Posted by Galen Lehman, President, Lehman’s
A great struggle for me is what to do about merchandise that is made in China.
At Lehman’s, we have had a simple policy: We will not displace a USA vendor with a Chinese vendor. But what started out as a simple concept turned out not to be so simple.
Last week my sister Glenda passed a customer in our Kidron store who was holding a piece of American-made pottery. As she passed, she distinctly heard him say, I can buy this for half that price at Wal-mart. She knows our products well enough to know for sure that the Wal-mart version was made in China.
What should we do when people accuse Lehman’s of having a high price because we carry American-made products?
Here’s an example: We know you can find a Chinese copy of this USA made camper’s axe for less than $20 at Ace Hardware We also know that the Ace Hardware version is significantly lower quality. Which would you buy?
Recently we received a sample product from a Chinese company. It looked just like an American-made item we carry now. Because of our policy of protecting American vendors, we put the item on a pile of rejected samples that is in our warehouse. A couple weeks later, it was spotted there by one of our telephone customer service representatives, Mark Sutter. He immediately pointed out to me that it had some design improvements that solved customer complaints he had heard about the USA version. Should we protect USA vendors even when we think they are making a low quality product?
There are whole swaths of the American economy that have been decimated by imports. In many product lines, there simply isn’t a single USA manufacturer (that we know of). Here’s some examples:
- Hurricane lanterns (but we do carry what is by far the highest quality version available)
- Stainless steel teakettles (but, with a customer’s help, we did find a nice chrome plated copper version made in England)
- Many categories of hand tools
Sometimes, we carry two versions of the same item, one that is Chinese and one that is American. For example, we carry two toy balloon boats, one that is made by a local Amish woodworker and one that is made in China.
When we carry both the USA-made and imported version of an item, the USA-made version usually sells better. This holds true even though the USA-made version is usually more expensive.
I’d love to hear your responses to these challenges. At Lehman’s, we like to do what our customers want us to do. Do you want USA made items at any price? Would you buy an imported item if you knew it was higher quality than the USA version? Which is best, high quality (at a high price) or quality that is lower but may still be acceptable (at a lower price)?