Our Annual Exploration Of Domestic Manufacturing Has Returned

By Dan Ferrisi

In this writer’s mind, it remains an open question as to whether a sticker reading “Made in the U.S.A.” makes a product intrinsically more appealing to the average customer. Furthermore, I think a robust debate could be had about whether that hypothetical increased value and appeal exists uniformly across all categories of product or whether “Made in the U.S.A.” becomes more meaningful when talking about particular types of products…perhaps electronics or motor vehicles or furniture or musical instruments. However persuasive the ROI equation is, though, it is hard not to support companies who invest in American manufacturing and labor, not only because of our shared patriotism but also because we, as a country, want our economy to return to the heights of vibrancy that it once occupied.

For this story, The Music & Sound Retailer sent an e-mail solicitation to the music products manufacturer community, asking each company whether it manufactured a majority (more than 50 percent) of its products in the United States. If the answer was yes, we invited a company representative to respond to two open-ended questions. We have aggregated answers from 19 industry members—some prominent, some less well known—and, here, we share their insights with you.

The Music & Sound Retailer: During these tumultuous economic times, many companies are trying to rein in costs and stretch their dollars further than ever. Manufacturing in the U.S.A. certainly has considerable associated costs. Why is manufacturing domestically a good investment for your company?

Not only do we manufacture in the U.S. but, in fact, we manufacture in California. It’s no easy task to do so and remain competitive, even at a high-end price point. We do it because our brand is so closely tied to being an American company. It’s in our blood. It also allows us the level of quality control we demand.

We closed down our facility in Ensenada, Mexico about two years ago and brought our DW-branded production line of drums up to California. With that move, we’ve confirmed that we’re also able to successfully build a mid-priced drum set here at home while, at the same time, bringing more than 50 jobs back to the States. We’re really proud of this accomplishment.

—Scott Donnell, DW Drums

When you give up your manufacturing base, you lose a significant edge in technology and quality. Over our 47 years in business, we have learned a lot about what to do and, most importantly, what NOT to do. Those lessons are invaluable, and they have a lot to do with our products’ high level of quality and reliability. As I always say, if experience is the greatest teacher, I’ve been in the “classroom” longer than anybody in this end of the business!

Peavey has always applied the concept of “vertical integration” to the manufacturing process (i.e., making our products and the components that go in them from the ground up). Many manufacturers buy their metal work, electronics, loudspeakers and even cabinets as opposed to building them in-house as Peavey does. This process gives us a better product at a lower price. We’ve been doing it this way for almost half a century, while most of our competitors have seen multiple changes of ownership, management, location, etc. While we do have some imported items, Peavey continues to maintain one of the largest U.S.A. manufacturing operations in our end of the music and pro audio business. My initial goal was to be the best, and it’s impossible to be the best without being different. We are! That’s a big reason why we’ve been able to hang in here under the same ownership and management for more than 47 years.

—Hartley Peavey, Peavey Electronics

Manufacturing in the U.S.A. is a good investment for several reasons. First, it creates skilled labor jobs. Skilled labor contributes to product development on a daily basis. As larger companies begin to outsource manufacturing, so goes the knowledge associated with product development. For example, we learn a great deal about how to build product B based on what we learned from building product A. All that technology is retained and we can streamline manufacturing as a result. Imagine how much we learned from the moon landing. We wouldn’t be on Mars right now had that never occurred.

Second, although the days of large factories may be a golden moment in the United States’ past, the days of small, agile, independent manufacturers are still ahead. This is something that should ignite every entrepreneur, developer, engineer and dreamer. We live in a time of advanced CNC machinery. Oftentimes, one machine replaces the need for several people. Since the cost of the machines is going down, we now see an opportunity for smaller companies to produce larger output than was once possible. I believe we’ll see more “garage-size” companies offering some of the same quality goods and developing a regional market for their products. This may, in fact, help bring costs down so that, one day, “boutique manufacturing” doesn’t carry a heavy price tag.

Personally, I want to invest in the technology gained from these experiences in our guitars, our amplifiers and our people.

—Chris Mitchell, Pladd Dot Music

Rane secures long-term viability by manufacturing in the U.S.A. The intimate association of the critical business functions of design, manufacture, sales, logistics and customer support best serves our customer. There is no disconnect between the designers and builders, between manufacturing and sales order processing and shipping, between purchasing and service center support. For any question, the answer is only a short walk. Exceptional customer service requires close physical association of all functions.

Design engineers remote to manufacturing lose knowledge of process controls, test routines, component sourcing and opportunities for design improvement that directly affects a company’s ability to support a product. For the quality audio products our customers demand, only manufacturing in the U.S. enables Rane to provide the product and exceptional support they require, and allows us to develop the skill set necessary for the next generation of products, and indeed represents an investment in a sustainable future.

—George Sheppard, Rane Corp.

Manufacturing in the U.S.A. is a great source of pride for us, and is what sets us apart from the majority of our competitors. Eminence began manufacturing loudspeakers in Kentucky in 1966. Bob Gault chose the city of Eminence KY, as it was ideally situated for shipping products all over the U.S.

After 45 years, manufacturing in the U.S.A. still remains a good investment for our company. We know manufacturing our genuine Eminence branded products anywhere else would result in a sacrifice in quality and craftsmanship. Through our incentive programs, each employee has a vested interest in the success of our products in the marketplace and our company as a whole. No one takes more pride in their work than our Eminence family. The result: consistency and reliability.

Additionally, a good majority of the components we use to manufacture our products are also made in the U.S.A. This helps us reduce lead times while ensuring that the quality of the finished product adheres to our high standards.

—Cobi Stein, Eminence Speaker LLC

Audix made a strategic decision some 15 years ago to maintain complete control over the quality of our products. We have built a state-of-the-art manufacturing and production facility that includes CNC multi-axis machining, milling of in-house tools and fixtures, an SMT line to produce our own circuit boards, injection molding and laser etching systems, and proprietary automated test stations.

While we watched other companies struggle through the move to China for lower production costs, we continued to manufacture parts and assemble quality products domestically in a timely manner, without the challenges of setting up manufacturing partnerships, parallel engineering and QC staff, etc.

Our cost/benefit analysis has proved to us that our strategy was correct. We have kept our labor cost components in control through automation, kept our raw materials supply chain close at hand, maintained control over quality, and avoided supply-line time and shipping costs issues. With rapidly increasing labor costs in China, as well as longer lead times, we feel even more confident in our decision to produce the bulk of our flagship products in the U.S.A.

—Cliff Castle, Audix Corp.

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