Domestic goods' new edge

Kim Chauvin, owner of Mariah Jade Shrimp in Chauvin, La., knows the best places to catch shrimp off the coast of Louisiana, something her family has done for generations. Now Chauvin finds herself in another sweet spot, thanks to rising demand for domestic products. "The scare with China has boosted our sales," says Chauvin. "More people are starting to order seafood from us, knowing that we harvest it here." In the three months beginning in June, orders for the five-employee, $1 million company jumped 35% compared with last year.

Recalls of Chinese products have inspired fresh worries about the quality of imports. More than 70% of consumers now pay more attention to which country produces what they purchase, according to an August Gallup poll. Those concerns dovetail with growing interest in organic and locally farmed foods, giving a boost to many small businesses that manufacture in the U.S.

Of course, perceptions change quickly, and many consumers still have favorable views of many products made overseas, such as electronics. And if you sell to businesses, you may have less luck than a company making consumer products such as toys or food.

How you promote your homegrown advantage also matters. The best approach is to emphasize the positives of your product without bashing other companies or countries. "The main focus should be on helping consumers understand the relative value of what they will get for their money," says Stephen Beck, president and chief strategy officer for FutureBrand in New York. After Mattel and RC2 recalled millions of toys decorated with lead paint in June, sales soared at Nova Natural Toys & Craft. Sales of the Shelburne (Vt.) company's handmade wooden toys rose 44% in August compared with the previous year. "We are not attacking our competitors," says Jason Miller, manager of the seven-person, $2 million company. "We are extolling the virtues of our all-natural goods and the value of play, rather than fearmongering."

Emphasizing your control of production is another positive to highlight. "Small businesses can say: 'We don't just sell it, we manufacture it and follow it through every step of the process,' which larger companies can't promise," says Russ Meyer, chief strategy officer for Landor Associates, a brand and marketing company in San Francisco. Wonk, which handcrafts contemporary furniture in Brooklyn, N.Y., makes precisely that guarantee. "We tell customers that we design and manufacture here, there is no third-party vendor, and no one else but us produces this," says David Goltl, president of the 17-person, $1 million company. Sales for the three months since June jumped 25% over the prior year. The message is being heard.

By Jeremy Quittner

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