Profit Minded

Footvote: A directory to support shoppers who want to buy American-made

For Laura Lucas, “buy American” isn’t just the movement of the moment. It’s a value that was instilled by her father, who spent his career in manufacturing. “From a young age, I heard at home all the time that we have to make things, we need manufacturing in America,” Lucas says.

As an adult shopper, Lucas has always had an eye out for Made in the USA products, but is dismayed by how rare they are in stores. So, she left her job as a worldwide Kindle product manager at Amazon to start her own business that would help people find and buy American-made.

Lucas recently launched Footvote.com, an online platform featuring a directory of nationally known brands and handcrafted products made by American manufacturers. The company, based in Seattle, where Lucas raised a seed round of funding from the local angel investors, also provides information and insights on American manufacturing and companies.

To be sure, several online directories already point shoppers to U.S. manufacturers. Those include BuyAmericanMart, AmericansWorking.com, MadeInUSAForever.com, BuyAmerican.com, Buy’Merican, MadeInAmericaStore.com, and MadeInTheUSA.com. Even Consumer Reports created a directory to encourage US-made shopping, and Wal-Mart recently announced a $50 billion initiative to source American products. Its Made in the USA shopping channel now features 409 products.

But Lucas says the debut version of the Footvote.com directory offers more than 1,000 products in Kitchen, Toy, Pet, Food, Health and Beauty categories, with more products added every day and several more categories to be added in the coming weeks. And, unlike a lot of the existing sites, she says, Footvote makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. “If I were starting out and stocking my kitchen for the first time, I could get most of what I need here,” Lucas says.

Footvote itself is not an e-commerce site. Instead, it catalogs Made in the USA products that are featured on a variety of other platforms—especially Amazon—and links users back to the original source. Lucas and her team of more than 10 employees do the research, sending hundreds of emails to companies to verify that their products are truly American-made.

Sometimes that isn’t as easy to determine as it might seem. Lodge, for instance, is a famous American cookware brand. But because Lucas discovered that only its cast-iron, not its enamel products, are US-made, she only features the cast iron products on Footvote.

Kitchen Aid products are assembled in the USA, while most parts are made elsewhere. Lucas decided to include those products, since the assembly work employs Americans. But, she says, “We call out which level of support they’re giving. Our goal is to provide transparency. If someone’s trying to manufacture in America but they aren’t able to source all of the components here, we don’t want to punish them.”

Among the 1,000-plus products featured on Footvote, Lucas points to a few favorites. Rada Cutlery, she says, gets offers weekly to move its Waverly, Iowa, manufacturing facility offshore, but is committed to the US. “They’re a nice company with a great product. People think they have to buy knives made in Germany or Japan, but Rada’s are really good and reasonably priced,” Lucas says.

She also likes Greentoys, a Mill Valley, Calif., company that makes brightly colored toys, such as boats for the bathtub, from recycled food-grade plastic. And Annie’s Homegrown boxed foods have long been one of her favorites.

Lucas says her revenues will come from advertising. For now, ad real estate on her site is donated to the Humane Society. “We’re dog friendly people, and people in the Made in the USA community worry about their pets because there have been so many issues with imported pet products.”

Toxic pet products are one of many issues that highlight what Lucas says is a moral imperative, not just an economic incentive, to buy American. “What do we say when we purchase products made by people in unsafe factories like the one that collapsed recently in Bangladesh, or products manufactured in places without environmental controls like China that generate life-shortening pollution?” she asks. “Those supply chains do not reflect our values, and whenever possible we should make another choice.”

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