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Made In America Gains Steam, Housewares Companies Jump On Board

Posted by Beth Hurley on

Simply Put, It's Happening: More Products Are Being Made Again In The U.S.

ROSEMONT, ILL (January 2014) - Cookware manufacturer Bryan Hurley likes to say he was born in a one-quart pan. It's his way of honoring his father David's lifetime in the cookware business, when salesmen still set up displays at state fairs and went door to door with samples of products made in the U.S. Hurley was often with him, helping his dad unpack and repack his sample case.

"He certainly instilled in me that deep appreciation for American workmanship and pride," Hurley says. "It was never just about pots and pans. It was and still is about pride, craftsmanship and absolute American manufacturing perfection."

Now president of Americraft Cookware in West Bend, Wis., which will be one of nearly 2,100 exhibitors at the 2014 International Home + Housewares Show in March, Hurley is obviously not shy about his championing of American manufacturing, which took a huge hit when companies en masse began to outsource the manufacturing of their products overseas, particularly to China. The location of Americraft in West Bend is no coincidence; in the housewares business that city and other Wisconsin locales are legendary for their 20th century appliance and cookware companies.

Hurley already had a successful business in the direct sales cookware market, but in 2004 he decided to buck the outsourcing trend, spent his life savings and built from scratch a "green" factory in West Bend that became Americraft. As Hurley puts it, he went "dumpster diving" to hire employees and buy equipment, both of which were still around but left behind in the wake of outsourcing. "We currently have 484 years of combined cookware manufacturing experience in the building," Hurley says. "With our new expansion, we expect to double our staff and experience before the year is out."

In 2010, with his wife Beth, he launched 360 Cookware and in 2013 spun it off from Americraft with Beth at the helm of the new company, with the product made by Americraft.

"Having the product made in America is so important to us as a company and a family." Beth says. "We're happy to see an increase in the demand for American made products, not just from the consumer but also from (retailers) looking to sell American made products. The only piece of 360 Cookware not made in the U.S. is the handle. It bugs us! But we simply can't source them here yet. As soon as we have the volume we will make them ourselves."

The factory can be considered truly "green," for one big reason: wind. Americraft makes its own brand of cookware, and the line of 360 Cookware, entirely with energy derived from wind power, which means no smokestacks, a small carbon footprint and cleaner water at the end of the manufacturing process. The finish on the surgical grade stainless steel cookware is achieved via a sanding process, which eliminates chemicals that would otherwise be used.

To complete the "green" approach, 360 Cookware features "vapor technology," which translates to faster cooking, fewer ingredients and the use of about one-third less gas or electricity. With little water and no oil, foods cook quickly within the vapor they generate, and a twist of the lid forms a vapor seal. Beth Hurley says that the cookware is "heirloom" quality, meaning it will last for the buyer's lifetime and can be handed down.

Reshoring Grows, More Than 100 Exhibitors Say Products Made in USA

The Americraft/360 Cookware story is a prime example of the Made in the USA movement, formally known as "reshoring." One proponent, CaliBowl founder Jeff Bollengier, has become an unofficial spokesman for a return to American manufacturing. He did that himself, severing his ties with China to help the U.S. economy. The practical part of the decision lies in reduced transportation costs and an improved response time to customer orders. The spill-proof CaliBowl, inspired by Bollengier observing the lip of an ocean wave as it begins to tuck after its apex, has become a housewares hit.

At the 2013 International Home + Housewares Show, Bollengier spearheaded a panel that included executives of other U.S. housewares companies that have brought manufacturing back to the states, or increased their production here, including: Whirlpool Corporation/Kitchen Aid, Architec and hausenware/American Pioneer Manufacturing Co. In part, they pointed out that manufacturing in the U.S. is also becoming a brand companies can use to their advantage.

Dozens of companies across many industries have brought back manufacturing or stopped short of moving production overseas once they looked at the cost/benefit ratio, according to the National Reshoring Initiative. This year, more than 100 Show exhibitors are noting that they will be showing products made in the U.S.

"I believe that the housewares industry will, if it hasn't already, have to evaluate its current supply chain and make a big decision on where (companies) do decide to manufacture in the future. Consumers want quality products that can be customized and are unique to them-and they are willing to pay for it," Bollengier says.

Consumers Looking for Made in USA Products

There are numerous studies that show the U.S. consumer is increasingly leaning toward "Made in America," specifically "against China both for safety and patriotic reasons," according to Harry Moser, founder and president of the Chicago-based Reshoring Inititative.

Moser has compiled more than 150 case studies on companies that have brought manufacturing back to the U.S. or were convinced that "offshoring" was not going to save them money. Some are housewares manufacturers. Labor costs are expected to converge by 2015 in China and the U.S., he says.

He also notes Walmart's 2013 announcement that it intends to source an additional $50 billion worth of American-made goods over the next decade. The iconic retailer, needless to say, has a product line that includes dozens of housewares goods.

He adds that although a housewares company's manufacturing costs may be higher in the U.S., their overhead could be dramatically lower and offsetting.

"There certainly are challenges. There are shortages of engineers, shortages of toolmakers, and precision machinists," Moser says. "There can be ecosystem gaps. Nevertheless, when companies set up their final product assembly, the ecosystem (component makers) rebuilds around them. It requires the end product maker to see what can be made here economically given the existing infrastructure and then (lobby) for suppliers to build up around them" over time.

"We discussed this issue at the White House last year," Bollengier adds. "There's a real challenge finding the manufacturing resources and infrastructure. I think we need government support as well as the larger housewares companies to consider more joint ventures to leverage their manufacturing. It has to be a goal of our (industry) and government leaders to create opportunity within the U.S. from an infrastructure perspective. I've always believed if you have a great idea you should be able to build it here; the resources will be there with your desire to do so. It's happening, and it will take time. With more success stories we will see it start to snowball. I believe we're seeing that."

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