U.P. products reach national markets

Michigan State Roundup

Published April 1, 1991  | April 1991 issue

A doll purchased in Chicago may have been crafted in an attic studio in Rumely, Mich., and a Christmas basket pictured in a nationally distributed catalogue may say "Michigan Made."

These Upper Peninsula (U.P.) products and others reach distant markets as a result of the Northern Economic Initiatives Center's (NEIC) Trade Show Program at Northern Michigan University, Marquette.

Now in its third year, the program offers U.P. artisans and specialty food producers the opportunity to exhibit their products at trade shows around the country. Shows attended in 1989 and 1990 produced upwards of $100,000 in sales for participants.

In January seven companies displayed their products at Beckman's Gift Show in Chicago and came away with about $17,000 in sales among them, with possibilities for future sales and wider distribution of their products. Two exhibitors were approached by mail order firms. "Catalogue sales can really boost overall sales," says Christine Rector, NEIC marketing services manager.

This was the first time NEIC exhibited at the Chicago show as well as the New York International Gift Fair, two of the prime marketing shows in the nation. The New York fair, held in late February, gave five U.P. exhibitors, including a clothing artist and jewelry maker, the chance to display their wares to about 45,000 buyers who represent domestic and international gift stores, galleries, catalogues and department stores.

Doll maker Barbara West has participated in the Trade Show Program since its inception. "I attended a cottage industry conference, received all kinds of tremendous information, and ended up with an expense-paid trip to a Boston trade show," West says. Explaining some intangible benefits, West stresses the importance of networking with other crafters. "I'm the only person in my business; I do everything myself." Rector adds, "The fairs also increase participants' sense of professionalism and decrease feelings of isolation often felt by those who live in rural areas."

Sales of U.P. products through these events also have a substantial effect on the region's economy. "Overall we see, in addition to increased individual income, people sustaining a business in a rural area far removed from the national and regional markets. Often producers create and sustain secondary level jobs as well," Rector says.

West alone has quadrupled her sales over the past three years, and occasionally hires a local woman to do clerical work for her. "It's quite a success story when a woman making dolls in her attic in rural Rumely, Mich., can penetrate the national marketplace," Rector says.

Kathy Cobb