Cajons “Made in” vs “Assembled in”

Is it really “Made in”?

I am beginning to wonder about a few manufacturers,  a very few, who advertise their cajons as ‘Made in’.  There are three or four makers in the developing world with very precise cajons, with many models and many complex, high quality tapa graphics options – a collection of qualities that seems improbable for a local cajon maker who has been in business for 4 or 5 years.

When I first started building the Cajons of the World website I chatted with one producer who admitted that he was partnered with a very large cajon manufacturer in Asia. I am currently in South America and recently found that multiple queries to visit a local cajon factory were ignored, no response at all.

I had a similar ‘no response’ to questions posed to one ‘manufacturer’ in the USA. Some of their adverts list their cajons as ‘Made in the USA’ some list them as ‘Assembled in the USA’. Their model has a stunning similarity to a model of cajon made in Thailand.

It’s impossible to actually know what is going on with possible ‘Made in’ scammers. They may simply use imported templates, jigs and methods with local wood and build cajons using local labor.  And that’s OK. Or they may import pre-cut plywood pieces, pre-made tapas and assemble the cajons with local labor. It’s also possible the completed cajon box is shipped in, the pre-build tapa is shipped in and the only part of ‘Made in ‘ that takes place is the tapa is screwed on.  It’s also possible the entire cajon is made and shipped from another country and the ‘Made in’ label is a complete fabrication.

Most of the small cajon makers I chat with are thrilled to discuss their cajons and workshops. Many small manufacturers have webpages with multiple photos showing local workers building cajons. Some have videos showing cajons being built.  My simple reaction to manufacturers that act secretive is that they have secrets.  I am not going to become an investigative reporter and try to seek out the truth. This site was made to promote local cajon makers, if I can’t easily verify that cajons are build locally using a significant amount of local raw material, I won’t list them.

The big cajon companies are big business, their only interest is to make more money by selling more cajons at greater profit margins. Expanding their business by manufacturing locally is a legitimate business practice. But there is a difference between “Made in” and “Assembled in” and as consumers we should keep this in mind,  discuss it and consider it when recommending manufacturers.

I hope that everyone reading this will support my request to all cajon manufacturers for transparency. If a manufacturer is going to tout their cajons as “Made in” or “Hecho en” or “Criado em” a particular country they should be open and honest to folks asking about the raw materials used, where fabrication of various components occurs,  which components are made from imported materials and they should support visitation of production facilities.

What can you do about questionable ‘Made in’ claims?

If you suspect a company of fraudulently using the ‘Made in’ label, here are some suggestions you might pursue. In the USA the Federal Trade Commission will investigates clams of ‘Made in the USA’ fraud, just fill out their form. Another option is to query the local Better Business Bureau and ask them to verify the business. And another option is to check with other cajon makers who live near the manufacturer in question, they may have more information or they may wish to ask questions themselves.

In other countries I’d suggest searching for the Ministry of Industries or Ministry of Trade and asking them to investigate. With skeptical officials it might be worth discussing that fraudulent ‘Made in’ labeling could be associated with import tax issues or foreign business permit issues. Cajon forums on the internet are also places to get more information and spread the word about questionable manufacturers.

Almost every country in the world is interested in touting and expanding their industries.  In many countries, foreign investors are required to partner with locals. The results can vary from active, integrated partnership to token appearances by local partners on webpages and at events. It is difficult to know the extent to which a manufactured cajon is ‘Made in’ vs ‘Assembled in’. Hopefully this blog will raise awareness that ‘Made in’ is not an absolute: prospective buyers interested in locally made cajons should ask questions about the origins of materials, location of component fabrication and the extent of foreign ownership and investment.

“Made in” vs “Assembled in” Criteria

In my mind a “Made in” cajon starts from either raw lumber or full-size sheets of plywood. While locally produced plywood would be ideal, imported plywood is OK so long as it is not pre-shaped. Ideally the wood used to brace the cajon and construct the snare system comes from the country of manufacture or a nearby country. The tapa is cut to shape and the tapa graphic are applied in the country of manufacture. The finish is applied in the country of manufacturer. All the labor involved in these steps are local residents.  To me a cajon is not made in the country if the sides, top, bottom and tapa are cut to size in another country. At that point I’d call it “Assembled in”.

Please add you opinions and thoughts in the Comments area. Happy drumming!

Should I Make and Sell Cajon Drums?

Recently Chad Wellman asked the Facebook forum ‘Play Cajon’: “I built my own drum and I get asked what brand is it. When I tell them I made it myself I get good reviews. Should I start my own brand of cajon drum and sell them?” Here is the response I wrote to him, although I’ve updated it and will continue to update it as I find out more.

Cajon on a table with other tables selling items at a craft fair.
Firebox Cajon for sale at the Sunnyside Market Craft Fair in Gustavus Alaska

The answer is… yes, but here’s some info to help you understand the economics that will effect your business.

The biggest seller of cajons in the world dominates the market. In the USA just do an Amazon search, you’ll see who they are. Lets call them ‘Big Cajon’. What you won’t see on Amazon are any of the 45+ USA artisanal cajon builders. Big Cajon is so effective at producing, advertising and distributing its cajons that many musicians don’t even know there are other brands.

The 45+ USA artisanal cajon manufacturers fill niche markets. The successful ones seem to focus on several marketing strategies: musicians, churches, custom woodworking/sizes, children/education and ‘local’.

Word of mouth between musicians works: in California drummers talk about Kotz Cajon; in the northeast, Dozzi Cajon; midwest, Lewi Cajon; and in Alaska, Lefty. To use this strategy you’ll need some musician friends or you’ll need to visit with drummers and get your cajons out there. This will take time. Part of the appeal here is that you can build cajons appropriately sized and padded for use as a drummer throne. And USA folks tend to be big, you can size your cajons to fit. (Links to these the builders mentioned above are found at: https://www.cajonsmadein.com/cajon-drums-by-manufacturer.html)

Many churches in the USA have music as part of their services and small churches often use cajons for percussion. I think this is a tough strategy to focus on but it has worked for a few cajon builders.

“Custom” is a hot marketing strategy in the music world and is worth keeping in mind. There are many awesome woodworkers making cajons that are works of art, and fantastic instruments.  DayDrums Cajon Co., Moravian Percussion and Custom Cajon Drums come to mind. I’d suggest looking at their websites and products to see if you will fit in that niche.

Custom cajon made in Alaska

Cajons are a great way to teach kids about rhythm, timing and to build coordination and team work. Small cajons for kids is a real market but parents are usually looking for inexpensive options so for the custom cajon maker it’s probably not a the best strategy to focus on.

‘Locally made’ is perhaps the best marketing strategy. For example, “Made in Florida” sounds good and will appeal locally. And there are environmental sell points to locally made cajons: “Sure, you could ship a plywood box full of air half way around the globe, or… you could buy a cajon made in your neighborhood!” Locally made enhances and diversifies the local economy.

Locally sourced wood can also have a big appeal to local buyers. Don’t be fooled by the manufacturers who tout ‘Baltic birch’. Sure it’s a great option but some of the best cajons in the world are made in Peru from solid tropical hardwood. And many cajon builders around the world use local woods with great results. There’s a cajon builder in Costa Rica who advertises his products as made from sustainability grown trees, it’s a sell point that works for him.

There are millions of people in your nearby urban area. The key to success is to get your product known locally. Sell your products at local craft fairs, music festivals and concerts. Donate your ‘extra’ cajons to your local schools, libraries and to small, acoustic music venues. Chat up musicians and leave your business card at local venues. On the internet create a Facebook page devoted to your products. Start a YouTube channel and add good videos demo’ing your cajons. Sell them on Reverb.com and Craigslist.

Big Cajon is owned by a very large musical instrument manufacturer, a big business that plays by the rules of big businesses. Most of their cajons are made in efficient factories in Asia. Their per unit cost for materials and labor is a fraction of what yours will be. They dominate the Internet market and the music store market for cajons. It is unlikely you will ever be able to effectively compete with them on a large scale. But at a local level you should be able to carve a niche, but it may take time and effort.

Don’t expect to make a living building and selling cajons. Most USA cajon makers are passionate woodworkers/musicians who have found cajon building to be an enjoyable and creative way to supplement their income.

Here are some links that should help out:

https://www.cajonsmadein.com/the-best-cajon.html
https://www.cajonsmadein.com/how-to-sell-cajon-drums.html
https://www.cajonsmadein.com/cajons-made-in-usa.html