American flags were flying at the International Home & Housewares Show as some exhibitors took the stance that, despite the flattening world and battles with mass retailers, American-made products still have a place.
At California Clock Co.'s booth, for example, President Woody Young wore a tuxedo and posed alongside a life-sized Kit Cat clock, the black, wide-eyed cat that keeps time and turns 75 this year. Injection molded ABS parts are fashioned into the cat with a moving tail and eyes that has come to represent a slice of Americana, he said.
So, Young and company are making a splash about Kit Cat, celebrating the feline's birthday with a 75-day drive across U.S. Route 66 that begins June 21 in Santa Monica and ends Sept. 3 in Chicago.
Young said he is doing it to showcase the great American landscape via the Great All-American Roadshow.
``Generally, people are thinking it's OK to buy foreign. We want them to think, `Wait a minute. When you're buying foreign, you're not buying American.' Americans are losing their jobs. These towns are being abandoned,'' he said.
``You're forgetting that ... when you buy American products, there are people behind them. They have jobs. They develop cities. And that's what it's all about,'' he said.
``Let's start thinking about what there was and learn from it, in that, you cannot ... go selling your soul to the devil by going overseas and buying foreign goods without consequences. You're literally creating a problem. And people don't realize it. We've got to get the conversation back and we've got to get people talking about it.''
Young's company still is making the parts for Kit Kat at its facility in Fountain Valley, Calif. However, he said, the company has not been able to raise prices for the basic Kit Cat Klock in 13 years. To overcome that, the firm has expanded the product line into specialty items for higher margins.
One of the changes: Kit Kat himself had to get married to allow Young to add Lady Kit Kat and color clocks.
``That has given us the wherewithal,'' he said. ``Had we not done that, had we just stuck with this and raised our prices, we would not be in good condition against the foreign markets.''
Sal Occhipinti, national sales manager with Design Molding Inc. in Addison, Ill., was peddling products like pink soap boxes and watering cans for breast cancer awareness, in addition to recycling bins and storage boxes that officials are going to mold from polypropylene.
``Anything that's big and bulky, the United States wins,'' he said. ``Where we lose to China is on heavy assembly and heavy decorating.''
Occhipinti said his company is bringing toolmaking back to U.S. shops from China.
``If you play the price game too long, you're going to lose,'' he said. ``The more you can make retailers money, the more important you become to them. I won't sell to Wal-Mart. It is harder, because the volume would be nice. But I would rather have 100 people owe me $100,000 than one customer owe me $1 million.''
His company recently purchased molds from Lawnware Products Inc. of Morton Grove, Ill. Those molds were for products like plastic recycling bins.
At Honeyware Inc. Raymond Sheng, executive vice president and chief financial officer, said moving into larger press sizes has helped his firm keep production in Kearny, N.J.
At blow molder Confer Plastics Inc. of North Tonawanda, N.Y., officials said they want to keep production of products like gazebo and patio products in that state.
The firm has designed products, such as a gazebo, to be taken apart and shipped.
``We can drop-ship right to the customer,'' said Dennis Lederhouse, Confer vice president of proprietary sales and marketing.
``We're doing very well. We purchased a warehouse and distribution center, and now we do our own in-house warehousing.''
NeoTech Industries Inc. of Waterford, Mich., made its debut with the thermoformed Neopod, a stackable storage system that the firm has been selling on QVC and the Home Shopping Network. The company builds its own tools and outsources manufacturing to molders across the United States. NeoTech is moving the system into medical and food applications, and plans to sell more than 100 million storage boxes in 2007.
``People want `made in the U.S.A.,''' said President Paul Lamarche. ``Things are getting expensive in China.''
Still, even firms that want to keep manufacturing in the United States face challenges. Young, for example, said he has a problem now with the paint process that is used for the Kit Cat Klock mouth.
``We only paint one thing,'' he said. ``We paint the mouth. But ... it takes extra work to pad print because of the recess.''
But, he said, the company faces regulations from the state because of emissions from the decorating process.
``We're regulated to the hilt in California,'' Lamarche said.