The business to be in this year, without question, is local television. Candidates and super PACs are running ads back to back to back in early-voting states, a group that's expanding quickly as Super Tuesday approaches. Television is the most lucrative, but a number of other industries are also seeing booms: direct mail, pollsters, pizza — those sorts of things.
We were curious, though, about another industry, whose products are omnipresent during the campaign cycle. We were curious whether the flag industry was seeing a boom, too.
So we called a flag company.
Reggie VandenBosch is the vice president of sales for Valley Forge Flag, a flag manufacturer based in Wyomissing, Pa., about an hour northwest of the valley itself. Valley Forge manufactures all of its flags in the United States, including in Moncks Corner, S.C., where residents were preparing to vote the weekend when VandenBosch and I spoke on the phone.
Valley Forge has "been in business for approximately 120 years," VandenBosch said. "It has a very long history, including providing flags for government and the military. Our flags have been on the moon; they draped John F. Kennedy's coffin; they were there at D-Day and in the Pacific Theater as well." The company has a history, he said, of "being tied to major events in the nation."
To answer the big question up front: No, not really. There isn't a big bump in flag sales during a campaign year. "There is an increase in the decorative end of things," he said — stuff like bunting, as well as "stick flags," the little flags people wave during campaign rallies, and so on. But the increase was "not huge." To his company's benefit, the Democrats and Republicans both use the same flag at their events: the American flag.
What does drive sales, first and foremost, are holidays. Most of the company's sales — about 75 percent of business — come in the first half of the year, up until July 4. There are small bumps near Memorial Day and Veterans Day, naturally, with another increase in stick flags for the former as people recognize the graves of those who served. There's also an increase near Labor Day, which I didn't really understand but which VandenBosch chalked up to people bidding the summer farewell.
An election year doesn't change that much, but he expects to see "stronger sales up until and through the election period." Still, he didn't seem to be terribly excited about it. More interesting to him appeared to be the gradual movement of the American population south and west: Better weather means more flag-flying time each year.
The other big driver of flag sales is events overseas. Concern about the country or when there was drive toward supporting the military — because of armed conflict, for example — sales increased. VandenBosch also cited Sept. 11, 2001, which spurred massive sales so big that it kept smaller companies afloat for years. That day was so huge that it actually made it hard for him to gauge how much elections affected sales simply because it moved the base line so much.
"After 9/11, instantly the need for more flags it just — it went crazy," he said. "Because the demand was so great, the market could support lots of different players in the industry." As sales started to wane after the attacks, those smaller companies started to struggle, and many merged with larger companies or closed. Now, there are only a handful of companies that still manufacture in the United States.
That's largely advantageous when people are looking to buy American flags. Valley Forge also makes and sells a number of other flags, but it's really the American flag for which people hunt for the "Made in U.S.A." label. I asked, for example, if he saw an increase in sales of the "Don't tread on me" Gadsden flag during the height of the tea party's influence. He said that they sold a decent number, but many specialty flags like that are made overseas.
Valley Forge no longer sells the Confederate battle flag. After the shooting in Charleston, S.C., last year, Valley Forge and other major companies stopped making them; they didn't generally sell many of them anyway. (Those, too, mostly came from outside of the United States.) "Because of where our employment base is, right around the Charleston area," he said, "when that happened, we just simply decided we're not going to participate in manufacturing." He added, "We wish we would have just gotten rid of it a long time previously."
If you need a custom flag, candidates, Valley Forge can do that, too. Maybe a giant American flag paired with a "Make America Great Again" banner? We didn't get into pricing, but if you're going to spend $100 million on TV ads, what's another few hundred on the Stars and Stripes?