Hikers, professional paddlers and military personnel who need to stay dry in wet and wild surroundings often turn to specialized Gore-Tex gear made by Kokatat, a 45-year-old firm in Arcata, Calif. “They are generally worn in some pretty heinous environments,” says Jeff Turner, Kokotat’s sales manager.
While the 150-person company sells a lot of its garb in the United States, it also exports its clothing overseas. Kokatat brings in over 90 percent of annual revenue from gear made in its Arcata factory. “The root of our brand is the quality we can bring to market when we know our products are coming out of our own factory,” says Turner.
To make distant clients aware of its commitment to quality, Kokatat runs an extensive international social media marketing program. For instance, paddlers on Team Kokatat, an elite group of whitewater and sea kayaking pros, blog for the company and contribute videos. “We’re quite active in social media, globally,” says Turner. “That’s really our primary outlet.”
"The root of our brand is the quality we can bring to market when we know our products are coming out of our own factory."
The approach is paying off. “We get many requests for our products offshore,” says Turner, whose company sells in markets including Asia, Europe and Australia. Clients include the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, the Danish military and the government of Australia.
As Kokatat and many other U.S. manufacturers have learned, high-quality products created in U.S. factories often have a special cachet in distant markets. By capitalizing on “Made in the USA” credibility in their marketing and outreach, many are successful in expanding their global reach and diversifying their customer base beyond the United States.
If you make your own products in the United States, they may have special appeal to overseas customers. Here are some strategies to market your company’s U.S. credibility overseas.
With some of Kokatat’s dry suits retailing for $1,000 a piece or more, they are far more costly than some competing products. But Kokatat offers something unusual: an almost fanatical commitment to making sure its protective clothing lasts a lifetime. The plant tests each suit to make sure it is truly waterproof before it leaves the factory and offers a lifetime guarantee. It also repairs any suits that have sprung a leak—whether torn by brambles in the woods or by the rocks in the rapids— for $35 from its Arcata service facility or the new one it has opened in the United Kingdom. “When it goes back to the consumer, it’s guaranteed to be completely dry again,” says Turner.
The company emphasizes its commitment in its marketing. For instance, it mentions its lifetime guarantee prominently on its website.
For Ann Clark Cookie Cutters, based in Rutland, Vt., the fact that its products are made in the U.S. is a selling point both to its domestic as well as overseas export clients, according to company CEO Ben Clark, whose parents founded the 35-employee company in 1989. Many retailers want to avoid selling cookie cutters that contain dangerous heavy metals and know that product safety standards are high in the United States, he explains. As a result, Ann Clark promotes that at every opportunity in its marketing materials, such as its wholesale catalog and website.
“You cannot find our name without the words `Made in the USA,’” Clark says. “We put it everywhere.”
"You cannot find our name without the words `Made in the USA.’ We put it everywhere."
On the home page of the firm’s website, for instance, visitors are greeted with the following words:
“‘Made in the USA’ is an important label to us. We pride ourselves on our ability to manufacture high-quality competitively priced cookie cutters using American made materials and workers. Every cookie cutter is made using certified metal from mills in the United States. Our manufacturing team enjoys a happy and healthy place to work and the folks answering our phones are sitting right here in Vermont.”
The company’s approach has been successful. In addition to selling through U.S. firms such as Bed Bath and Beyond, Crate & Barrel and Cracker Barrel, it has shipped its cookie cutters to six to eight European retailers, as well as clients in Japan, Mexico and New Zealand, Clark says. “We have a handful of customers literally everywhere,” he says.
Making sure your product can meet rigorous safety requirements before you branch out overseas can give you a leg up in showcasing an American-made product.
Retailers that want to carry Ann Clark’s cookie cutters get reassurance of the safety of the cookie cutters from the firm’s website. “Our cookie cutters meet safety requirements under California’s Proposition 65 for lead and cadmium, CPSIA [Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act] for lead, Bureau Veritas country of origin marking, and FDA - GRAS [Generally Recognized As Safe] for metal intended to come into contact with food,” the site says. Bureau Veritas certifies that a product meets its standards for being made in a specific country. Proposition 65 was passed to protect drinking water sources from toxic substances.
Ann Clark relies on independent entities for its certifications, and, in the case of large retailers, labs the chains have requested, says Clark. It also freely shares photos and the address of its manufacturing plant, both inside and out.
Lest there be any doubt, the company emphasizes its products’ origins on its labels. “All of the main line of our cookie cutters have a bar code,” says Clark. “It has a red, white and blue flag with the words `Made in the USA.’”
When it comes to placing its products in retail chains, Ann Clark employs a network of manufacturers’ reps, is represented at trade shows and produces a wholesale catalogue issued every year. In all of those channels, the company emphasizes its “Made in the USA” roots.
The company is now looking to export to consumers, too. It currently markets to consumers in the U.S. through Amazon. One product tout on the giant retail hub reads, “Made in the USA - by Ann Clark Cookie Cutters in Rutland, Vermont. Our cutters are made from steel manufactured right here in the USA, and our products have all been certified as food safe.” Other outlets include Etsy and eBay.
Ann Clark is now getting set to extend that approach. It will soon be selling its cookie cutters on Amazon in Italy, France, Germany, Spain and the U.K., says Clark. “As we go through this process, everybody says they would rather buy `Made in the USA,’” says Clark. And he’s prepared to make the most of that.