Made in China (at VERY low cost)

Here at Lehman’s, we’ve been struggling to stick to American-made products as much as possible. We set up a special “American-made” only section of our website.

I wrote about our struggles in 2007 (click here for the article). That posting got me in trouble when our vendor admitted that one of the products I believed was “American-made” included key components from China.

I wrote about it again last year. By that time, we had hammered out a formal policy (which we still follow today) that says, in part, “We believe in offering products made in the United States wherever possible. When we offer imported items, we choose the best quality we can find.” (Click here to read the article.)

Now I’m calling on you again to help us figure out what we should do.

Recently, we found some oil lamps that were far cheaper than anything we had seen elsewhere. Of course, they were made in China. But, on the other hand, the sad truth is that most oil lamps are made in China.

Our struggle came from the fact that they were, well, cheap. Awesomely, stunningly, amazingly “cheap”. Our regular price was only $5.95 each…right now, they’re on sale for only $2!

$2 for an oil lamp. That is a jaw-dropping bargain! How could we not carry them?? But, let’s be clear. At that price, the quality is pretty low.

In this economy, we think price matters. Our first choice is always to carry top-quality, American-made product. But, we have to acknowledge that sometimes price matters more than anything else.

So, we swallowed hard and put them in the catalog and on the website. Believing that honesty matters, we described them with brutal frankness. We said, “The workmanship is crude: edges and seams may be rough.” Check them out for yourself:

These lamps are 7 1/2 inches tall. They come in two colors, as you can see, and are fully functional. $2 each, while they last. (Click on the photo or click here to see them on our website.)

This one is also 8 1/2 inches tall. It has a more traditional footed base. It comes only with a clear glass base. You can click on the photo or click here to see it on our site.

At less than a foot tall, each of these lamps is more suited for mood lighting than serious lighting needs. I’m guessing they are about two to three times brighter than a candle.

Want to compare a similar sized American-made lamp? Check out our USA-made Fenton Glass lamp.

We’ve got a great deal on the Fenton lamp. They’re made by American craftsmen in an American factory less than two hours from our store. There are no rough edges or crooked seams on this lamp! And, they’re half price! Click on the photo or click here see them on our website.

So there are choices. The problem is, that even though we have a great deal on Fenton Glass Lamps, they are still a lot more money than our Chinese version.

Which would you buy? I’d love to hear your comments. Please help us understand what you want us to do in situations like this!

Galen Lehman
Galen Lehman, President, Lehman’s

Galen Lehman
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PS – Even our American-made Fenton lamps have a Chinese-made burner. There are no USA-made burners available. But, the burner comes from a factory in China that makes MUCH higher quality burners. So, the Fenton lamp not only has a higher quality American-made base, but is functionally better as well. We could have put a cheap burner on the lamp and saved a dollar or so. But, we stuck with the better burner because “When we offer imported items, we choose the best quality we can find.”

Galen Lehman

About Galen Lehman

Lehman's CEO and son of founder Jay Lehman. Homesteads on five acres. Believes in a Simpler Life...rewarding relationships, fresh, local (preferably homegown) food and the gratification of hard work. Plant a tree!

14 thoughts on “Made in China (at VERY low cost)

  1. I believe your honesty and openness will go a long way!

    It will depend on the use of the lamp as far as which one I’d buy. You comment that it is more for mood lighting, in that case for personal use I’d buy the Fenton lamp because appearances add to the mood also.

    But if I needed a bunch of lamps for a party or celebration these would look really nice on each table. Say a wedding reception or other event.

    That is my .02 cents.

  2. You speak of these lamps (as an example) of being “very low cost”. You’re not taking into consideration the cost to the American economy: in jobs, innovation and output. One of the reason’s the economy is in its current condition is because retailers are making decisions just like yours. The reason lamp burners aren’t made in the U.S. anymore? Because retailers started buying “cheaper” ones in countries with poor labor laws and human rights abuses. The U.S. is losing its manufacturing skills and talent because everyone wants Wal-Mart prices. We are reaping what we sow in plant shut downs and industry migration off-shore. And then we try to make the unemployment situation easier by buying cheap foreign goods. It’s a downward spiral and we’re seeing it play out across the country every day.

    So, as a retailer, you can do one of two things. You can bemoan the fact that you “have to” buy cheap foreign goods to make your customers happy or you can take a stand for this country and make it clear that you will ONLY buy American-made products. When manufacturers see demand, they will start to supply. This creates jobs, puts more money in customers’ pockets, and ultimately, more into yours. It will also net you lots more customers who share those same values.

    My answer to your question then is no- I won’t buy cheap Chinese oil lamps to save a few bucks. I won’t knowingly exploit Chinese workers and contribute to the unemployment of American ones. I won’t buy products made in countries with few if any product safety standards. And, ultimately, I won’t support a company that believes all of these things are fine. I think you may find that many other customers feel the same way.

  3. I will not buy Chinese made goods unless it is my only choice. I hate to, I’m a contractor lucky enough to have connections and many of my friends who don’t are out of work.
    People need to get over this walmart price mentality and understand you get what you pay for. It is already hard enough to find anything of a decent quality anymore, so by buying more from the source of the problem forces good American people who do honest good work out of a job and makes it harder for an intelligent person to find quality goods.
    So basically I will wait until I can afford American made as much as I am able to have a choice. I would rather buy a product that will last so I don’t have to keep buying more junk to replace junk that breaks all the time or worry about it in terms of safety. Also “cheap” often ends up needing replacement a lot more often and just contributes even more to our garbage problems.

    I say if you can’t afford something, you simply can’t afford it, at least for now. That’s how I was brought up. Not to ever do poor quality work or charge more than you should for good work because your good name is all you have in this world. The same logic should apply to running almost any business.
    This world is full of instant gratification idiots who want to push a button and see results- Whatever in the world happened to the principles I was taught that you get out what you put in. We are breeding and raising a country full of obese morons, who have and never will know an honest days work and want to live a quality of life that their laziness won’t sustainably support. It’s a messed up mentaity that cheap is better.
    I get calls from people all the time and I won’t even consider looking at the jobs where someone tries to haggle on price or simply states they want the rock bottom price. I do good work and I stick by my principles. I am very glad many others appreciate quality. I get a lot of work fixing things “cheap” people do.

    If you want to be known for selling junk than selling more of it is surely the way to go. I look to you for quality products that I CAN’T find locally, not to see you try and compete with the junk pushers out there. I understand on some items there is no choice where they come from. But when you have a choice it seems pretty clear to me.

  4. Thanks to each of you for your comments! I really appreciate your honest sharing! It helps me a lot!

    Simply-Sharon: This is what I learned from your post, “Most people probably make their buying decision on a compromise between the quality they want and the price they can afford.”

    Keziah12: You said, “You speak of these lamps (as an example) of being “very low cost”. You’re not taking into consideration the cost to the American economy: in jobs, innovation and output.” Good point! This goes to the root of why we’ve been working hard to stick with American-made products. Your comments give me the strength and drive I need to keep up that pursuit.

    Al: You said, “You get what you pay for.” That is really true. There is a significant quality difference between the Chinese lamp and the Fenton lamp.

    Based on your feedback, we will not reorder these Chinese lamps. We will keep encouraging USA companies to make lamps. (The Fenton lamps, for example, were made specifically for us…you will not find them at any other retailer anywhere.) And, we will try to keep up our focus on USA Quality while keeping in mind that price also matters to folks on a tight budget.

    If other folks have additional comments, I’d love to hear them!

    Thanks, Galen

  5. I came to make a comment, but everyone else said everything I had in mind. Your reputation is one of quality products; please keep it that way.

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  7. Myself I hate to buy anything and just have it fall apart, or be rendered useless because of poor workmanship or material choices. This only wastes natural resources and my disposable income. This said not all things made in China are cheap or ill made. However it is a shame that parts of our society now often are attracted to price point rather than usability, longevity and quality. It is no secret often the latter the usability, longevity and quality in the in the long run is truly cheaper and best value over hey I got a good deal, it was on sale.

    When these cheap types of products are the only things available it speaks very ill of our stewardship to earth, self and indeed our Creator. We seem to be so willing to trade our money or in essence our time for a commodity. Time spent working, is really traded for goods. Then we have to settle of goods or items that we can only use a couple times to have them fall apart, wear out and go to the dump because they can not be repaired only replaced. Personally this matter goes way deeper than cheap oil lamps and sending jobs over seas. To me it is a matter of stewardship.

  8. I, too, make a very concerted effort to buy American made products and when I am unable to find something made here it must be something I absolutely must have, before I will buy it. So needless to say, there are lots of things that I don’t have. It amazes and frustrates me how many items I cannot find with a USA made label on it. I live in a state that has seen many, many manufacturing jobs terminated here and moved overseas, so my this is very personal with me. I truly appreciate your effort to deal with as much USA made products as possible. For me, price does not matter if I have a choice to a USA made or Made in China product, truly.

  9. My feeling is, in this economy it is QUALITY that most matters. We need sturdy, useful products that last. Cheap and disposable is neither green, nor cost effective in the long run.

    A misstep in my opinion.

  10. Really appreciate your help and advice! It’s very gratifying to hear your comments because it’s encouraging me to keep striving for more USA made items and not be distracted by low-priced, imported “bargains” along the way.

    Dori – We’ve looked carefully at the lamps and are confident there is no safety issues. The quality problems are mostly about poor fit and poor finish…the kind of things that tell you the manufacturer cut corners, but not the the kind of things that cause safety problems.

    SmithPrairieHarry – Liked your comment that it is a matter of stewardship!

    Old Fashion Gal – You made a good point about how hard it is to find certain kinds of products that are American-made. Looking back over the blog post, I saw that I unintentionally left out an important fact. There are no USA-made lamp burners available. So, even the Fenton lamp has an imported burner. It is really true what you said about many kinds of items simply not being available any longer from USA manufacturers. I do want to say, however, that the Fenton burner comes from a different factory and is a very high quality burner…the best one available anywhere, in fact. It’s equal in quality to any of the antique USA made burners I’ve ever seen.

    In case you missed it when I posted earlier, I will repeat what I said earlier, “Based on your feedback, we will not reorder these Chinese lamps. We will keep encouraging USA companies to make lamps. (The Fenton lamps, for example, were made specifically for us…you will not find them at any other retailer anywhere.) And, we will try to keep up our focus on USA Quality while keeping in mind that price also matters to folks on a tight budget.”

    Thanks Again! Galen

  11. I must come and add to my not very well thought out response…

    Galen you are correct in that balancing our needs with what we can afford is a big issue with our dwindling budget. However I must say that my example of using the cheaper made lamps as centerpieces is a poor one. Centerpieces are definitely in the want category. They are NOT a need. So I question myself – am I balancing my needs? or my wants?

    I stand humbly corrected.

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  13. I can only say: ” NO more products made in China, no more !!!!!”. Make American Products arise from ashes !!!. Buy American, Save America.