Litter-Robot President and CEO Brad Baxter explains why we source local materials and manufacture in the U.S.—and how we do it for the right reasons.
Why did you decide to manufacture the Litter-Robot in the U.S.? Has it always been made in the USA?
Brad: The Litter-Robot has always been manufactured in the U.S. With its large parts and components, it’s been a matter of necessity; a short, efficient supply chain means you have to be as close to assembly as possible.
The company began in Pontiac, Michigan, where I was actually building the first units myself. We were bringing in our plastic parts from the East Coast, and freight costs were high. We happened to find a better plastics supplier in Wisconsin, and decided to set up right next door to them. At that time, we were so small we were actually renting a little room inside of a big plant. I remember walking through a huge, completely dark building just to get to this little room for assembly. We’ve since grown into a 33,000-square-foot factory and warehouse, and plan to further expand in the U.S. for assembly and fulfillment.
Did your background as a Big 3 automotive engineer influence your decision to source materials and manufacture locally?
Brad: It’s always a good thing when a company can source locally—and we’re doing it for good business reasons. If you’re doing it for show, or marketing purposes, that’s not sustainable and doesn’t make sense. We source materials and manufacture in the U.S. for the shorter supply chain, the ability to make changes quickly, to reduce freight cost, and to reduce our carbon footprint. This in turn allows us to offer greater value to our customers.
It really boils down to what is the best, most efficient way to do things. You have to take into account all aspects, all intangibles—just to say “I want to source and build in the USA” can be risky. It’s a noble cause, but at the end of the day it’s got to be the right business decision.
Are any Litter-Robot parts not made in the USA? Why?
Brad: The motor and the wire harnesses are made in China because these parts require a lot of labor, and the expertise for these products has moved to China. We locally source the electronic circuit boards, all the plastics, the hardware, and of course do all the assembly and fulfillment work.
In that respect, the local content of our product is very high: There are some companies claiming that they make their products in the USA, but really, they’re sourcing all the materials globally and just doing light assembly or kitting locally.
In the 90s and early 2000s, the pendulum swung way too far toward sourcing in China—it didn’t matter if it made sense or not. We’ve always ignored the hype of going to China and only did it where it made sense. I see the pendulum now swinging back the other way; however, certain things make sense for China because the expertise is no longer here.
Why did you decide to harvest Litterbox.com litter in the U.S.?
Brad: Harvesting our litter here was related to the location of the clay more than anything else. The highest-quality sodium bentonite reserves in the world reside in Wyoming; the family-owned-and-operated ranch there gives us access to superior raw material for cat litter.