You're probably looking down at your hand as you read this, at a device more powerful than laptops were 10 years ago, and it might have cost you a few hundred dollars, if anything at all. What Ford and Inland Steel were 75 years ago, Apple and Samsung are today: the hot, high-demand companies selling the stuff we all want.
We have these devices because they're made overseas. And the jobs are there, not here. But they aren't jobs we want for ourselves, our children or grandchildren. The factory workers are lined up by the thousands in heinous conditions, assembling components for pennies-by-the-day. This is not the American dream and this is why America gave up on manufacturing, sort of... We call it In-Between manufacturing. In-Between is a kind of manufacturing that requires a lot of labor. It's not automated and it's not specialized. It's In-Between.
Since labor in America is expensive, factories overseas were happy to take all of our In-Between manufacturing. The companies shipping the jobs overseas were happy to have the extra profit margin. And we all got crappier products.
Automobiles (or most of their parts), furniture, clothing, lumber, light fixtures...all the things that used to be made here are made there. They are some of the objects of in-between manufacturing. And it's mostly gone from the United States, as is the quality (even our handheld devices only last a year or two at best).
Detroit, Philadelphia, St Louis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Buffalo, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Boston, Newark, Milwaukee: The cities with the highest loss of manufacturing jobs between 1950 and 2010 all share a similar story. Some even look the same as they did 50 years ago. Their fossils show up as logos in cornerstones of buildings that lost their workers to the kind of work the cheap overseas assembly lines offer every day.
(The Allen Bradley building, Milwaukee, then (1958) and now (2015 Google Maps). Its logo a fossil from the past, preserved in the cornerstone above the doorway under the overhang.)
But manufacturing in America is not dead. Manufacturing in America is alive and sort-of well. Breweries, assembly plants, glassware, a battery factory in Nevada, and thousands more are still doing their thing or just starting up.
But why? In the age of cheap overseas labor, why are there still manufacturers in the United States?
And if there are manufacturers still here, why is it hard to find a manufacturer and build a product everyone needs at a cost where we can sell at a price that everyone can afford, without going to China where even Powerful Chinese entrepreneurs say people in China hate products made in China?
We've learned a lot in the last few months after peering into the abyss looking for answers.
The answer is: American manufacturing is dead. Long live American manufacturing.
All manufacturing was not created equal. There are 3 types of manufacturing: Automated, Specialized and In-Between. Two of the three are still in the United States and the one we need is mostly gone.
Automated manufacturing is how shoelaces, most food, and paper is made: a few employees handling equipment that does most of the work producing huge quantities of goods at low cost. Automated manufacturing stays in America because the labor and other costs are relatively insignificant making overseas manufacturing advantages (cheap labor) less valuable.
Specialized manufacturing provides services to customers in highly-specific industries. The aerospace, defense, geosciences, medical and other niche markets can pay high prices to manufacturers and charge a lot for their goods or services. Specialized manufacturing stays in America because it can absorb the labor cost within expensive products. Most of our factory partners are in this category and this is our biggest problem in Seattle.
In Seattle most factories are job shops (small, specialized factories producing low-volume/high cost components) servicing Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon or other customers that pay very high prices for smallish runs of product. They could squeeze in small runs of our product between their primary business but as our business grows they couldn't shift their focus to servicing our higher-volume, lower-price products. The more time we took up in their factories the more they would have to charge us.
We had to find a solution to work around the limitations of local manufacturing.
Our products require in-between manufacturing. These are the lost jobs America lacks. These are the factories that are hard to find.
But we haven't shipped our production overseas yet because after we got slugged by our 3 factory partners a few months ago we decided not to hide from the problems but to dig in, hunker down and see how we could do better. It worked.
We learned why our suppliers are hesitant to take on companies with growing volumes: their existing businesses don't allow for in-between manufacturing. They're weary of taking on new customers who may ship the manufacturing overseas - that's what most companies do as they gain traction.
But Conway Electric is different. Actually, over the past few months we've grown and our hope is that with greater velocity we can create greater value and build more jobs and offer more work on-shore. We're doing this by creating better supplier relationships while figuring out how to integrate some automation and make our manufacturing process more efficient.
Our growth is the only way we're able to survive while keeping manufacturing in the United States. By showing our manufacturing partners the growth over the past year and showing them how they can build a solid business with us as an ongoing customer, we were able to convince all 3 suppliers to keep our business while working more closely in the future.
And it wasn't easy.
We had to bounce around trying to change things until we found the right partners who would listen.
1. First we met with the owners - we asked our contacts at each supplier factory for sit down meetings with the owners or upper management. In today's digital/text messaging/emailing world nothing replaces face to face meetings and personal relationships. It's the only thing that matters.
2. We recapped the business - we presented information on how our company has grown over the past year and where we expect it will be in the next year. Growth means opportunity and opportunity means business.
3. We are staking our claim - we recently instagrammed a photo of our first granted patent we received from the USPTO in printed form. In addition to our granted patents we have more than 7 new pending patents and a few trademarks with more being filed each month. By showing our partners we are serious about the commitment to the product category they understand they are positioned to become longer term partners as we grow, protected by our intellectual property.
4. We had to show them the money - on the phone recently a new supplier said "we love new ideas and small companies. One of our customers does $millions in business with us each year and they started in a basement in the 1960s when our company was brand new. We see the potential". If we do an opening order with the supplier we may order more than we need up front, taking some inventory risk - we aren't penny shy and pound foolish and we expect fair prices. We'll also execute supply agreements with the factories so we know upfront what prices they will charge and they know we're committed for a certain period of time.
5. We searched for new suppliers - reaching out to new suppliers who better understand the needs of a new business is critical as a business grows. This means a lot of time on the phone and on sourcing websites or through other company referrals. Ultimately great suppliers can make or break your business so work hard to find them and be sure their work is tested. Quality before quantity is key. Pro tip: find the suppliers who are also hungry for growth. If they're stagnant and happy, you'll likely never get along well enough to grow.
6. We leverage technology - by using technology to remove middle men from processes we're able to grow retail and manufacturing relationships using existing platforms. Dropbox, Quickbooks online, some other software and APIs connecting them together helps communication without burdensome cost and almost zero setup time.
7. We got certified - we tout our Underwriters Laboratories listing. This is a time and fee-intensive process, but also shows our suppliers that we're committed to working with them. By achieving UL Listing and extending coverage to our suppliers (and working with them to be sure they're certified) they know we're committed to staying with them.
8. We came up with new ideas - every day we think of new products we can offer, new ways we can grow and how to be more creative. We don't keep these ideas for ourselves. We share the ideas with our factories, our customers and you - sometimes in blog posts, often with everyone on Instagram.
By pursuing each step simultaneously we've been able to close deals with larger retailers while improving relationships with our suppliers, giving us some stability for the foreseeable future. Our IP portfolio is helping us build protection around our ideas, and that also protects the manufacturers.
We have a long way to go before we're a stable business. Right now it's still a small group of people who are committed to building a business in the United States with the belief that we will eventually give back all that we are able to achieve.
Every one of our products sold represents our belief that people care about Made In America. It represents an opportunity and empowerment. It means hope and possibility. It's one unit further away from failure.
But the real power is yours. We rely on you to love our products, to give us feedback and ideas, to share our company with your friends and buy our products as gifts. Without you we are nothing and we are grateful for your support.
Ideas? Feedback? Let us know in the comments below. We'll keep you posted as we continue our journey.
We just finished our first year of business. We filed several patents, achieved UL® approval, built a supply chain and launched production. We have almost 80 committed retail accounts and growing.
It's been a dream come true.
But the dream has reached a critical fork in the path to our future and we need your help.
You see, we're a small company committed to American Manufacturing but as we've scaled up we've learned why it's so hard to manufacture in America: our suppliers want to charge more money as our quantities increase.
Three of our contracted factories sent us separate emails this week (coincidence?) asking for significant (up to 2X) price increases.
One said their other customers were bigger and they'd have to charge us more for our increasing volume to make it worth their while to keep powder coating our products. They are the only company around that can handle our increasing volume at acceptable quality.
The factory that weaves thread over our cord and the factory that assembles our products sent us similar messages, stating our increasing volume would require more attention than they want to commit.
Luckily we'll be okay for a little while. We are small and nimble and have enough inventory to keep building as is until we figure out a solution, but we're teetering on the brink and we can't help but think:
1. is their motive to take advantage of us because they want a bigger piece of our business?
2. are they really struggling to make money from the business we give them?
3. Why do factories only favor the big guys and really expensive industries anymore?
4. Isn't losing higher volume production to overseas suppliers the reason for the decline of American Manufacturing in the first place?
We don't know if they're being honest or trying to take advantage of our growth, or both. We always want to believe people are fair and honest.
If their prices go up we can't run a profitable business and we will fail.
If one day they decide to no longer service our business, we will fail.
If another bigger customer books them on a big job and we can't produce, our business will fail.
We are still too small to fund our own exclusive factory alone.
This leaves us with three choices:
A_ Quit because we can't make money and be depressed for awhile before we go get jobs somewhere and daydream about what could have been
B_ Raise at least $500,000, find a space, file for permits, buy machines and open our own factory in the United States
C_ Move manufacturing to China where our costs would be lower and we could do cool things immediately like USB integration, iPhone cables and cool sound systems and accessories
Option A is out. We're not quitting.
But we can't be at the mercy of contracted factories who can kill us by raising prices or stopping manufacturing at any time, so we have to make big decisions.
So we want your help.
We have the unique opportunity to restart the American Manufacturing revolution. Together we can figure out how to keep this business an American Made startup story and grow to become a brand that represents American Industry and Ingenuity.
Are you willing to help? Great.
We want to know: If you were us, what would you do?
These are the toughest decisions we've ever made.
Please comment below how you think we should proceed. Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us your thoughts.
Share this with your friends and family. We need as many people as possible to get involved so we can put our future into our own hands.
Time is critical. We have to move fast, so please take 5 minutes today and tell us what you think.
Our future depends on making the best decisions we can in the next few weeks and your support will help keep us going.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And Sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
Growing up, Dad had a business in our house. He invented some machines for the ceramic wire industry and built a business selling those machines worldwide. It put food on the table, and he sold it for a tiny amount of money after 30 years.
Every product you purchase from Conway Electric supports a 50 year old factory owned by a young family, a student and assembly line worker building the Extō and saving for college, a Mom raising her kids by working at a powder coating company, a young man just out of college working a sales job at a component supplier, and many others.
When you buy from us you give them hope.
Our family struggled as Dad built his business. In the beginning we could have qualified for food stamps if my parents applied, but just squeaked by until Mom's career and Dad's business grew. They were eventually able to afford a solid middle class life in a close knit community where we rode bikes to school.
It was the kind of life that is becoming obsolete.
Shipping containers are piling up in our ports because our trade deficit is growing (we import more than we export).
In a meeting this week a large company kept pressing us to manufacturing in China. "The margins would be so much better and you could do it all there. You wouldn't have to manage any of the details."
And they're right. Building Conway Electric is hard. We could save over 30% in our product cost by going to China. Or India. Or Pakistan. Or anywhere that would enlist low-paid workers to assemble our product for 12 hours per-day every day.
We could tell the factories we do business with "better luck on the next project." We could let go and know people would lose their jobs so we could put their money in our pockets.
It doesn't have to be that way.
We went to Detroit recently and toured the Shinola factory where we celebrated the opening of their watch-strap manufacturing. We walked halls where the Jeep Willys was made over 50 years ago and saw buildings that once held successful businesses get razed to slow down the plight of abandonment. Shinola is trying to turn things around, and it's working.
We had lunch last week with Rachael Joy, a Hollywood producer whose midwestern family was disrupted by foreign manufacturing and is on a mission to share the message of what Made in America really means - on a personal level.
It means a lot more than hollow marketing.
Evidence of the departure of manufacturing is everywhere, but the importance of American Manufacturing needs to be embraced for what it means to the United States as a whole.
We'd rather be a small piece of positive change than another part of the problem. Keeping work in the US is critical and the bigger we get the more we'll give back.
Our factory weaving our cord covering is an American factory in business for 50 years supporting generations of workers and 2 young daughters of the dedicated owner.
Our powder coater in Seattle employs over 50 people, including Moms and Dads.
We get some components from a local Seattle supplier employing the young college grad.
The Extō is assembled right next to Lake Union where we can see the Seattle skyline and where a 22 year old is building his savings to pay for college, among others working on the product line.
Our model is a leaner model: we can run colors faster, find out what our customers want and test new products quickly without a lot of waste, while paying a living wage.
Does it cost a little more? Well, cost is what you pay, value is what you create. Our value is in local, community, neighbor and friend. Providing hope and opportunity while creating products that can last a lifetime rather than a minute.
What type of business would you prefer?
It's not easy, but it's worth it and we're not going to stop.
Thanks for supporting us as we grow, we know our purpose means a lot to you.
We're inspired by possibilities.
Steel and stone are the medium. Sweat is our currency; we use it to buy dreams.
In casted iron and rolled stainless steel we see the history of opportunity. In a country built on ideas and tempered with competition it's up to us.
We're inspired by the inventors and the leaders and the crazies. The ones who make things happen.
We try, we fail, we try again, and again and again until our knuckles are bare and our denim stained with grease and blood.
The heat doesn't scare us. Fire forges hope. In industry we see beauty. Grinding gears muscling metal.
Hidden secrets live in old bricks placed by hand, one-by-one. Under floorboards in rows held by square nails; work of the time that came before. Housing dreams and building new vision.
The sky is not too high. If the candle keeps burning.
There's only one rule: don't stop.
Everything starts small, as we are right now. So if you have an idea, don't wait, you can start. Just plant it and water it and have faith in the future. From nothing comes something, and we're all in between. "It's not what you have done but what you will do" that matters. It's the line we repeat when we hit a tough spot. When we go over or under or around it we grow. And when it branches and blooms and yields we'll know: it was all worth it.
(this is what the box looked like)
We all held hands. There were 5 of us.
Myself (8years old), my brother (11), my brother's friend also (11) and our neighbor (14).
The neighbor brought over a box his 90 year old grandfather said was used for treatment of arthritis. It was probably from the 1930s and most likely illegal in 1985.
The box was like an ancient voltage regulator: it had heavy metal rods - one for each hand. A wire extended from the box to each rod. Holding the rods in each hand would complete a circuit, sending electricity through your body in what felt like vibration - essentially it was a controlled electrocution. There was a metal slider. Pulling the slider out increased the voltage, and thus the vibration.
It was a scary device. And as kids that made us want to play with it a lot.
I dropped the handles when the slider hit 4, my brother and our neighbor could hold on until about 6.
And if you held hands you would all feel the shock coursing through you (person 1 held one rod, person 5 held the other rod, completing the circuit).
We could get up to about level 8, sometimes 9 if we were cruel and didn't let go of someone's hand but we never got to 10. We played with it probably 15 times before it went back into a dark, dingy basement and never seen again.
I'm sure you're asking yourself "where were their parents?"
Well, it was definitely irresponsible, but it was the 1980's and people were distracted by 1980s things like Ronald Reagan and A Ha so a lot of dumb things happened.
Today over 2.5M people are electrocuted in uncontrolled mains electric shocks every year.
Mains electricity is the common electricity found in homes - the alternating current (AC) powering everything we use.
Reasons for shock vary, but a big reason is unprotected electric outlets like the kind you have in your wall.
If you have kids, you should be very aware of a mains shock caused by insertion of a toy, paperclip, etc into an unprotected outlet. This is a top concern of parents everywhere.
Even extension cords and surge protectors have open and unprotected outlets.
You can buy outlet covers (cheap plastic tabs you stick into outlets when not in use) but they are hideous, a hassle when you pull them out to insert a plug every time, and they get lost. There today, gone tomorrow, exposing bare electric outlets. Furthermore, if you have kids you know they are not kid proof.
Tamper Resistant (TR) outlets are proven to be safer. The tamper gates inside the outlet permanently cover the electric terminals so cannot be dislodged easily by kids. But even if a home has TR outlets in the wall, as soon as you plug in an extension cord the unprotected outlets at the ends of the cords reintroduce the risk of shock.
Conway Electric uses Tamper Resistant (TR) outlets in every Extō because extending electricity should be done as safely as possible. And the only reason standard extension cords don't have safety features such as TR outlets is because it costs more and isn't easily manufactured into the plug.
Along with a product built for a lifetime, isn't it worth paying more to reduce the risk of shock? We think so.
Here are some more things you can do in your home to reduce the risk of shock:
1. If you don't have TR outlets, you can have an electrician switch to TR outlets or insert safety tabs into non-TR outlets (when leaving extension or power strips pluggged in, place tabs in all exposed outlets)
2. Make sure you have GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets in your kitchen, bathrooms and anywhere you use electricity a lot (basements, especially shops, too) - GFCI outlets sense a change in flow of current and shut off - meaning it helps protect you from electrocution. GFCI outlets have the little red "reset" button (talk to an electrician to have these installed)
3. Avoid cube taps - those multi-outlet cubes that you insert into a wall to increase the number of plugs drawing power out. Think about the scene in "A Christmas Story" where 100 plugs are tapped into a single outlet: void this.
4. Replace missing or broken outlet covers so wires aren't exposed
5. Don't use any cords with exposed wires. If the jacket (outer covering) or wire of a cord gets cut, replace the cord immediately
6. Match light bulbs to the wattage specified on the bulb socket
7. Keep electricity away from water - including sinks, bathtubs, washing machines, etc
8. If an appliance trips a fuse frequently, have it checked. It could be faulty and require service
9. Keep small objects (especially metal) away from kids
10. Educate your kids about the dangers of electricity in and out of the home. Electric outlets and mains shocks are dangerous but playing near industrial power sources or downed power lines is extremely dangerous
And don't stop there. Talk to your electrician next time he comes by to learn more about your home electrical system.
Electricity is awesome and more necessary every day so a little care can go a long way. Let us know what you do to keep your kids safe and how you handle those unprotected extension cords.
(my first bicycle was this one)
If you are like me, you love good things.
I saved for months, maybe even a couple years, for my first bicycle.
But it wasn't just any bicycle.
I found it in the paper, which I scoured every weekend morning. It was a 1986 chrome and white Quentin Streedancer Pro: front & rear pegs, mag wheels, mushroom grips...it was the nicest thing I owned until that time. It cost me $186 (negotiated down from $212). It was designed for professional bmx trick riders and was an object of covet (indeed it was stolen 18 months later).
Throughout my life I've saved for things of quality. It wasn't about quantity. I've always wanted a few nice things over many mediocre things: shoes, tents, clothing, cars, whatever I owned I wanted to be the best because I didn't have a lot of money growing up and I wanted what I owned to last forever.
Things are gettable. Good things are hard to come by and when you get them you keep them. It doesn't matter if it's a pencil sharpener or a pair of pants.
But you know them when you feel them. They have a weight and a texture. They feel different and last longer. They look better. They work better.
It's the reason we pay $hundreds for shoes with a quality brand. Or why a 1956 Ford Fairlane will always be a classic and a 1994 Ford Taurus never will be.
It's the reason a wool rug from a quality source is expensive and why one piece of furniture from Herman Miller is better than 10 from a discount store.
And that's why Conway Electric was founded: in the world of electricity we found the worst offenders of the cheaper-is-good philosophy and we believe we can do better. We are out to create electricity objects of covet.
So when you plug in to a Conway Electric design, it is an act of pleasure every time and when you see it just sitting there across the room it brings you happiness, like art, a photo or your favorite piece of furniture.
We don't know why the most important technology every harnessed has gone this long without attention or why cheap extension cords have polluted the homes of everyone, but we only have now, so here we are.
We'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment or email us any time: howdy[at]conwaygoods.com