A New Case for USA Made: What We Learned From 2020 + What’s New for Ethix

We don’t need to say it, but we still will: 2020 was an unforgettable year! We all leaped into the unknown without any safety net – many of us grasping for normalcy in our businesses, personal lives, and routines. And here we are in 2021 with a brand new set of challenges (we’ll save that for another blog!).

Promo Industry Hit Especially Hard

The promo product industry was hit hard  – especially for suppliers who count on imported goods. Many import companies had already planned for delayed business in February, a traditionally slow commerce period in China, due to Chinese New Year when most factories shut down to celebrate the new year with friends and family. But this year was different – it was tailed by the first COVID-19 outbreaks in the USA, as cases in Wuhan, China stacked up. This time, business came to a screeching halt. Since we work with only USA manufacturers (save for a couple of fair trade options), we had a different set of challenges, but ultimately found ourselves ahead of the game (more on that below).

Medical Supply Shortage

Meanwhile, we all watched in somewhat disbelief as the nation faced a shortage of medical supplies like ventilators, gloves, scrubs, PPE, and even rubbing alcohol. Medical staff had to reuse their  PPE as hospitals were doling out a limited supply. Liquor companies started manufacturing hand sanitizer. State and local governments scrambled to purchase adequate supplies and squabbled over the inventory. A new FDA website highlights this mess, even suggesting substitutions for device shortages.  Many of us wondered how it could be possible that right here in the USA, we had a supply problem.

A New Reason to Buy USA Made

From there, things got wild. International trade virtually ceased.  It didn’t help that in the mad rush to find American made PPE, stories like this surfaced, adding to the confusion of what was safe and what wasn’t. It was a supply chain nightmare for many groups and organizations looking to purchase protective equipment for their staff.  It also highlighted a deeper problem: as manufacturing has moved abroad, we have become dependent on the global supply chain to provide basic goods.

So what happened?  For many organizations, there was a mad dash to find custom Made in USA masks, PPE, and hand sanitizer. At the consumer level, the demand for USA Made products  grew.  Domestic manufacturing stood up to the test, often working round the clock to fill the need for PPE – cloth masks, hospital gowns, healthcare apparel, face shields, N95 masks – you name it.  T-shirt companies switched to mask production, seemingly overnight. Union made plastic goods manufacturers began to produce much needed PPE for hospitals.   We watched intently as the local manufacturing industry made the switch and worked tirelessly to provide for the new demand.

Our partners at The Industrial Commons in North Carolina, highlighted in this article about manufacturing during COVID, found innovative ways to keep their workforce busy and help supply much needed PPE.

How We Shifted at Ethix

As the industry disruptions grew, and uncertainty about the economy unfolded, we began to communicate more than ever before.  Our trusted relationships with vendors, clients, and each other as staff members made it much easier to go through this transition.  We also had a lot going for us: expertise in USA Made products, long-standing relationships with domestic manufacturers,  and experience with remote staff.  Our system was pretty much in place.

We stepped up to offer our online store and fulfillment services to clients looking for a way to virtually connect with members or customers, and ship products to individual addresses as offices shut down and many people began working remotely.  We have since more than doubled the number of web stores we manage.

We also got creative. We put together packages for graduation gifts, work-at-home kits, and essential worker appreciation.

And we supplied A LOT of cloth masks for workers on the front lines and organizations looking to keep their gear relevant with the times.

What Have We Learned?

In a nutshell:

  1. There’s a stronger case than ever to support domestic manufacturing. Local manufacturers were critical to supply much needed PPE and pandemic related products.
  2. Promotion apparel is here to stay! Even amid turmoil, businesses got creative with their messaging and turned to promotional products distributors to help get their message out through masks, hand sanitizer, and work-at-home products.
  3. Innovation will get us through. The ability to quickly adapt to the times in the promo industry has shown that we can be resilient if we innovate.