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Our Problem: If Customers Knew We Buy From China, They Might Bolt

By Caitlin Elsaesser

The owner: Brina Bujkovsky
The business: Bujkovsky owns the Younique Boutique, Inc., based in San Marcos, Calif., which specializes in handcrafted gifts for special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. Her featured products include personalized prints, customized photo gifts, and custom wedding cake toppers.

Annual gross sales: $500,000 to $550,000
The problem: Bujkovsky is proud that her business is family-owned and that the majority of her products are made in the United States. However, Bujkovsky's custom cake toppers are made in China, and she is concerned this will turn off her clients.

"The American consumer doesn't like the idea of purchasing Chinese-made goods," she says. "Most Americans see Chinese goods as offering less quality, and there is an implication that we are sending jobs overseas."

Currently, Younique Boutique does not disclose the origin of the wedding cake toppers to customers unless they inquire. And while this approach has brought very few problems --only a few customers have asked about the topper's origin -- Bujkovsky feels uncomfortable with hiding this information.

"We pride ourselves in being 100% honest with our customers," she says.

Bujkovsky is quick to point out that these products are still artisan-made -- not factory-produced. "Every order is made by hand to the customer's exact specifications by a team of artists," she says. "We have a close working relationship with our supplier, talking to the team every night about the orders."

Bujkovsky says it makes good business sense to continue to source the product from China. These intricate wedding cake toppers are made to look like the bride and groom, and the Chinese artists are well trained in a resin craft, something difficult to find in the United States. It's also financially better: A similar product made in the U.S. would be four times the cost.

"I have found myself with a product that I feel I can't be totally open about," she says. "How much do American consumers care if a product is from China? Should we disclose the origin of the product, and if we do, how can we do it without turning our customers off?"

What the experts said:
Don't assume you know how your customers feel -- ask! We often think we know what our customers want, but in reality we have no idea. Ask about attitudes as well as actions. While a customer may say that they want only U.S. made products they may not be willing to pay more. As we all know, actions speak louder than words.

Share your hesitations. Blog about how you made the decision to offer the cake toppers made in China, including your initial concerns and how they were resolved.

Do a behind-the-scenes series in social media. Show "the making of" three of your most interesting products -- two U.S. based and this China-made cake topper. Document your series with videos and photographs to educate customers about the care and quality involved with the product and alleviate fears of poor labor conditions.

--Dr. Larina Kase, Founder, PsychologyofMarketing.com
It's OK to be proud of your team in China. Your artisans in China are a very important part of your company. One way to show your pride in your team is to humanize them to your customers. For example, we feature the leaders of our team abroad on a prominent page on our website. We also note to inquiring customers that more than half of our team-members abroad are stay-at-home mothers who work to afford medicine for their children. In your case, you might place a photo of your artisans in China next to the wedding cake toppers in your store. This might spark conversation with your customers and make sure you feel that you're being totally open with them. You have a right to be proud of the work the artisans do, knowing that you wouldn't be able to offer the toppers without them.

Explain how your connection to China helps your customers. You're able to offer your toppers at a very low price. Your choice isn't between hiring an artisan in China and hiring an artisan in the U.S. -- it's between hiring an artisan in China or not offering the topper at all. And even if you decided to offer a U.S.-made topper in your store, it would be much more expensive for your customers if you didn't have the team in China. Explain that you're saving your U.S. customers money -- this is a win-win for you and your customers.

--Sander Daniels, Co-founder, http://www.thumbtack.com

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