Geralyn Breig believes she has a handle on what consumers want — U.S.A.-made products with stories to tell.
And with tariffs and trade wars potentially jacking up prices on certain imports, the demand for “made in America” could only grow, says Breig.
A year ago, Breig founded AnytownUSA, a marketplace for American-made apparel, accessories and home goods from artisans and small and large manufacturers. It officially debuts Saturday after quietly going live in June. Breig, who formerly served as president of Clarks Americas, Avon North America and Godiva Chocolatier Intl., tapped friends and family for seed funding to launch AnytownUSA.
“It’s not a flag-waving site,” said Breig, the chief executive officer of AnytownUSA. “It’s meant to be a virtual main street as if you were walking down a main street and shopping from local makers, and you knew who they were and you enjoyed who was standing behind the product.”
For more than a year she traveled with her chief merchant, Karen Sadick, around the country meeting people who make products domestically, often attending trade shows. “They deserve a platform where they can connect with shoppers from coast-to-coast who want to support American craftsmanship and manufacturing,” said Breig. “My whole career has been about figuring out what people want, creating it for them and giving it to them.” AnytownUSA “is just the next phase of that.”
The online marketplace has more than 80 sellers of men’s, women’s and baby apparel as well as jewelry, accessories, pet products, decorative home and beauty. Another 20 are registered and getting ready to load product. “We know already that we have more sellers at this point in our life than we thought we would,” said Breig.
“There are numerous studies that say 80 percent of Americans would like to buy American, and even 60 percent of Americans would buy like for like product even at a slight price premium,” Breig said, citing studies by Consumer Reports and Boston Consulting.
The catch is that products made in America are not in abundance — only 3 percent of women’s apparel sold in America is U.S.-made, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association. Moreover, products made in America are often not identified as such, aside from a couple of categories, such as fur, that are required to be. “Where to buy American has been a problem.”
She characterized AnytownUSA as the first true marketplace for Made in U.S.A. products. “There are a couple of small sites but they did not have the product assortment that consumers would be looking for, meaning everyday product for head-to-toe dressing or items to decorate your house from front door to back door, that you could sell in volume.”
There’s long been confusion over what constitutes Made in U.S.A., and some mistrust of products labeled that way. But AnytownUSA spells out what qualifies as Made in U.S.A. and has a “transparency” consumers will be drawn to. AnytownUSA indicates sellers must certify products and comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s Made in U.S.A. Policy. They must be made in the U.S. using all U.S. materials, U.S. and imported materials, or made with imported materials, and products must be last “substantially transformed” in the U.S.
“You can’t make a bicycle in China and stick the pedals on in the U.S., and give it a Made in U.S.A. label,” Breig explained. “A lot of American apparel makers still use American cotton but send it overseas to be made. They wouldn’t qualify for our site because the last substantial transformation was over there.”
Anytownusa.com conveys the stories behind the makers and their crafts “to create connections between shoppers and sellers, and a community,” Breig said. “Relationships are an important aspect of purchase decisions, especially for Millennials, who represent 28 percent of daily per-person consumer spending.”
One of the first sellers on AnytownUSA was Barbara Eden Staley of Works in Clay Pottery, who creates handcrafted Raku pottery in her Florida studio. There’s also the Galassi family, from upstate New York, who for several generations has created handmade frames, and Life after Death Denim, a Los Angeles company that creates denim from recycled and deadstock components, including jackets made from Army tents, using a chemical-free and sustainable process.
“We absolutely want artisans and craftsman making in the U.S. because they make a unique product, but we are also talking to and recruiting small and medium-size manufacturers so we’re not just about handmade products,” Breig said.
AnytownUSA has a section for affiliated national brands including New Balance and Orvis, linking shoppers to their American-made products. “The Yeti coolers on Orvis.com are popular with fisherman and campers,” Breig said. “It’s an expensive cooler but it does well with people who are serious fishermen. A portion of Yeti products are made in America.”
“Just anybody can’t upload on our site the way they can on eBay or Etsy. You can upload on a lot of these marketplaces and be live in a minute. On ours, you have to be approved. It’s not an onerous process but it’s a process. We have a vendor making really interesting graphic socks and he applied, submitted and had his first order in one day.”
For consumers, price is usually more important than country of origin, though they want to know where products come from. Politics and trade wars “certainly heighten the discussion about made in America and that’s good for us. It will drive people to check us out,” Breig said.
Since the soft launch, best-sellers are pretty much as expected for a summer period, Breig said. “We are selling lots of accessories related to travel and summer including cross-body bags, summer scarves and sweaters, jewelry and earrings; a ton of baby gift sets, and wedding gifts, wine glasses and personalized cutting boards. “There’s a cool vendor from Maryland, “Words with Boards,” which reclaims butcher blocks and carves names of anything into the board, whether it’s the names of a newly wed couples, or a restaurant. Launching in the summer “isn’t a great retail time so we don’t have a great read on consumption at this point,” Breig acknowledged. “The first holiday season will be a good sign.”
Sellers pay a $50 fee to get on the web site for 12 months, rather than a fee per item. “We want the sellers to (readily) change their assortment for the holidays, to put up Halloween things, Christmas things, and if something is not working, to be able to change it out and get their assortment right. We are not going to nickel and dime them for changes they make.”
Sellers upload everything themselves to the web site and AnytownUSA takes a 10.5 percent cut off the cost of shipping and the retail sale price. AnytownUSA gets a commission on sales made through affiliate links.
“I started this as a business opportunity,” Breig said. “It looked like a great white space, but I would say that as a second-generation American, raised by people who have been nothing but grateful for all of the opportunities they have afforded in this country, I am a patriotic person. My parents are American, but their parents immigrated from Italy.
“When my grandmother arrived at Ellis Island, it was the Fourth of July and there were fireworks over New York Harbor. She thought they were to welcome immigrants. She was just 10 but from that day on she thought what a great country that they are welcoming us. That’s been my family’s attitude forever.”