HIGH POINT — Preston Matthews, of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Brown Squirrel Furniture closed up his showroom in compliance with local and state COVID-19 regulations for seven weeks in mid-March. When he reopened his showroom on May 1, he said customers returned with a totally renewed interest in finding U.S.-made products.
“Our sales with things like Artisan & Post and Vaughan-Bassett have been through the roof,” said Matthews. “It is unreal. We’ve done as much with them the first month of being reopened as we’ve done generally in a whole quarter. It’s the same thing with upholstery like England [Furniture], which is made in Claiborne County, just a county over from us.”
And that made-in-America focus is not unique to Brown Squirrel Furniture’s customers. Across the country at Biltrite Furniture in Greenfield, Wis., Randi Komisar, a fourth-generation member in the business, said they are observing a similar boom.
“People are looking for good quality furniture after being in their homes for months,” explained Komisar, adding “People seem to really want to support local businesses, like us, and even manufacturers who are more local.”
According to a report from Washington-based FTI Consulting, right now many Americans are making a concerted effort to buy a variety of product made both in the U.S. and, perhaps more specifically, anywhere but China. Forty percent of survey respondents said in May that they won’t buy products from China, and 78% percent also said they would be OK with paying more for a product if its manufacturing moved out of China.
“Now, when people ask where imported product is made, which is generally Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico or China, people don’t seem to mind Mexico too much,” said Matthews. “If you get into upholstery, though, and people find out that leather sofa is from China, they don’t want it.”
FTI Consulting’s survey results indicated that similar sentiments exist across many product categories, as only 17% of consumers said they would not purchase product from Mexico. Additionally, the survey found that only 12% of respondents said they would boycott goods from Europe, and 22% of respondents said they would not buy India-made products.
The anti-China trend is arising in part because the coronavirus pandemic “is drawing attention to the ways in which the U.S. economy depends on manufacturing and supply chains based in China,” according to a report from Congressional Research Service.
Consumer distrust in Chinese-made goods was first highlighted by shortages experienced at the onset of COVID-19 in the U.S., when Chinese-made personal protective equipment and other medical supplies were slow to ship because of the sudden demand for product and the country’s own safety measures against the virus, and has only spread.
“I think people are just more aware of how dependent on China and Chinese made products we are, so people want to support domestic manufacturing,” theorized Matthews. “If it’s something they can afford, it’s a new priority for them. Obviously, if it’s not in their budget, people are still buying some imported pieces.”
In the same vein of thought, consumers are more interested in made in America Furniture because they are looking for product that is in stock or that have shorter lead times than their foreign-made counterparts. According to both Komisar and Matthews, consumers also tend to associate American and even North American-made products with being of higher quality.
“People have always liked buying American products,” concluded Komisar. “But now it seems like new customers are making it a priority.”