Someone finally decided to try it.
In early 2009, Mike Petro and Dennis Cunningham sat down with a group of investors with a big idea: create a store that only sells American-made products. They had their minds on the struggling economy and the waves of jobs that seemed to be going to factories in other countries. So, they decided that if a product was to be sold in their store, it had to be made or assembled by an American worker.
Of course, there was an obvious challenge to such a venture. Finding products made or assembled in the United States isn’t as easy as it used to be. Petro spent about a year digging deep into every nook and cranny of the country looking for manufacturers who met his criteria.
Then, earlier this year, the big idea came to life. The All American Store, located in Brookville, Ohio, swung open its doors to a curious and supportive public. Several major newspapers in the state gave the store front-page coverage in their business sections. A newspaper in Manchester, N.J., even picked up the story and soon Petro was getting visits and phone calls from out-of-towners anxious to show their support.
Three months later, Petro and Cunningham opened a second store in Huber Heights, Ohio, and they have big plans to expand that number to nine by the end of 2011. Sales have been climbing upward and Petro hopes his All American Store will begin striking a chord with the hearts, and wallets, of the American consumer.
“Our entire focus is on the American worker,” says Petro. He doesn’t push any political or religious agendas. His eye is on a cure to the economic crisis he says has been simmering in the country for years, and he wants to help restore manufacturing jobs long lost to overseas companies.
“If we can pull back jobs into this country that have left the United States, I think we can impact the quality of life of the everyday person of this country. That’s the whole focus of this company,” he says.
His zeal has a precedent. Buy-local campaigns are already making waves in communities nationwide. Home improvement retailers tend to support buy local movements, as they encourage shoppers to spend their dollars with locally owned businesses. Petro is of the same mind, and strongly committed to each of his stores supporting local businesses and organizations. But he also takes the idea to the next level. In a global community, buying local means buying products made in America and supporting the workers who make their living there.
And just like buy-local campaigns generate excitement among local business, his idea generates a lot of excitement with manufacturers committed to producing “made-in-America” products.
Petro refers to those domestic manufacturers as “miniature Alamos,” hanging on by their fingernails and fighting to stay alive against an assault of low-priced foreign-made products.
“These manufacturers are proud of the work they do and thrilled that someone supports their decision to keep their product domestic. They make an outstanding product, they contribute to their local communities, they pay taxes, they employ workers and we don’t do enough in this country to applaud them.” –Mike Petro
So what exactly does the All American Store sell, and does it really find enough products to fill the shelves? Shoppers tend to be surprised when they walk in Petro’s store. How much stuff is really 100-percent made in the United States anymore? More than the average shopper might expect.
The store has about 8,000 square feet of retail space, more than half of it hardware and the rest dedicated to general merchandise like Amish-made furniture, clothing and some locally made products.
While Petro doesn’t intend for his store to be specifically hardware, he wants to fill out those hardlines categories as much as he can. “I asked one of the sales representatives from a hardware distributor we buy from how we compare to the typical hardware store, and he told us we were 75 percent there,” he says.
Walk down the aisles and you’ll see many familiar brand names as well as some new ones. Several of the products have made their retail debut in his store. Petro was having a difficult time, for example, finding someone to sell him padlocks until he discovered a company based in Ohio that sold an all-brass lock, mostly to industrial customers. They had never put their products on retail before. But they were so enthusiastic when Petro told them about his new business venture that they created retail packaging and a display specifically for his store.
So far, Petro has spent about two years compiling his list of vendors, and he continues to look for new sources. He gives first choice to pure American products, meaning those that use domestic raw materials, domestic distribution, domestic assembly and sales.
That type of product creates the most jobs for the American worker. Next, he’ll choose products assembled in the United States, even if the company has headquarters elsewhere.
While many of the products Petro sells are from small domestic companies consumers may have never heard of, the products’ quality usually exceeds that of their foreign-made counterparts.
Petro is so confident in that fact that he has a liberal return policy. He has another policy too: Anyone who finds a product made in a foreign country in the store gets that product free. (There’s one exception — the drywall screws are the only product Petro couldn’t find made in America, but he couldn’t leave them out of his inventory.)
The first week he was open, a customer discovered a birdbath made in China. Petro kept his word, even though it meant losing an $89 birdbath, and he’s been diligent ever since to check all the products vendors ship him to make sure they carry the “Made in the USA” label.
Selling American-made products also means Petro has to deal with tight margins. Foreign-made products are less expensive, and Petro still has to compete with those who sell them. He’s willing to accept tighter margins on some items to compensate for the higher price of goods.
While next year’s plan calls for a total of nine stores, Petro and Cunningham don’t intend to stop there. They want other retailers to join them as they look to play more of the distributor role, helping others sell those made-in-America products they’ve worked hard to find.
“To our fellow retailers I would say join us,” says Petro. “We’re a store that’s trying to turn the buying habits of an entire country. We have a saying here that we do this for the American worker, for the families they support, for the communities they live in and for the United States of America.”