Made in D.C. expects 'shop local' momentum

Ace dealer A Few Cool Hardware Stores is gearing up for the second season of its Made in D.C. program with high expectations for incremental success. According to store owner Gina Schaefer, the "shop local" ethic was well-received before, and she expects and encourages copycats to keep the momentum rolling.

Having had the opportunity to tweak the program after its initial bounty of 12 submissions, Schaefer said she expects a much more substantial turnout when the program launches again on Aug. 1. On a larger, national scale, her primary hope is that programs like this one will help the "make local, buy local" effort continue to pick up steam.

"Other retailers should steal the idea," she said. Generally speaking, "anyone who's interested in doing something local should try to implement it."

Schaefer, who has strong ties to Made in D.C. partner Think Local First D.C., said that last season's good feedback was mostly from the media, but consumers demonstrated a strong interest as well. Already, announcements about the program have received thousands of Facebook impressions, and a strong community spirit in Maryland (where the program is expanding to this summer) promises to draw even greater enthusiasm.

Schaefer's long-term vision? That eventually, the program will move beyond small craftsmen and encourage local manufacturers to provide substitutes for the products that are typically imported by hardware stores across the nation.

Perhaps a more important question to ask: whether programs like Schaefer's will actually drive the local economy. HCN's Feb. 2013 Made in the USA survey asked industry professionals whether their customers were willing to pay more for products that were made in the U.S. Out of 969 responses, a total of 41.4% "agreed" (29.8%) or "strongly agreed" (11.6%). The majority of respondents (35.3%) answered "neutral." That's a weak turnout when you consider that a Boston Consulting Group survey found that 80% of consumers say they would pay more for a local product.

To that end, Schaefer said it was a relatively mixed bag last season.

"The people who see it and like the idea - they love it and they buy it," she said. "But it's a mixture of both."

Overall, the program wasn't (or isn't yet) a particularly large source of profit for A Few Cool Hardware Stores, but participants received a nice sum for their efforts, as well as a boost in brand recognition.

Barring a nation-wide takeover, Schaefer hopes that the program's second run will bring the industry just a small step closer to having robust local options for mainstay products. In the meantime, she encourages interested parties to apply. 

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