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Industries & Professions /
General Consumer Products
Consumer goods have been around since the earliest days of civilization. While advancements in manufacturing have led to the efficient, high-tech factories and production facilities used today, ancient craftspeople produced goods slowly and laboriously by hand or via manual or semi-automated machines to address a specific market need (clothing, cookware, etc.).
The general consumer products industry produces goods that the public wants or needs. It produces two types of goods: durable and nondurable. Durable goods have a long life span and hold up over time; examples of durable goods are cars, electronics, tools, and washing machines. Nondurable goods, which do not last as long, include such products as food, cosmetics, and clothing. General consumer products are sold in retail stores, door-to-door, by mail order, and online.
General consumer products range from utilitarian goods such as shoes and pens and pencils, to cutting-edge technology such as iPads and smartphones. There is also a wide range of quality and price within each product category. For example, one can find basic shoes for $10 or $15, but a pair of running shoes endorsed by a superstar athlete can cost hundreds of dollars. One can purchase a container of perfectly good strawberries at a local supermarket for $3 or spend $5 at an upscale grocery store such as Whole Foods for strawberries that have been grown without pesticides and harvested and shipped in an ecofriendly manner.
There are tens of thousands of general consumer products manufacturers in the United States. They compete to develop the best products at the most affordable price for the greatest numbers of consumers. Some companies are part of traditional sectors (such as the clothing industry) that have existed for many years, while others, such as Apple and Dell, are part of the technology sector, which has emerged only in the last three decades.
General consumer products companies are located in every state and throughout the world. Manufacturers range from massive, multinational corporations to small firms with fewer than 50 employees. Well-known companies include Apple, Procter & Gamble, Ford Motor Company, Maytag, Motorola, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, Microsoft, Revlon, Unilever, Dell, L’Oréal, and Colgate-Palmolive. The industry has close relationships with other industries, including transportation, packaging, agriculture, chemicals, plastics, rubber, metal, stone, ceramics, and petroleum, which provide many of the raw materials that are used to make consumer products.
Retail is a major aspect of the general consumer products industry. Retailers sell the products that manufacturers produce. Retail stores are located in nearly every town and city. These include department stores, supermarkets, “big box” stores, and drugstores. Many companies sell products online; others sell products only on the Internet and have no “brick and mortar” stores. Major retailers include Wal-Mart, Sears, Nordstrom, Best Buy, Target, Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Albertson’s. Some major manufacturers, such as Apple, have their own retail stores. Apple has more than 245 retail stores in the United States and more than 400 worldwide.
Workers with a wide range of educational backgrounds and skills are employed in the general consumer products industry. Career paths include those in product development (such as product design), manufacturing, marketing, sales, administrative support, law (especially intellectual property and labor law), and other fields.
Like it or not, Americans have a reputation for being conspicuous consumers, and this is not expected to change in the future. The United States is the largest consumer market in the world, and with the U.S. population continuing to grow, it is clear that the general consumer products industry will remain a key player in the American economy for years to come.