About two or three years after our start-up, we decided to move all of our manufacturing from US-based suppliers to China. Like everyone, we were attracted by the cheap cost of labor and the economies we could bring to our supply. We have always specified extreme high quality in our jewelry, which means much of it is handmade and handcrafted, not mass produced. Our rings are made individually to a customer’s order. So it's very labor intensive, and the price of labor in China is cheap.
And you know what? It worked pretty well. We found some good partners over there and we hired a great British-born on-site manager to help make the process flow smoothly. Overall, we accomplished our goal. We were producing good quality jewelry in China at a price much less than what US suppliers could match. Our partners over there were good people who worked hard to try to help us and meet our business goals.
But, it never really felt quite right. The quality was good, but usually not great. There were always problems. Communication issues, timing issues, problems with shipping and customs and all of that. What we were able to offer our customers was compromised. We had little ability to help a customer. They would call us and need something rushed, or decide to make a change, and it was difficult or impossible for us because their jewelry was being made on the other side of the planet. It made it hard for us to deliver the high-touch, very personal experience that we wanted to.
So, we started looking at what it really cost us to manufacture in China. Yes, if you just looked at the actual cost of production, the cost is much less. But, when you start adding in all of the intangibles - the mistakes, the quality issues, the problems created for customers, the occasional catastrophes where orders would be stuck in customs - when you started adding all of that up it was much more expensive than it looked on paper.
And then we started looking at why it was so expensive to manufacture in the US. One of the things that has always been apparent to me is that the old-school jewelry industry is antiquated. They seem to be resistant to new technology and new techniques. And what we found is that this was the case in jewelry manufacturing. There were very few technologically cutting edge jewelry manufacturing companies out there. For the most part, they were old, and used old methods, they were often starved for capital and short of fresh ideas.
And so we decided to take the leap and build our own manufacturing company. We determined to build it right at our headquarters, outside of Milwaukee Wisconsin, right in the heartland of America. We knew that there were not many trained and experienced jewelry artisans in that part of the country, and so we determined that we would set up an apprentice and education program to create our own.
And it's been wildly successful. I'll detail more of the journey of how we got to where we are today, but right now we are producing some of the best quality jewelry in the world, right in Milwaukee Wisconsin, and we're doing it at prices actually less than what our China manufacturing costs were.
The intangibles of our own American manufacturing operation are huge. Our entire company can now be part of the process and focused on producing the best possible jewelry pieces for our customers. Our manufacturing operation is under the same roof with our customer service, designers, marketers and everyone else. It's all part of one interconnected operation. Every piece of jewelry we create is warrantied for life, and our jewelry repair and warranty operation is handled right in the same factory by the same people who originally made the piece. The customer service interactions we can have now are phenomenal. A customer can have a question about a ring being made, or one being repaired, and our service rep can simply walk out on the factory floor and ask the people doing the work. Incredible.
Looking at it now in hindsight, Making our own product in our own house with our own hands is invaluable. Just the real-time feedback we get from our makers and artisans on jewelry designs is worth its weight, often literally, in gold.
And, more than anything else, it's so much the right thing to do for our country and our community. We have so many success stories of people that have come to us with little or no experience, been through our training programs and who are now master goldsmiths, jewelry CAD designers, and so on. They have a high-value marketable skill that will provide a lifetime of employment.
The positive mojo this brings us is inestimable!
So, I challenge every American company who sells a product to look closely, really, really closely at what the cost of your China manufacturing, or Indonesia, or Vietnam, or God knows where, really is. Put down the damn spreadsheet and stop looking at just dollars and cents. Look at your people, your customers, and your culture. What would it be worth to all of those stakeholders if you made your own product right here at home?
You can do it. You can make your products better, faster, with better quality, and yes, you absolutely can do it for the same or less money.
American manufacturing is a sleeping giant. And it doesn't take much to wake that giant up and unleash its massive potential on your company, your community, your customers and the world.