Zarrellas make it their business to buy local
Joseph Vincent Zarrella is sick of hearing about the recession. He watches the news and reads the papers, and all he hears is how bad the economy is, both in the United States and here in Rhode Island.
He’s sick of listening; he wants to do something about it.
Together with his father, Joseph Francis Zarrella, and his son, Joseph Gary Zarrella, they’ve created WhereToBuyUSA.com, a directory of companies that create and manufacture their products in America.
“They talk about it all the time on the news, but no one has any solutions; nobody’s doing anything to come up to the plate and take it to the next level,” said Joseph Vincent, a native of Cranston and current Johnston resident.
The way he sees it, Where To Buy USA could have a positive ripple effect on the economy. Consumers would patronize American companies, allowing them to expand and hire more workers. As companies grow, so too do the service industries that fuel them.
“If you get people back to work, it’s going to spark even more jobs. It might instill faith in the economy again,” he said.
Moreover, he is hopeful that his family’s efforts will motivate people to take action on their own – doing their part to kickstart the economy back to life.
“A lot of people who are unemployed right now, they’re waiting for the government to step in,” he said.
When Joseph Francis started his own plumbing company 60 years ago, things were different.
Today, he is shocked to see how many companies outsource jobs and how many consumers are unaware of what they are buying. Most recently, he was disappointed to see the U.S. Olympic athletes wearing uniforms made in a different country.
“Sixty years ago, everything was made in America, and everything was the best,” Joseph Francis said, urging quality over quantity. Buying foreign-made products can be less expensive, he concedes, but you get what you pay for.
Where To Buy USA was conceptualized about one year ago. Joseph Gary was a pre-medical student at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, but he took a minor in business. Halfway through one semester, his business professor was fired. Relaying the story to his father, Joseph Vincent suggested that he take his son on as an apprentice of sorts, showing him how it really works, running a business like J. Zarrella Plumbing & Heating Company, which he has owned for 15 years. Part of his personal business philosophy is purchasing as much as he can within the United States.
“He’s got the experience to show me,” Joseph Gary said. “It escalated into something serious.”
During a conversation about opening a small business, the idea for Where To Buy USA came up. After doing some research, they discovered that a recently updated listing was not available, and they felt strongly that the need is there.
“I think it’s a matter of awareness,” Joseph Gary said. “A lot of people just don’t know where these businesses are. This is the place to find it – one-stop shop.”
Where To Buy USA has roughly 434,000 listings, searchable by product type, state and NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) code. There are more than 600 categories listed.
“I was really surprised that there were that many manufacturers. There are thousands and thousands of manufacturers that no one knows about,” Joseph Gary said. “You say, ‘wow, I’ve never heard of that brand.’”
According to U.S. Census data, in 1973 approximately 24 percent of the American workforce was in manufacturing. Now, it is approximately 9 percent.
The website was up fairly quickly after they came up with the idea, but they have been making tweaks ever since. Joseph Gary taught himself web design as he went along, before they brought in a professional designer to put on the finishing touches. There is a portion of the website where you can send feedback, so they hope people will suggest new industries or correct any oversights on the site.
“We’re always expanding,” Joseph Gary said. “We’re going to keep updating it.”
Joseph Gary, who is preparing to take the entrance exam for dental school, juggles his studies with managing the Where To Buy USA efforts. It is a busy time, but he says the investment is worth it.
“A couple years ago people could care less, but now people are becoming more patriotic. People are looking more for quality now,” he said.
Building on that patriotism is another goal for the family. The website features an American flag, partially in honor of Joseph Vincent, a World War II Navy veteran. The Eagle pays homage to his son and grandson, both Eagle Scouts.
As the site grows in popularity, the Zarrellas hope to attract like-minded advertisers, like Rhode Island companies Alex and Ani and Taco, who have a reputation for supporting American industry.
Those are the companies Joseph Vincent admires, and he hopes to be in that category with Where To Buy USA.
“I think the return is going to be greatly rewarding, with people going back to work,” he said.
To search the Where To Buy USA database, visit wheretobuyusa.com.