SMALL BUSINESS

Made In The USA: Why July 4th Is Good For Business

07/29/2011 11:26 am ET | Updated Aug 11, 2011

For some businesses, July 4th is a little like, well, Christmas.

The fireworks industry, for instance, is a $940 million-a-year industry in the United States. And while fireworks displays occur regularly at theme parks and festivals, July 4th is obviously the biggest day of the year for scores of businesses scattered across the country that peddle fireworks -- including family-owned Rozzi Fireworks, based in Loveland, Ohio, and the numerous stores that sell them, like Atomic Fireworks, in Seabrook, N.H.

And anyone in the hot dog industry is likely to get a July 4th bonus. By some estimates, 150 million Americans will enjoy hot dogs this weekend.

Of course, this is also the biggest holiday for anyone in the American flag industry, which generates approximately $350 million a year in revenue. Jeffrey L. Reynolds says that demand for American flags at AmericanFlags.com is, not surprisingly, virtually at a standstill during January, February and March. "April begins to get busy, especially with people in the Northeast freshening up their homes during spring cleaning," says Reynolds, who runs his business from Long Island, N.Y. "Memorial Day is a busy period, but this week, it's absolute insanity."

Reynolds' company was born out of the intense demand for American flags after 9/11. Reynolds, who worked in the nonprofit sector, saw that in October 2001, the URL AmericanFlags.com was being sold on eBay, and on an entrepreneurial whim, he bid $2,600 for it -- and won.

Not long after, the person who had come in second place in the bidding contacted him. "Here's my problem," the man said. "I have a warehouse full of American flags and no way to sell them to the public. Why don't we work together?"

"Great," Reynolds responded. "I have a great website name but no inventory."

The two put a deal together, and that's how Reynolds started AmericanFlags.com, which he now runs with his wife, Maureen. The very first day, Reynolds received enough orders to recoup his $2,600, and business has been steady ever since. He won't divulge his company's revenue, but he does brisk business -- selling 8,000 American flags last month, employing four people full time, and outsourcing his operators from a call center in Pennsylvania. And, yes, if you're wondering, Reynolds only sells American-made flags -- that is, they come from manufacturers based in the United States.

That's been an important factor in Reynolds' success. After 9/11, the demand for American flags was so great that U.S. manufacturers couldn't meet demand. The year before, only about $748,000 worth of American flags were imported. After 9/11, that number jumped to $51 million. Then consumers began insisting their American flags actually be made in America. Last year, imported American flags only totaled around $3 million.

Another company that tries to hang onto its American spirit and culture -- and market itself around July 4th, is Dickinson Brands, an East Hampton, Conn., company that makes Dickinson's Original Witch Hazel.

If witch hazel doesn't sound American, that's only because you haven't been around long enough to know what it is -- a medicinal cure that comes from a flowering shrub native to North America. In fact, it was used as a cure-all by Native Americans, and started as a commercial product in 1866. The founder of the product was a Baptist minister, Rev. Thomas Newton Dickinson, who lived in New England and made his fortune manufacturing Civil War uniforms. After the Civil War ended, like all good entrepreneurs, he was looking for his next big thing, and he thought of marketing witch hazel.

The Americana element has helped Dickinson's immeasurably, according to Bryan Jackowitz, the company's marketing director, and because witch hazel is a favorite remedy for insect bites, it's frequently marketing hard during July 4th -- a time when a lot of people are outside waving their flags and gobbling down those hot dogs.

"We do a lot of 'try me free' promotions in stores, especially aimed at those who aren't acquainted with the brand," Jackowitz says.

The company has also been careful to preserve and promote its American heritage, Jackowitz says, noting that the labels on its witch hazel skin-care line and first-aid products have that "apothecary look."

"We try to capitalize on the history and nostalgia that comes with witch hazel, which comes from familial memories of its use throughout the generations," Jackowitz says. "It's something that really is part of Americana, and you can't just create that. It's something that's created over hundreds of years."

But, hey, you can try. Some time ago, Salinas, Calif.-based Creative Balloons Manufacturing, a worldwide manufacturer of balloon accessories -- including easy-to-fill-helium-balloon kits -- created a costumed, copyrighted character named Yankee Doodle Dandy. He's sort of the company mascot for products like the Yankee Doodle Dandy E-Z Balloon Kit.

Executive vice president and chief product designer Suzy Goodman-Pollack says the company wanted to attach itself to a figure like Yankee Doodle Dandy because it has such a positive connotation for kids. "We feel it's important for kids to have a positive reflection of America," she says. "It increases our sense of well-being and morale for America," and adds that she hopes the Yankee Doodle Dandy character will "make kids proud of their nation, which helps to build a stronger society."

As for making money off something like Yankee Doodle and American flags? Well, that's capitalism -- an idea as American as apple pie. "If making money is a byproduct of trying to spread an important and necessary message," Goodman-Pollack says, "then that's wonderful."

The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 7/1/10.

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