Mark Andol’s Made in America Store marks its fifth anniversary — and looks to the future.
When Mark Andol decided to open a retail store in 2010 that would sell only 100 percent Made in America products, his friends and relatives scoffed at the idea.
“Everybody, they started football pools against me,” Andol said. “They said, ‘You’ll last a week you’ll last a month. People don’t care anymore. Tell your uncle it’s a different generation.’ Everybody bet against me and I didn’t care.”
As it turns out, Andol’s idea is just what Uncle Sam ordered. The first Made In America Store opened in the Buffalo suburb of Elma, New York on April 3, 2010 — and on Saturday, Andol and his staff are holding a celebration party at the store to mark the fifth anniversary of the initial outlet (there are now five, with plans for more).
It’s a way for Andol to thank his customers, employees, military veterans and Made in America customers who have made the store successful. There will be three bands, barbeque, a chain saw carving demonstration and 10 percent off on all of the store’s U.S. goods.
“To me, it’s a statement that five years strong shows people that consumers want it. Consumers have a lot of power. They can vote with their dollar. It’s smart to invest in America. And once you educate them, the consumers are what’s changing this movement.” Mark Andol
Andol came up with the Made In America Store concept after his company, General Welding and Fabricating, lost half of its business to a company in China in 2008. He was forced to close two of his four plants and lay off half of his workforce. Andol wanted to do something to help American manufacturing and create more jobs. So, hurting from the offshoring of his business and the subsequent layoffs, he created the Made In America Store.
And the idea wasn’t so ridiculous after all.
When the flagship Elma store opened, its inventory was just 50 products made by a handful of manufacturers. Today, there are five Made In America Stores in western New York that carry 6,600 products produced by 450 private American companies. And three years ago, Andol moved into the wholesale business and opened an 18,000 square-feet distribution center.
“Five years, five stores. To me it’s a statement,” said the 48-year-old Andol. “When we started, I made a statement. I said ‘for country, soldier and the American worker. Support the skilled workers. And I said to create and save jobs in the United States of America was our mission by growing manufacturing.’
“To me, it’s a statement that five years strong shows people that consumers want it. Consumers have a lot of power. They can vote with their dollar. It’s smart to invest in America. And once you educate them, the consumers are what’s changing this movement.”
Andol feels there is a genuine resurgence in American manufacturing and American-made products. He stresses the importance of educating the younger generations.
“I think American manufacturing is strong again. We have a lot of signs that show and prove that,” he said. “I think people understand it more and we’ve got to keep educating them. The younger ones, once they get an understanding of how out of balance we are, they want to get involved.”
Part of that education is found in the 2013 documentary American Made Movie. It features Andol’s manufacturing story, and has now become a part of the National Education Initiative (NEI).
“The movie is going to be taught as a curriculum in all Georgia schools starting in August,” he said. “Six other states are in line to do the same. If we could get the children to understand the American way and can-do spirit, that to me will make more change than anything. If we can get them to understand what we are talking about, produce more than you consume and all that good stuff, I think it will make sense.”
In addition to the flagship store in Elma, Made In America Store’s other locations include Eastern Hills Mall, McKinley Mall, Walden Galleria and Niagara Falls. The distribution center services the five stores, the websites and the wholesale end of the business.
“We just signed with the Buffalo-Erie Naval Park two weeks ago. What we’re doing for them is merchandising and wholesaling the Made in America products to them and they love it,” he said. “It’s more of a partnership. We let them have their own employees and we just merchandise and supply them product every week.”
But Andol won’t let the wholesaling end of the business overrun the brick-and-mortar stores. He is developing plans to open retail shops in other states while expanding the wholesale business.
“Well, we’ve got five stores and we want to keep branching out. We own them 100 percent so we’re looking at more company stores. Possibly Erie, Pa., Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, a branch in Missouri. People love the American-made symbol. It stands for quality.
“I do see us growing our wholesale division. We want to supply as many mom-and-pop stores or museums as we can with Made in America products. Really, the sky is the limit.”
One of the unexpected consequences of the Made In America Store concept is that the Elma shop has become a destination for out-of-state consumers. In the five years of operation, more than 400 buses have rolled into Elma, full of passengers coming to see and purchase what America makes. Andol expects about 200 buses to stop at the store this year alone.
But by 2016, those buses will be stopping at another location in Elma.
“I am going to be putting up a new world-class destination in Elma,” he said. “My store, we’ve outgrown it. I have another 18,000 square-foot building and we are going to take the front of it and make a one-level destination store that will be between 10,000 and 18,000 square-feet. It’s time to do it and it will allow me to take on larger products. The people come and they love to see what Americans are making.”
While business is great and the Made in America movement is growing, there is still one thing that eludes Andol and his stores.
“We have nothing in our store that’s electronic or plugs in or takes a battery,” Andol said. “And that’s amazing. I mean we’ve done a lot of work. We’re always looking for that one affordable home toaster and I say ‘We’ve been to the moon, we can make a toaster.’ That’s something I think is amazing how out of balance we are there.”
His friends and relatives, however, probably wouldn’t bet against Andol again. If someone in America manufactures a home-style toaster, the smart money is on Andol being the one to make the discovery.
Saturday’s anniversary party takes place at 900 Maple Road in Elma from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Can’t make it to the celebration? Visit the Made In America Store website or check it out on Amazon.com.