What Paintbrush Makers Know About How to Beat China
In an article for the New York Times, Adam Davidson looks at two U.S. paintbrush makers and the strategies they’ve used to stay competitive as Chinese manufacturers offer products for a considerably lower price:
[...]Chinese manufacturers long ago wreaked havoc on the U.S. textile, apparel, toy and electronics industries, but the disruption came slowly to the brush business. There are simply so many types of brushes for so many applications that many Chinese manufacturers thought the business wasn’t worth the hassle. For decades, China lagged behind in the main categories (toothbrushes, brooms, mops and, of course, paintbrushes) and only dominated the lowest rung of the business — extracting bristles from boars. “It’s dirty, smelly, foul work,” David Parr, executive director of the American Brush Manufacturers Association, told me. “Nobody wants to go to West Texas to try to catch a boar and figure out how to get the bristles off him.”
The collapse of the housing market in 2007 and the subsequent recession turned out to be a boon for China’s brush exports. With far less construction and far fewer jobs, not as many people needed paintbrushes (or brooms or toothbrushes). Those who did need them chose cheap imports over more expensive products made in America. Retailers, who stood to make more from the cheaper products, jumped at the opportunity to sell them. Now everyone in the business has to account for the Chinese.
That’s a familiar story for U. S. manufacturing. The strange thing here is that there are still more than 200 brush, broom and mop makers in the U.S. These companies have employed two strategies to stave off Chinese competition: 1) change everything all the time, or 2) don’t ever change a thing.[...] [Source]