customers loved the new eco-friendly American cottons. My biggest problem since then has been trying to get rid of the left-over imported stuff.

    A significant percentage of our customers mention that one part of their decision to buy from us is that we are an American company. Now I am discovering that eco-friendly products are also a good way to attract customers.

  5. Buying cheaply made goods is just another way of seperating people from their money. How about going back to the days when we saved up to buy the good quality American product instead of ” I want it now” which BTW cost more than you think because of the time spent driving there. plus wear and tear on the car, plus possibly having to go back because the ” inexpensive ” product broke. It all adds up. The stores know people want American products. I see it changing slowly but surely.

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  1. NYC Interior Designer Breathes NEW LIFE into the Greenspiration Home American Made Pick-of-the-Week Campaign! - Green Conduct

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