Thursday, November 22, 2007

Autumn Leaves, Pumpkin Pie, and … Shopping

Today is one of those clear, sunny, fresh autumn days that I love so much. The sunlight falling on the trees makes them glow-- red-orange maples, burgundy redbuds, and yellow poplars. My garden looks in disarray after a busy summer, with the rose bush climbing over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, the mums falling all over themselves in a profusion of blooms, and the unwatched grasses that snuck back in to form a green carpet under all.

Today is Thanksgiving Day, and despite a hectic summer and fall, I have a lot to be thankful for. We survived a move to a smaller home, my youngest son has settled into life in a new school, our house has finally sold after months on the market. We are all healthy and our bills are paid.

It has been a busy autumn at as well! Newspaper stories, including a story in the New York Times, and a guest spot on NPR’s On Point helped spread the word about to new audiences. The number of visitors to the site continues to grow, and I have received hundreds of suggestions for companies or products to check out and list.

The recent toy recalls have been an alarming wake-up call for many parents, and shoppers searching for “toys made in USA” have been burning up my bandwidth! I hope the interest in American-made toys will spill over into other product categories and that shoppers will rediscover the many wonderful things that are still made in USA.

As in past years, I have posted a Virtual Holiday Catalog to get you started, but please don’t shop today! I hate the idea the Thanksgiving is just “the start of the holiday shopping season.” Enjoy the day for itself, take a deep breath, eat some turkey and stuffing, and share a glass of wine with family and friends, save room for the pumpkin pie. Be thankful for what you have, and think of a small thing that you can do to make someone else’s life happier.

Stephanie, Webmaster

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fisher & Paykel in the U.S.A.

At a time when many manufacturers are eyeing low-cost locales in Mexico or Asia, a New Zealand manufacturer of washers and dryers has set up shop in Ohio. Fisher & Paykel is a well-known brand in the Australian and New Zealand market, with a focus on energy and water efficient laundry appliances. The company produces direct-drive (no belt) and top-loading clothes washers, and dishwashers with pull-out drawers (the DishDrawer).

In 2005, F&P announced plans to move production of their SmartDrive washer line from Brisbane, Australia to Clyde, Ohio. The move was prompted by a desire to be close to North American markets so that freight costs are reduced and products can be delivered to customers more quickly. The new facility in Clyde, OH also makes sense because Clyde is home to a large division of Whirlpool and the two companies have had alliances in the past. F&P produces motors for Whirlpool and distributes Whirlpool products in New Zealand. In January 2007, F&P announced that its new AquaSmart clothes washer, which has energy and water saving features, will be assembled at the Clyde, OH facility.

When Fisher & Paykel was beginning its U.S. production, I was contacted by a representative of the company who was interested in official “Made in USA” labeling requirements so that the company could emphasize the fact that their products were being manufactured in the U.S. The move to the U.S. seems to be paying off; the company reports in their Annual Report for 2005-2006 that U.S. sales are now the largest source of revenue (38 percent of appliance sales), exceeding revenues from Australian or New Zealand.

If a company such as Fisher & Paykel recognizes the value of the American market, and feels that “Made in USA” is an important marketing theme, perhaps some of our own manufacturers will wake to the growing interest among U.S. shoppers to “buy American.”

Stephanie, Webmaster

Monday, April 09, 2007

No More Camillus Knives

At the end of February 2007, Camillus Cutlery (Camillus, NY) closed its doors for the last time. The knife manufacturer, in business since 1876, was known for its pocket knives, but also made Boy Scout utility knives, Western knives, and military/tactical fighting knives. The company remained in its original location, on the banks of Nine Mile Creek, for all the years of its existence. Many of the workers at the facility were long-time employees, and some were third or fourth generation employees.

Although readers of the local paper in Camillus were aware of the company’s troubles, Internet surfers looking for the company’s website ( are greeted only with the news that the site has been closed. The last listing of the site in the web archives is May 23, 2006, just days after the company’s workers walked out on strike to protest proposed drastic decreases in wages and health benefits. Camillus workers, members of the United Steelworkers, remained on strike from May through November 2006, before finally reaching agreement with the company on a new contract. Shortly thereafter, Camillus Cutlery announced sizeable layoffs, and within a few months the company had closed.

Is there a lesson in the closing of Camillus Cutlery, and if so, what is that lesson? Is it that American-made products cannot compete on price with products made elsewhere? Can financially troubled companies talk openly and honestly with workers about needed concessions? When unions are negotiating contracts with financially troubled companies, how can they support the company without sacrificing the quality of life of their members?

According to the USW website, there had not been a strike at the facility since 1952. I do not know whether the labor-management conflicts arose from approaches or decisions taken by the new management, or whether the economic realities facing the company made new salary and benefit conditions inevitable.

In any case, I am sad at the loss of a venerable old company that made quality products, sad that the sacrifice of the striking workers seemed only to hasten the demise of their employer. There must be a better way.

[For a while, at least, read more about the history of Camillus Cutlery]

Stephanie, Webmaster

Monday, February 12, 2007

Still in Love (With my Pontiac G6!)

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I am happy to say I am in love. But let’s talk about cars!

After several months of driving my Pontiac G6, I thought I would post an update on her performance. She drives like a dream, and she talks to me too! She tells me when there may be ice outside, and when I need to go fill her gas tank. This latter turned out to be quite handy since, for inscrutable reasons, GM decided that “needle to the right” means the tank is EMPTY-- the opposite of other cars I have driven. So, I kept glancing at the fuel gauge and seeing the needle over to the right and thinking I had a full tank! Wrong. (Speaking of gasoline, I am getting 21.5 mpg for town driving...better than many cars on the road, but I am SURE we can do better than that!)

Stephanie's Pontiac G6

Now that the winter cold has arrived, I must confess that the salesman was correct! I have learned to LOVE the automatic start feature, and not just for the head-turn factor. (The kids love being able to start the car as they walk up to it, and catch looks of surprise on passers-by.) On these cold mornings, I start her up from the warmth of the house and she is warmed and ready to go when we come running out, late to school as usual!

Another nice touch in the GM Customer Service arena: A few days after I purchased the car, I sent an email to UAW Local 5960 thanking them for making a beautiful car for me. Although I did not receive a response to my email, a few weeks after my purchase I received a phone call from a woman at the Orion Assembly Plant in Lake Orion, MI thanking me for my purchase and asking if I was happy with the car. I thought that was really neat! I have never purchased a new car before, so maybe this is standard practice by all auto manufacturers. Still, I thought it was a good way to remind consumers that real people are involved in the production of the things we buy.

Stephanie, Webmaster

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Stephanie goes Wireless!

One symptom of advancing age is declining ability to adopt new technologies. Egad! So, here I was, seemingly the last person on the planet (except my mom) without a cell phone. I always said I was happy to be unreachable at times. However, teenage children, who seem always to have JUST missed the bus and need a ride (!), have finally pushed me into the wireless age.

I “googled” to find some information on various family plans and wireless providers, and ended up using to do some research. I liked the site because it gives a comprehensive look at the service plans from more than a dozen carriers (including T-Mobile, Verizon, Cingular, and Sprint), and offers a great selection of phones available from each. LetsTalk also had better rebate offers than my local wireless stores, so I ended up getting my phones for free.

As a novice to the wireless world, I was surprised to learn that the service providers work with cell phone manufacturers to offer custom phones that only work with their service. Why am I tempted to use the phrase “in cahoots”??

After comparing coverage areas, plan features, and prices, I checked with Communication Workers of America to see if they had a recommendation for a “worker friendly” service provider, and decided to go with Cingular. I liked the Cingular Family Plans, but the other thing I loved was the Fire Red RAZR phone!!! How shallow, I know, but it a truly beautiful little phone...slender, elegant, understated...not a brassy, bright red like some OTHER phones! (I must have a special affinity for this soft metallic red color, because it is one of the reasons I have the “hots” for my Mag-Lite flashlight...)

I am still learning the features of my RAZR phone, but I have sent my first text message, entered some numbers in my address book, and this morning I used the alarm clock feature to wake up. I think there will be no going back! Technology is so cool.

Stephanie, Webmaster