The chain’s locations in malls have taken a hit, but online business has soared during the pandemic.
When Mark Andol opened his first Made in America Store more than 10 years ago in the Buffalo suburb of Elma, N.Y., he was motivated by frustration and his love of all things Made in America.
As the owner of the General Welding and Fabricating Inc., Andol lost half of his major contracts when the work was outsourced to China in 2008. He was forced to close two of his four factories, and laid off half of his workforce.
But Andol did not sit quietly and refused to accept defeat. Instead, he decided to open a retail store featuring nothing but 100 percent American-made products.
Friends told him he was doing it for spite and was doomed for failure. But more than a decade later, the Made in America Store is going as strong as ever, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
And on Wednesday, Andol cut the ribbon on a brand new brick-and-mortar location in Depew, N.Y., about 20 miles away from the flagship store in Elma.
Andol firmly believes that when consumers experience Made in America products in person, they recognize the quality of American-made items, and that can influence what they buy in the future.
Andol has been the prophet of Made in America products in the Buffalo area of upstate New York. His flagship brick-and-mortar store has become a popular destination for people who want to witness and purchase what American manufacturers are making.
More than 800 busloads of people have made the journey to small-town Elma to learn what is Made in America. Many visitors are foreigners, including tourists from China who want to buy American-made products.
But because of COVID-19, the Made in America Store has had to pivot from its successful retail presence. “We actually had 110 tour buses scheduled to see the store this year, but they all got canceled, except for two which ran at half capacity,” Andol said.
Prior to COVID-19, the Made in America Store locations were growing at a steady pace, and there were seven stores in the western Buffalo region, mostly located in shopping malls.
“But once COVID hit, we had to make some changes,” Andol said. “Our flagship store was allowed to remain open, and the General Welding and Fabricating company also was deemed essential, because we manufacture military products for Northrup Grumman.
“We had to close three of our stores that were located in shopping malls because they were non-essential. But even before COVID hit us, mall shopping was slowing down, and COVID really hurt our mall stores. So, we decided to open a strip mall store that would provide easy access to customers, like my 83-year-old mother.”
The Made in America Store also has seen a huge jump in its digital business during the pandemic.
“I would say our online business has increased 1,000 percent and that was a very pleasant surprise,” Andol said. “And the brick-and-mortar stores have gained momentum, too. More people are showing up at the stores because it is a short vacation for them during this pandemic. And with the lack of American-made goods to fight the pandemic, people are really going out of their way to see what is Made in America. People are realizing even more now we shouldn’t rely on Chinese products and manufacturing anymore.”
April 2020 was the 10th anniversary of the Made in America Store, and the company now showcases more than 9,000 products that support more than 500 privately owned American businesses.
For a company that based its business model on retail stores, the Made in America Store has now become an online sensation in a major way.
“Our Facebook product grew from 80,000, and we are going to hit 250,000 by the end of the year, and that is incredible growth for Facebook traffic,” Andol said. “We want people to visit our stores and see and touch the products, but we’ve had to adjust to more online sales because of COVID.
“We also have wholesale products. We are a distribution house. We bring all product in, and vet them and make sure they are 100 percent made in our country, and we can help other people have wholesale products. If people want American-made products, I can help them.”
It took a pandemic and a lack of medical supplies for many of Andol’s friends and associates to comprehend what his work has been about for the past 10 years.
“People were absolutely surprised how many products were imported,” Andol said. “I got calls, even from my banker, saying, ‘Mark you have been talking about this for years and I should be banging my fists on my desk. I can’t believe on our dependency on China.’ I mean all of a sudden, people woke up.”
But as shopping malls and retail stores continue to lose business, Andol is not giving up on his Made in America Stores.
Wednesday’s grand opening of the second brick-and-mortar Made in America Store, which is located in a former Bank of America location, may be a gamble. But Andol continues to believe you can bank on American-made. Focusing on a mission to save and create American jobs, especially in manufacturing, Andol’s motto has been “for country, for soldier, for American worker and for our children’s future.”