Hockey puck king and outdoor outfitter travails provide necessary cautionary tale

 It’s a grand old brag

The exact nature of American identity has never been more up for grabs than it is now. The “hyperpoliticization” of our present moment guarantees it.

And that means that the impact of origin claims is especially poignant. To wrap oneself (or one’s product) in the flag is a great way to boost sales. But if made-in-the-USA labeling is not handled with the required precision and sensitivity, it can backfire in a spectacular fashion – not merely erasing gains but diminishing a business’s profile.

Bar down

Two recent made-in-the-USA complaints filed by the Federal Trade Commission last September serve as cases in point.

The first complaint, against hockey puck manufacturer George Statler III and his “Patriot Puck” companies, blasted his false origin claims. The commission alleged that Statler and Cos. made bold claims such as “Proudly Made in the USA” and “The Only American Made Hockey Puck!” – all the while selling pucks entirely manufactured in China.

SandPiper and PiperGear USA, companies that manufacture and sell travel bags, backpacks and other gear, came under fire in the second complaint. Here, the commission claimed that 80%-95% of SandPiper products were imported as finished goods or contained “significant imported components,” making their made-in-the-USA slogans and logos lies.

The takeaway

Both companies settled with the commission; final consent orders were inked in mid-April. The orders forbid both companies from making unsubstantiated unqualified claims about the national origin of their products. The companies also agreed to include clear and conspicuous notices on products clarifying qualified made-in-the-USA tags – making clear “the extent to which the product contains foreign parts, ingredients, and/or processing.”

These cautionary tales provide an occasion to reflect and, if necessary, refine existing made-in-the-USA claims. The key is to avoid negative exposure that can be twice as bad as any gains in sales.

Luckily, the FTC has posted thorough guidance on how to handle these claims. If you’re a glutton for punishment, there’s the two-decade-old Enforcement Policy Statement that addresses the issue in detail; but the commission also offers a handy compliance guide that answers common questions and provides concrete examples. If you’re anywhere near making claims like these, check out the appropriate guidance and, if you’re clear, go ahead and wrap yourself in the flag.