I'm not big on politics or politicians in general, so the recent party conventions neither fired me up nor had me reaching for a hankie. But I am a proud member of the "American Manufacturing Party," and as such I'm always eager to lay out some important planks in our platform in order to win a few votes. Our most vocal supporters focus on patriotism, but from my perspective, they often overlook some other important factors.
On the subject of "American made," Consumer Reports found that when given a choice between otherwise identical products, Americans will overwhelmingly choose the one that is domestically made. A majority will pay 10 percent more. As the price rises, however, that percentage drops; fewer than 30 percent are willing to pay 20 percent more for an identical product. To my mind, where that research falls short is in framing the question in terms of "identical." Functional products that are manufactured in America are never going to be identical to those made overseas or across the border. Nine times out of ten, they're going to be better.
From our headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky, I can look out my office window and see our production facility, filled with American workers. Our company is patriotic, of course, and we take pride in creating jobs for people in our community. But ultimately those aren't the main reasons we manufacture where we do. Having production down the street (and most suppliers within a half-day's drive) gives us the flexibility to make quick adjustments when customers' needs change. More importantly, because we also design, engineer and test our products in-house, it means we have direct control over our products from conception to delivery--or shipment, at least. And that direct control is the only way I know to guarantee quality, which to me is what American manufacturing is really all about--you can wave your flag at that or not.
But manufacturing products across the street also means--and here's where it gets fun--we can "go crazy" if we feel like it. (And if we think something might sell, of course.)
For example, in our inventory at the moment is a 24K gold-plated ceiling fan. Believe it or not, we didn't make it with the Republican presidential candidate in mind--far from it. We made it for the simple reason that we can. I'm not referring to the ability to coat fan blades in gold, but the flexibility to experiment and create one-of-a-kind, even artistic items, either on speculation or demand. It goes back to giving the customer what they want, which is, by the way, how you succeed in business--as long as you never stop trying.
Recently, one of our star employees launched a program where we commission a growing number of artists to get creative with one of our ceiling fan models. We like the idea of combining art and industry, and see it as a kind of performance art. We also like to think it connects us to a time when craftsmen routinely adorned household and industrial objects with purely decorative elements. Plus, we just like looking at them, and figure that some of our customers will too. But it's exactly the kind of project that would never have been possible with a production facility halfway round the globe. So here we'll stay.
Now that I think about it, maybe it all actually does come back to patriotism: Manufacturing in America not only gives us control over quality and our company's destiny but the freedom to paint our fans red, white and blue--or gold--if we feel like it.