Made in (fill in the blank)

In Cologne, country of origin mattered.

Around the globe, sellers from country A who promote their products as “Made in country A” are quick to point out that country A products are known for their quality, even by buyers from country C.

Let’s call it “the universal theory of country-of-origin quality,” and it was on full display at the recent Internationale Eisenwarenmesse (International Hardware Fair) in Cologne, Germany.

Manufacturers from more than 50 countries were represented at the show, many proudly proclaiming their made-in-country credentials. What does it mean to be made in (your country here)?

Take “Made in Italy” for example. A delegate from the Export Italy booth, after much discussion and deliberation with a colleague, had this two-word answer: “Door handles.”

“Door handles?”

“Door handles.”

Obviously, something was lost in translation, so we asked Elvio Todesco, marketing manager for SAIT abrasives, beneath a Made-in-Italy sign. “Made in Italy means new ideas, good imagination, good quality and good performance. That’s it.”

Under a “Made in Sweden” banner at the Sjobergs booth, we put the question to Jan Mollefors, sales director for the maker of really cool workbenches. “Made in Sweden, for me, means quality. That’s No. 1. Not cheapest, but we deliver what we promise. That’s made in Sweden.”

What about the craftsmanship? The culture of design? “I’m sorry, but this can take a long time,” Mollefors added politely, as he returned to a meeting with buyers.

What about Made in Japan? In the words of Mika Harada, it means: “High quality and also a unique design and unique approach.”

She continued: “Korean and Chinese markets like Made in Japan. In the USA and European markets, there’s a misunderstanding with ‘Made in China.’ ”

China. It’s the elephant in the convention center. It didn’t take long for companies to disparage the brand of the world’s low-cost manufacturer.

For instance, “Made in Denmark” means quality and craftsmanship, etc., according to Henrik Taulborg, sales manager for Ravendo, maker of fine Danish wheelbarrows. But the label has a second important meaning: “It means ‘not made in China,’ ” he said. “Whether it’s made in Europe, or made in Denmark, it’s important to tell customers that it’s not made in China.”

Being a German show, Eisenwarenmesse had no shortage of “Made in Germany” pride. “When I say to someone that I represent two German companies,” said Alan Sipe of Knipex Tools and Witte Tools, “the first words out of their mouths are, ‘That must be good stuff.’ I think that’s the reputation. It’s known to be expensive, but good stuff.”

What about the reputation of Made in USA in Germany? Sipe passed that exact question to two nearby German nationals.

First German answer: “Good.”

Second German answer: “I would say good.”

Chalk two up for American manufacturing! And check out our Made-in-USA report, beginning on page 16.

A reporter spans the globe to examine the universal theory of country-of-origin quality.

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