“Made in the USA.” The phrase is short and simple, yet the four words carry such significance. For most consumers, having “Made in the USA” on a product’s package means they are buying a high-quality item and supporting U.S. jobs. The “Made in the USA” label means that for pet parents as well, but for owners, buying a pet product that has been made in the USA primarily implies safety.
“Essentially, the ‘Made in the USA’ stamp reassures people that there’s quality, that there’s been scrutiny put behind manufacturing these products,” said Ara Bohchalian, president and CEO of International Veterinary Sciences (IVS), maker of USA-made health products for pets. “From a consumer perspective, they don’t have to give any other thought. They see that and they’re less concerned with the ingredients. If they don’t see the ‘Made in the USA’ label, then they say ‘I don’t know; let me read the ingredients a little bit more.’”
According to Bohchalian, this “buy U.S.-made” trend caught on in the pet industry after 2007’s massive China-imported pet food recall and has not stopped since.
“Consumers started to become more educated about the difference between what’s made in the U.S. (i.e. scrutiny…), and they demanded—by not purchasing the made-in-China products—that the products that they buy are made in the U.S.,” Bohchalian said.
While the demand for these types of pet products was sparked by a recall having to do with pet food, owners’ desire for made-in-the-USA pet products has not been limited to only pet food. The call for “U.S.-made” has crossed over into every other pet product sphere, including toys, clothes, leashes and health supplements.
“I think with the increase of pet parents being more aware of natural ways to promote health and wellness, I think the onus is on the manufacturers to provide the highest quality ingredients made and sourced in the U.S.,” said Bohchalian, whose company is based out of Southern California.
And more and more manufacturers are certainly taking note of their customers’ desires and making their products right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
Adam Baker launched SodaPup in 2015. He realized consumers wanted USA-made products and so made sure the eco-friendly dog toy company produced its goods here. But understanding customers’ wants wasn’t the only reason the Boulder, Colorado-based company decided to keep its products USA-made. For Baker, the decision was also based on personal beliefs.
Baker, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, worked in the sporting goods industry for more than 20 years after his years of service, producing footwear and apparel throughout China and Southeast Asia.
“I was in the service; I actually believe in service, and I’m a conflicted capitalist. The goal is to make money, but it’s not the only goal,” Baker said. “One of the reasons I left corporate America [was because of my] want to build a company that reflects my value system, and so here we are. We’re going to put Americans back to work, we’re going to build stuff in the USA, we want to use natural materials. Rubber’s natural; it comes from trees, it’s biodegradable, it’s FDA compliant. I believe if we do that, we’re going to make money along the way, as opposed to just making as much money as possible.”
And with a person with this mindset at the helm, SodaPup has only continued to grow. In fact, the brand was just picked up by Pet Supplies Plus, Pet Food Express, Kriser’s and several other chains, and Baker attributes a lot of this success to the fact that the products are made in the U.S.
In fact, retailers are looking to supply their stores with products made here more so now than ever.
“I think it’s becoming more and more important to the individual stores because their end user, their customers, are asking for products that are made in the USA,” said Alisha Navarro, CEO of North Carolina-based 2 Hounds Design, maker of martingale collars, buckle collars and freedom no-pull harnesses.
Lisa Jensen, owner of Mann’s Best Friend in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, says sees a large number of customers visit her store looking for products made in the USA, including accessories, but especially food and treats. And in response, Jensen seeks to stock products that are made in the U.S. In fact, Mann’s Best Friend goes even a step further and tries to purchase products that are locally sourced.
“People really appreciate made in America, and they’re looking for that,” Jensen said. “…It’s important to us to support local, to support America, to support the U.S., and we pride ourselves in trying to do the best we can to carry as many of those products as we can.”
Making the Move
When Adam Bledsoe started Lennypads nearly four years ago, he and his business partner wanted to make a USA-based company. The duo looked high and low for a U.S. manufacturer for their reusable, washable dog pads. However, this country’s textile manufacturing industry is not booming like it once was, and as a start-up that needed to find positive profit margins, Lennypads could not find the right partner at the time and decided to manufacture overseas. The company stayed in China for the first couple of years, allowing its business to grow. But all the while, the pair kept in the back of their minds that they wanted to reach
their goal of having Lennypads be USA-made. And last year, the company met that goal.
“The growth has increased this year because we can hang our hats on the made-in-the-USA aspect,” said Bledsoe, whose company is based out of Knoxville, Tennessee. “So we see nothing but positivity, and that’s positivity from the end consumer and end user to the retail store owners, as well, because retail store owners are much more open minded to put a product on their shelves that says ‘Made in the USA’ as opposed to coming to them with a product made in China. It’s really opened the doors for us as far as our sales force goes because wholesalers are much more open to us now that we have the USA piece of the puzzle.”
According to Bledsoe, when Lennypads brought its manufacturing to the States, the company’s leaders knew they were “going all out” and that there would be “no corners cut,” meaning all the materials would come from the U.S.
“It was going to be very easy for us to outsource, like get our polyester from Pakistan and our vinyl from China, and we can get a cheaper product and just get it sewn here in the U.S.,” Bledsoe said. “We refused to do that. If we were going to go American, we were going to go all the way, and we did that. Everything—down to our thread—is from the U.S. and that’s something else that we’re very proud of is this is a true American-sourced and American-made product.”
When Lennypads was making the move to the U.S., the company realized that some plants didn’t have the machinery needed to make the largest 4 foot by 6 foot pad.
“[We] felt like [the U.S. was] a little behind China when it came to manufacturing capabilities, but we have conquered all those hurdles,” Bledsoe said. “We are running right now on 100 percent USA made, no SKUs have changed, the quality of the product is just as superior as it was in China.”
Only Leash, which is based out of Hawaii, had its first showing at Global Pet Expo in March. According to Only Leash CEO Brett Flippen, many retailers at the show found interest in the new product, which is a bungee leash that can be slipped over a dog’s head and sit around the neck when the leash is
not in use.
Picturesque Hawaii is a state like no other, and it was on its beautiful beaches that the idea for Only Leash was born. Flippen says that, unlike beaches along the contingent states’ coasts, dogs are allowed on all the beaches in Hawaii.
“It’s commonplace to see dogs running loose on the beach, and the problem was seeing the leash drag behind them in the sand getting all grossed out or caught up in the bushes,” Flippen said.
Flippen solved the problem dog owners faced by creating the Only Leash, and he couldn’t imagine it not being made in the USA. The buckles are made in Alabama and the tubular nylon webbing in Oregon. Because the webbing comes white, Flippen can dye the Only Leash any pattern, and next up is a USA flag leash. The materials are then stitched in Hawaii, but that process will soon be moving to Los Angeles, Flippen says.
“I was brought up in a family that was very patriotic. A lot of military—it’s just kind of been bred in by my family to be patriotic…,” Flippen said. “We have to start making things here in America. We can’t be making things overseas. We lose jobs, it hurts the economy; we have to change that. If everyone did the right thing, I think we’d be a stronger nation.”
The sunny beaches of Hawaii and the rugged deserts of the West are quite different, yet both show a slice of the United States of America, and both played a part in inspiring a pet product’s creation. Of course, Only Leash was created so dogs and their owners could have a better time on the beach (or anywhere on the go), but BuckarooUSA is based off the experiences of a much different landscape.
“Our style comes from living the life we have chosen, the West—a tough, true and honest philosophy—making products that are functional and stylish, that meet the needs of our everyday lifestyle,” reads the BuckarooUSA website. “When we design our products we keep the spirit of the old west in mind.”
Handcrafted in Colorado using USA-made raw products, Buckaroo has made collars, leads, toys and jackets that are “cowboy tough” since 1991.
Going even a step further than having its products made in the USA, Pennsylvania-based treat company Brewscuits strives to have all its ingredients locally sourced.
In fact, according to Brewscuits co-owner Kim Triol, the farm from which the company gets its eggs is just a mile down the road from her house. Because of this, she is able to go to the farm and walk inside the chicken coop to ensure the chickens that lay the eggs with which her treats are made are being treated properly. The grains Brewscuits uses for its treats come from six or eight local breweries Triol works with in the Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey region while the treats’ pumpkins and sweet potatoes are also soured from local farmers, according to Triol.
Even down to its new digitally printed bags, Brewscuits is 100 percent U.S.-made.
“I did not want to have them made somewhere else [or] in another country, even though it would have been cheaper—and I’m talking thousands of dollars cheaper,” Triol said. “It was important to us to know that it was sourced here in the USA. That’s how serious we are about it—even down to our bags and where we get our bags from.”
Plain and simple, it costs more money to make products in the U.S. than it does overseas. When making the move from China to here, the toughest hurdle Lennypads had to overcome was “keeping margins strong enough to stay in business.” But Lennypads worked with its manufacturing plants to keep margins as minimally affected as possible.
In order to keep its prices as low as possible, SodaPup had to come up with innovative strategies to offset the costlier U.S. manufacturing. For example, the company purchased a steel mold that makes more toys per cycle in order to up inventory.
“We don’t make things in the USA like we used to. It’s a problem that we can fix if we’re innovative enough and committed enough,” Baker said. “The thing about it is, it’s easy to make stuff in China. It’s harder to figure out how to do it here, but it is possible, and we’re figuring out how to do it.”
American Dog, which is based out of Denver, Colorado, and primarily makes dog toys, has also had to find ways to compete with companies that import less costly items by thinking outside the box.
“The hardest part is, obviously our labor costs are higher here in the U.S. than offshore, so making a high-quality product and keeping it competitive in the marketplace with toys from China is very challenging,” American Dog co-founder Tina Johnson said. “The only way you can really compete is to try to come up with design ideas that make
a product simple or simpler to construct by just being a little bit more creative. We do all of our design and manufacturing here in-house, so we have all that control so that is very helpful—we don’t have to subcontract out.”
According to Navarro, buying her products’ material in the U.S. is costlier—in fact, webbing costs 25 percent more per yard in the U.S. compared to what she could get it for from overseas—but making 2 Hounds Design’s products in the U.S. at a higher price is a “conscience choice” she makes. Everything—even down to the sizing tag—is made here.
“I find that the people who aren’t willing to pay a little bit more to have it made in the United States, they’re buying based on price, and there’s always someone willing to build it cheaper. So if you’re willing to compromise quality or safety in order to get a lower price, we’re not the right company for you,” Navarro said. “We recognize not everyone is willing to pay the additional what it costs to have products that are made in the USA, and there is something out there for everyone. If what’s important to you is different, then that’s OK, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
IVS also feels that paying that higher price is well worth it.
“I can make [my products] for half the price, maybe more, but I don’t do that,” Bohchalian said. “What’s more important to me is the quality of my product and helping these animals and giving pet parents comfort and the reassurance that the scrutiny that goes behind that ‘Made in the USA’ is 100 percent.”
It is clear that there are manufacturers who are willing to pay a higher price to make products here, and Johnson says she thinks consumers are, too, especially since they want to support companies who are willing to make their products in the U.S.
“People are becoming more socially aware why it’s important to make things here in our own country,” Johnson said. “I think there’s a group that’s getting larger and larger that actually does care about that and are willing to spend a little bit more money on a product that’s made here in the U.S.”
Manufacturing pet products in the U.S. not only means consumers are assured high-quality and safe products—it also means that more U.S. citizens are employed.
According to a USA TODAY article from April 2016, “a study by the Economic Policy Institute found that the U.S. lost roughly 2.4 million manufacturing jobs to China alone from 2001 to 2013.” These pet companies want to play whatever part they can in helping bring back some of those jobs.
American Dog has nine in-house sewers at its facility. But in addition to that, there is an entire team of sewers across Colorado who work from home. Output is managed by the week, not by the hour, for these employees, and the set-up is a win-win: American Dog gets to employ people who the company might have otherwise missed out on if they did not want to work in a factory, and the at-home sewers get to set their own schedule. According to Johnson, this model is the new “Americana.”
“We feel like we have a responsibility to keep our jobs here and make our product here so we’re very, very committed to it,” Johnson said. “…The fact that we provide all these jobs and go to work and see all these happy people around all these happy dogs makes it all feel really fantastic. We really get up every day thinking we’re using a platform for the positive.”
Lennypads cites bringing jobs back to the U.S. as the main reason for making its products here.
“The first [reason we wanted to be made in the U.S.] is just a loyalty to the patriotism of bringing jobs to America—as corny and trite as that sounds,” Bledsoe said. “We have been working to do that from day one.”
With 50 sewers at the manufacturing plant and more management and warehouse workers on top of that, Bledsoe says that, based on loose conversation the company has been having, he estimates Lennypads will hire an additional five to seven sewers in the near future.
“Not only are we adding to the manufacturing plant, but Lennypads as a whole has grown as well, and we think that this USA move will increase sales and therefore increase our team,” Bledsoe said. “The company has grown exponentially in the past year and we expect that momentum to only continue now that we have full-fledged American-made goods.”
The Caitec brand HERO’s newest line is made in the USA in order to “help stimulate the U.S. economy by providing jobs,” according to Caitec Corporation President Terry Gao.
The HERO line, which Gao says is made with 100 percent USA-sourced materials, is manufactured in a solar-powered factory in New Jersey. The toys even go the extra patriotic mile, with their red, white and blue coloring and their ‘star’ balls and ‘stripe’ bone designs having been inspired by Old Glory, Gao explained.
Cat furniture manufacturer Molly and Friends employs more than 20 U.S. citizens, according to company owner Tom Grant. Molly and Friends is based out of northern Florida and has its materials sourced from the Southeast and Oregon. To encourage and reward quality craftsmanship, Grant offers workers a 37 percent quality boost bonus for when they do excellent work.
“We’ve been doing this 20 years, and we’re determined to remain USA-made and provide real customer satisfaction and build the best product and do what’s necessary to build the best product,” Grant said.
Grant says having his workers and manufacturing plant in the USA is important in allowing the company to control the cat furniture’s quality.
Navarro appreciates the proximity of her workers as well.
“[The products are] made right here in my facilities with me,” Navarro said. “I’m the CEO, and I’m out here on the floor every single day. I’m standing beside my employees, watching them sew the product. I can pick up a product and see for myself the quality.”
Bohchalian feels the same way. In fact, Bohchalian says that making IVS’s products in the U.S. is easier than making them overseas because of the proximity to his workers.
“All of my manufacturers, everyone that I source from, are like five miles away from me,” Bohchalian said. “If I have an issue, I go have a face-to-face meeting with these people and we straighten it out. If there’s ever a problem, they’re accessible to me 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
This convenience, coupled with the high quality product that comes out of the factory, is worth the extra money IVS pays to have its products made in the USA, he says, including the company’s most popular item, Lipiderm.
“I’m able to walk their factories and see the level of care where it’s like pharmaceutical grade, and that is the only place where I would manufacture my products, irrespective of cost,” Bohchalian said. “It would make it more difficult for me to manufacture outside the U.S., but it’d be cheaper. I don’t want my products to be cheap, I want my products to be good.”
And in the end, Bohchalian says creating U.S. jobs is just “the right thing to do.”
“I feel very strongly about communities in the U.S. and providing them with jobs and resources and making sure that we help our communities,” he said.
While having a “Made in the USA” stamp is a signifier of quality and safety, it doesn’t mean that every product not made in the U.S. is cheaply made or a danger to pets’ health. Bohchalian points out that there are manufacturers around the world that also uphold high regulatory standards. There are also some ingredients or materials that just can’t be sourced in the U.S., and so companies have to find other countries that can provide those items for them, and it is important for consumers to understand this.
“You have to look at the market,” Bohchalian said. “You can’t just say, ‘I want everything made in the U.S. because that’s what the consumer wants,’ and run a business that way… If there’s an ingredient in your product that can’t be sourced in the U.S. and the benefit of that product is hugely accepted in the market and can help hundreds of thousands of animals, then you go and source that ingredient elsewhere. But you add a much greater level of scrutiny to sourcing that ingredient and making sure the level of care they have in the way they handle it, source it, [and] the way the ingredients are analyzed.”
And if a company does have to source from other countries, Bohchalian says it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure they follow the same high quality standards as they would if they were sourcing their ingredients from the U.S.
Still, Bohchalian is proud to have his products 100 percent made in the U.S., and thinks this “trend is absolutely going to continue.”
“I think it’s the right way to go. From our perspective, we will always manufacture in the U.S. because we are a USA-born company and that’s where we’re going to stay,” he said. “… [We are] committed to our pet parents, to their babies and to our country. When you look at that from a very high level, you’re obliged—you have no other choice than to create a high quality product made in the USA. And that’s what we are; that’s our business model. That’s what gets us up every single morning.”