A Conversation About “Made in America”


In 1990, China only accounted for 3 percent of the entire global manufacturing output by value, a number that's since skyrocketed to a whopping 25 percent. Add to that the fact that the Chinese make things we tend to use more frequently (such as computers and smartphones) and suddenly it seems like “everything" actually is made by this powerhouse of a country.

For example, The Economist reports that China produces roughly 70% of the world's smart phones, 60% of its shoes, and 80% of air conditioners. This rapid rise in efficient, money-making factories in China has naturally inspired other Asian countries to follow suit, which has resulted in roughly 50% of the world's total goods coming from Asia Pacific's “Factory Asia."

Cue the fervent push to “bring jobs back to America" and to increase the number of product labels that read “Made in the USA." In theory, it sounds like a brilliant, no-brainer of an idea. Boosting U.S. manufacturing means that we increase the number of jobs available to America's own, right? Sure, but not without cost.

The Cost of Bringing Jobs Back to America

It's no secret that Asian factories are often more efficient, easier to work with, and more cost effective than their U.S. counterparts. This, of course, translates to cheaper price tags. For example, Marketplace crunched some numbers and discovered that if every single part of an iPhone was produced within the states, the retail value would hover around $2000. And here's a real-world application for you: Levi's currently sells two versions of its “Original Shrink-To-Fit Selvedge Jeans" – one that's produced outside of the states, and another that's made in the USA.

These are two identical pairs of jeans, but with two different production locations and therefore two different prices. The first pair of jeans retails for $128 while the USA-made jeans cost $148. While that's only a $20 difference, it's still a savings. Before you assume everyone would naturally fork over the extra Hamilton, consider a 2016 Associated Press-GfK poll that asked people to choose between a $50 pair of pants made outside of the USA and a USA-made $85 pair equivalent.

Despite the current outcry for “Made in the USA" labels, the poll found that 67 percent of people would choose the cheaper pair. What's also important to note about this poll is that individuals in high-earning households ($100,000 or higher) were no less likely than lower-income Americans to choose the less expensive, made-overseas product.

What's the Solution?

While there's an ever-increasing push to produce more goods in America, there's also a complacency (on the consumer's part) and fear (on the company's part) driven by these bargain-priced products. Ultimately, producing more expensive, American-made products can potentially shove companies out of an already fiercely competitive market.

An interesting case study of “Made in America" products comes from luxury brand Shinola, which was founded as an experiment of sorts in 2011 by Tom Kartsotis, the Texas mogul who famously founded the Fossil Group out of his garage back the in the '80s. Kartsotis chose Detroit of all places – easily one of the country's most untouchable cities – and poured $225 million into his new company. The two primary goals were to bring well-paying, benefit-laden jobs to people who were out of work in Detroit, and to see if Shinola could actually produce and sell watches made in America.

In an April 2017 lecture for the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Style conference, Kartsotis shared the original vision and evolution of Shinola, and expressed that he really wasn't sure if this “experiment," if you will, would work. Fast forward to 2017 and the company has since expanded from watches to leather, bicycles, paper products, and recently audio and jewelry. They're even planning to build a hotel. Despite the (comparatively) higher price tag on many of their goods, consumers are still buying Shinola because they believe in the brand and their mission.

Interestingly, though, when an aspirational clothing designer student asked Kartsotis if he had any advice for those going into the garment-producing industry, he offered the non-sugarcoated response of “Garments? It's tough. It's very difficult. We're staying away from that one for right now."

This answer is assumingly two-fold: it's hard to break into the garment industry in the first place, but it's also tricky from a retail pricing standpoint. He mentioned that the cost associated with producing an American-made, Shinola garment was almost double the price of equivalent current market products, which may make Shinola non-competitive even as a luxury brand.

Clearly Shinola is doing something right – and creating jobs in the process – but the truth is that not every business is savvy enough to pivot to U.S.-made products and sell $850 watches to the general public. Not to mention the insane amount of shifting and re-sourcing this would require of companies. Apple's current assembly line spans over 20 different pieces in at least nine countries.

Interestingly, some companies – particularly those specializing in electronics – have taken a “meet you in the middle" approach in which production takes place overseas, but assembly, crafting and designing occurs within the U.S. This hybrid approach alleviates costs while allowing for more localized quality control, and arguably supports both the global and American economy.

At the end of the day, “Made in America" is a luxury label. It's certainly not a label for the poor, and is even a tough sell for the wealthy. Whatever the solution is, it's going to require decades of slow shifting and thoughtful consideration.

5min read

How I Grew My Company To Over $400 Million In Sales By Age 30

From a young age, I was fortunate to know what I wanted my career to be.

Many 12-year-olds say they want to be a movie star, pilot or professional athlete, but I knew that I wanted to be a realtor. Growing up in an era when Miami's real estate business was exploding, I watched the city grow before my eyes. I wanted to have a part in that growth, which is why I decided to obtain my real estate license as soon as I turned 18.

Today, I run a luxury real estate group under Cervera, with sales of over $400 million within Brickell, Biscayne Bay, Key Biscayne, Design District, Midtown, Coconut Grove and Coral Gables. I've found a niche with penthouses, having sold Brickell's most expensive penthouse to date, along with two other penthouses in the past few years.

However, reaching this point did not come easy. I owe my success to two things: hard work and the people who took a chance on me. Without the former, there could never be the latter.

Here are the key reasons I was able to grow my business to over $400 million in sales by age 30.

Build Relationships

You've heard it before, but I can't stress this enough. Every person you meet is a door to a new opportunity. In real estate, as is the case with most other professions, people want to work with someone they trust and connect with. My team and I put a large emphasis on not only going to work, but also finding meaning in the work we do through personal relationships. That can mean a lot of things, whether it be finding the perfect first home for a couple or helping a family move to an area with the best schools.

Real estate is personal, and your clients should always be treated like people, not numbers. Whether someone has a $100,000 or $10 Million budget, I treat them with the same respect.

As a result, nearly all of my clients come from referrals or return to me as repeat clients.

Become An Expert In Your Industry

My team and I put a strong focus on truly knowing the neighborhoods we work in. We've become local specialists, making sure that we have a strong understanding of the ins and outs of the listing, the area and the potential buyers.

We familiarize ourselves with every aspect of an area, including: the neighborhood, the local housing market, the inventory, the schools, community issues and traffic concerns. Being knowledgeable on these aspects help us guide the potential buyer in making an informed decision.

That same approach should be applied to every profession. People are choosing to work with you for a reason, so try to maximize the value that comes with that.

Find Time To Do Nothing

We live in a go, go, go world, with not much focus on slowing down. You're responsible for your own mental wellbeing, so be sure to put in the time for yourself. For at least one hour a day, I allow myself the space to do nothing and truly live in the moment. That hour may be spent meditating, curled up with a book or watching my favorite Bravo show. The point is: that time should be for you, free of any distractions. Doing this allows you to go into work with a clear mind the following day.

It's Not All On You: Empower Your Employees

There's an emphasis put on working non-stop as the only way to succeed. That approach couldn't be further from the truth. While I'm all about working hard, as a leader, working smarter not harder is what will take your business to the next level. Remember, you hire people for a reason, so trust them to do their job and always make yourself available as a resource.

That way, you can spend your time on big picture initiatives, and your employees can own their work and grow in the process.

It Takes Money To Make Money

Don't underestimate the power of good marketing.

In business, especially when first starting out, it's important to spend money to invest in your company's success. Whether it be boosting your website's SEO, creating targeted ads or sponsoring social media posts, effective marketing is crucial when looking to reach your target audience.

Beyond traditional marketing, attending conferences and panels is essential to help you continuously learn about your industry, meet like-minded people and get your name out there.