More Look to 'Shop American' for Christmas

TheStreet.com

BOSTON (MainStreet) -- The push is on this season for shoppers to fill their Christmas gift lists with U.S.-made products.

It goes without saying that a massive amount of money is up for grabs for the holiday shopping blitz.

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An American Flag Christmas tree is one of the best-selling items this year at the holiday-themed retailer Treetopia.com.

On Thursday the National Retail Federation revised earlier estimates to release an updated -- more optimistic -- look at holiday spending. It now projects seasonal spending to be on pace for more than $469 billion. Proponents of keeping things domestic this holiday season say that if even small portion of holiday shopping zeroed in on U.S.-made products there would be a significant boost to the economy.

David Seliktar is founder and CEO of Keep America, an online retailer that sells only products it verifies as being made in the U.S. The site was initially intended to go live in February, but Seliktar says he saw enough interest and demand to warrant a soft launch in time for the holiday season.

That move proved to be shrewd, as it has garnered him national media attention including interviews on MSNBC and ABC News.

"The American shopper is realizing that the only way to really get out of the mess we are in right now is to reinvest in ourselves," Seliktar says. "There is no time to wait for bills to be passed that never really do. With all due respect to politicians, there's a lot of red tape to cut through until things get done. Things are, unfortunately, not where they should be in the country and really the only way to get out of this is to do it ourselves by buying American."

Illustrating his point is a video Seliktar made (it went viral after being cited by ABC) in which he gave randomly selected shoppers on the streets of New York $704 -- an amount corresponding to an estimate by the NRF on how much the typical American will spend this holiday season. The impromptu study group was tasked with spending it exclusively on items made domestically. The participants wound up frustrated, and it took most several hours of shopping to achieve the challenge.

"We wanted to show how hard it was to find products made in the U.S.A. even with free money," he says.

Seliktar is promoting a less ambitious goal for consumers: setting aside $64, or 10% of the average spending, that is earmarked exclusively for "made in America" purchases. To draw attention to that number, all items on his site -- from clothing to cookware and perfumes -- are priced at $64 (a full range of pricing will come with the official launch this winter).

>>What It Would Take for Car Buyers to Go American

"Just that number could create 200,000 jobs," he claims of the potential economic impact if all of the nation's shoppers set a $64 goal. "If the entire list was spent it could create 2.2 million jobs."

Although some might challenge such a simple and direct calculation, Seliktar stresses that economic recovery can be boiled down to "a simple formula."

"You buy American goods and American suppliers get an increase in orders that creates more production," he says. "They hire more people, those people now have more money to spend. It's a beautiful cycle. It's really the only solution for getting us out of this."

There are a variety of Web sites touting themselves as resources for finding U.S.-made products. Among them are MadeinUSA.org, ToysMadeinAmerica.com, FindUSMade.com and AmericansWorking.com.

For those looking to add a "made in America" approach to their holiday shopping, a good place to start might be their own Christmas tree.

According to government statistics, $488.5 million worth of Christmas tree ornaments were imported from China last year.

Among the companies we found that made Christmas decorations domestically was Wendell August Metal Ornaments, which boasts it uses "the same process in handcrafting our metal ornaments utilized by our founder and his group of blacksmiths when our company was founded in 1923."

A Christmas Ornament, based in Bethesda, Md., says sales have been strong this season (up 13% over last season) and company President Luke Wilbur says it is in part due to "the fact that our customers are willing to pay a little more for a high-quality American-manufactured ornament."

Last year the company made the decision to sell only goods made in the United States.

"Foreign outsourcing poses the greatest threat to our economic independence and prosperity," Wilbur says. "Americans now understand that companies selling foreign-made goods, like from China, pay only a fraction of the retail price sold here in the United States."

Toys, of course, are a dominating item on most Christmas shopping lists.

Green Toys, based in Northern California, boasts of its environmental and economic focus (among its playthings is a toy recycling truck). Founded in 2007 by Robert von Goeben and Laurie Hyman, its product line is made from a high-density polyethylene that is free of toxic components such as BPA and PVC. A major source of its raw materials is recycled milk jugs.

Beyond the green focus, all aspects of the company's production, including manufacturing, package printing, product assembly and fulfillment, are based in California.

While the company may not offer much of a market share challenge against major toy makers, many of whom have outsourced the majority of their product lines, consumers are paying attention. Its toys are sold in more than 5,000 retail outlets including Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Pottery Barn, as well as exported to more than 50 countries. Green Toys sales have increased 60% over last year.

"In this economy, consumers are seeing the challenges in the job market, which has created a communal sense of urgency to support U.S. manufacturers," von Goeben says of increased awareness of "made in the U.S.A" this year. "We have always been about eco, safe and U.S.-made toys. But this year more than ever, customers want to spend their money in a way that helps their neighbors."

"The economic benefit of 'made in U.S.A.' products extends much further than people think," he adds. "The economic benefit of buying American is enormous, because it extends beyond the manufacturer to all the related product industries. When you buy one of our products, you are supporting not just us and our factory but the shipping company, the package printers, the warehouse, the testing labs, etc. For every direct job a purchase helps create, it supports many more jobs that exist around it."

Popular toy makers that still make their products in the U.S. include Ohio Art, maker of the Etch-A-Sketch and Magna Doodle. For the nostalgic, Shrinky Dinks -- those plastic cut-outs you baked into shrunken versions -- are made in Wisconsin. The Whiffle Ball still rolls along an assembly line in Connecticut. The Big Wheel ride-on is made once again in the U.S., in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Vermont Teddy Bears are still brought to life in the state for which they are named. Bicycle Playing Cards, Candyland and Trivial Pursuit are other fun products that still can claim American origin.

Space doesn't permit us to offer an all-inclusive list of U.S.-made gift ideas. The good news, however, is that as more consumers demand to know the origin of their purchases, figuring out what products fit the bill is becoming easier.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont.


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