Independence Day Brings Banner Sales To Minnesota Flag Seller
As Minnesotans fire up their grills and make their annual fireworks run to a neighboring state, Matt Knowlan is pushing patriotism through a product as old as America itself: the U.S. flag.
No time of the year brings about bigger sales than the week leading up to July 4th, said Knowlan, president of American Flagpole & Flag Co.
“We probably sell 100 flags a day,” he estimated, “and our website is running at full capacity.”
With annual revenue between $1 million and $5 million, Knowlan’s Lake Elmo-based business is not only one of the largest in the state, but the country as well.
To keep up with demand, American Flagpole & Flag Co. secures its inventory well in advance of national holidays. The company does not make the products it sells, but rather acquires its handmade flags from New Jersey-based Annin Flagmakers. It sales are split 50/50 between residential and commercial customers.
“You’ll find our flags at TCF Bank Stadium and St. Paul schools,” Knowlan said, noting that roughly three-quarters of the company’s flags are sold to Twin Cities customers. The remaining 25 percent, however, typically end up traveling across state lines. “For example, I spoke with the National Baseball Hall of Fame [on Wednesday],” Knowlan said.
At least some of American Flagpole & Flag Co.’s local success is due to an unusual state law passed nearly a decade ago. In 2008, Minnesota started requiring businesses to sell only American-made U.S. flags. By selling a U.S. flag produced in China or elsewhere, a local business owner could receive up to a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail.
Despite this fact, Knowlan said his nylon and polyester flags are pitted against (sometimes internationally manufactured) flags sold at brick-and-mortar stores and online retailer Amazon. “However, those cheaper printed flags won’t last through the winter or extreme weather,” he said. “Those lesser-quality flags are for people who want to fly them just once or twice a year.”
Most of American Flagpole & Flag Co.’s customers keep their flags hung non-stop every day of the year. Nevertheless, to attract more sales online, Knowlan is taking advantage of digital marketing tools to bring in business.
“Now, we are one of the leaders in the industry with a website that is driven through Google Ad Words and other forms of internet marketing,” he said. The next step, Knowlan added, was “to always be competitive with price and show that our quality of materials are superior. And then there’s the service we offer. If you have a problem or questions about how to install your flag, well, I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”