If there’s one thing Westporter Geralyn Breig knows how to do, it’s run a major corporation. As a senior executive with several Fortune 500 companies, Geralyn oversaw operations on five continents for leading consumer products and specialty retail brands. Her résumé includes president of Clarks, Americas; president of Avon North America; and president of Godiva Chocolatier International. But, most recently, the lure of founding her own start-up became too much of a temptation for The Wharton School of Business grad, who also serves on the boards of 1800Flowers.com Inc., Hanes Brands Inc., and Welch Foods Inc.
You have been a senior executive at Fortune 500 companies for most of your career. What made you decide to leave that world?
“The most fun I had during my career was creating and executing strategies to grow businesses. I’ve had the privilege of working on excellent teams with excellent brands and growing them from $300 million to $3 billion. Post the great recession, companies got conservative, and it was harder to have that kind of impact in a corporation. A start-up gives you the excitement of growing a business every day.”
How did you come up with the idea for AnytownUSA?
“Back in 2014, the week that Jay-Z and Solange Knowles had their elevator fight, what was not being covered on the news in the U.S. was hundreds of shoe and clothing factories being burned down in riots in Vietnam. As president of Clarks shoes at the time, I had my fall line go up in smoke. It seemed like a good time to investigate growing manufacturing here at home.”
In your words, “There are great quality products made with pride and integrity in the United States, but they aren’t always easy to find.” Why is that?
“It’s like a needle in a haystack! One example: In 1960, 95 percent of clothes purchased here were made here in the United States. Now it’s less than 2 percent—same for shoes and so many other categories. People who are still manufacturing here have figured out how to deliver great quality at a fair price, and they are making wonderful, unique things and supporting their communities.”
You have 250 active sellers with more than 10,000 items on your platform. How did you find these independent businesses, artisans, crafters and manufacturers?
“Lots of legwork! My team and I attend major gift, apparel and handmade shows as well as local ‘juried’ craft shows from Seattle to Maine, Atlanta to Chicago, and Dallas to L.A. to meet makers, small and large, and to see their product lines in person. The first show we started with was CraftWestport, held right here at Staples every November.”
What kinds of items are sold on AnytownUSA?
“We don’t sell food or industrial products, but we sell anything else that is consumer focused as long as it is made here, not just assembled or printed on here. Our major categories are: apparel, home, accessories, jewelry, kid and babies, pet supplies and stationery. We can dress you from head to toe, and your home from front to back door.”
What separates you from a marketplace like Etsy, aside from exclusively selling American-made goods?
“Unlike those sites, you have to be invited to sell on our site. It doesn’t take long, but sellers apply, their identities are validated and their products are certified compliant with FTC rules for labeling Made-in-USA. We curate what is on our site; we prevent fakes, frauds and copycats. We believe the next great e-commerce marketplace will be trusted, not just huge.”
Tell us about your podcast The American Made Marketplace.
“The best part of my job is getting to know our sellers and their amazing stories. We have sellers who are breast-cancer survivors, corporate refugees, married couples, fourth-generation family businesses, college students and everything in-between. With the podcast, we drop a new thirty-minute episode every week to share our sellers’ stories and let them teach everyone how all of these amazing products are made, giving our listeners a peek behind the curtain.”
What are your goals?
“We’d like to get everyone thinking to ‘shop Made-in-USA first,’ before you jump to buy an import. You keep 67 cents in a community when you shop a local store filled with imports; you keep the whole $1 in our communities when you buy from a maker in the USA. Our team wants to grow our business enough to have an impact on communities coast to coast and to build a business in Westport that will employ tons of talented people right here. Connecticut already has strong media jobs via ESPN and NBC, how great would it be to have a major e-commerce company and grow technology jobs here as well?”