When they came face to face with an angry broker whose business was threatened by their new website, Maker's Row, Matthew Burnett and Tanya Menendez knew they were on to something.
"He came to our office and threatened to shut down the site because that was his livelihood," Burnett said in the Brooklyn, New York, office of Maker's Row, the site they believe is making it easier and cheaper for entrepreneurs get their products made in the U.S.
"It was a telling sign of the disruption that was going on in the industry," Menendez said. She recalled the incident had left her looking both ways when leaving the office. "This is like a big guy, who comes in ... huge presence. We felt really uncomfortable, but it was also really enlightening for us."
Despite the decline in U.S. manufacturing, a "Made in the USA" label is still desirable in global markets.
It brings a certain assurance that products are made according to high production standards, using safe materials. Over the years, that label has also become synonymous with high labor costs. But the cost of foreign labor is on the rise, and it's beginning to level the playing field for U.S. manufacturers.
Finding a domestic manufacturer, however, can be time consuming. Most brands don't like to share manufacturing information because they don't want to help their competition. "It was almost taboo to ask," Burnett said.
Plus, many older manufacturers don't have their own websites, which only compounds the domestic sourcing challenge.
One way to find a manufacturer is to get help from a broker, if you can find one. They aren't always easy to track down. If you can afford the broker costs, you buy a list of manufacturers that might be able to make your product. It's a system Burnett found troublesome.
"Some of these consultants were basically hoarding the information and charging $5,000. It's impossible. Five to $10,000 for any small business?" Burnett said. "I would never pay that. I couldn't pay it. I'm paying $10,000 for maybe my first run of products."