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)?
It’s a tough call isn’t it? Speaking for myself, on one hand I want to be frugal, and on the other I don’t want junk. Sometimes its brand recognition. For instance, Do I want a “Snow and Neally” axe or a “Shandong Pangu Tool co.” (real company) axe? In the case of the Snow & Neally axe, it becomes trickier… A quick call to S & N this morning and I now know that the axe head starts in China and is finished here in Maine. What that exactly entails I didn’t completly catch but it was something like, forged in China, tempered and edged here in Maine. The handle of course is American Hickory.
I know I would prefer to just purchase American made products but that’s not realistic. I think it comes down to making informed purchases and buying for what your needs are.
I was surprised to hear that part of the Snow and Neally “USA-made” axe was made in China.
So, I called the manufacturer myself, who reported that the “raw forgings” are made in China to their specific quality specifications. All of the subsequent manufacturing steps (tempering, assembly, sharpening, etc) are done in the USA.
They told me that they cannot find a USA foundry to make the type of casting (or “forging”) that they need. It seems that all the ones they know about have been put out of business by Chinese competition. (They appealed to me to help them find a USA foundry that can do this. If you know of one, let me know!)
In addition, because of high import duties (apparently imposed too late to help US foundries), the Chinese castings cost about the same as they used to cost when USA-made.
What a tragic state of affairs!
For me, there were three conclusions:
1) It reinforces my earlier comment that imports have destroyed entire categories of US manufacturing.
2) The whole question of whether Lehman’s should sell imported items doesn’t have a clear answer when “USA made” can’t be clearly defined.
3) Even though part of our “USA Made” axe is imported, I stand by the fact that it is higher quality than the Chinese version.
Maybe the best solution for Lehman’s is simply to focus on quality and ignore the country of origin. What do you think?
I don’t know the answer to the quandary about buying quality whether it’s American or not, but I appreciate your effort to offer American made products. Imports may be cheaper, but they cost more in the long run, regardless of quality. The loss of jobs hurts us all.
You said, “What should we do when people accuse Lehmanâ€™s of having a high price because we carry American-made products?”
I think you should shrug it off and keep on offering quality American products. Not everyone will agree that’s the best way to go (that’s what makes America what it is), but you can’t please everyone all the time, no matter how hard you try. Better to please those who come looking for quality goods with a realistic price for that quality.
I agree that imports have caused serious damage to our manufacturing base and it’s painful to see.
Free trade… fair trade… these are large issues.
On the one hand, I believe in open, free trade, let the best product win. On the other hand, I think we as consumers have a responsibility to not support totalitarian regimes with our purchases. Unlike a union steel worker in the U.S., the Chinese steel worker can’t bargain for better working conditions or higher wages. The Chinese worker can go to prison for professing Christianity, which, in my personal view, is another reason not to support Chinese products, and, thereby, the Chinese government.
I believe “think globally, act locally” is just common sense. I try to buy what little I buy from the most local source I can find. Lehman’s offers goods I can’t find anywhere else, and your reputation is based on the quality of those goods. Therefore, I think you should continue to offer the highest quality you can find, at the lowest price you can offer. If you cannot find an item produced solely in the U.S., but have a customer demand for such an item, then you will be forced to offer the imported goods. It will remain for the consumers to weigh their need for the item against the fact that it is imported.
Is anyone else old enough to remember when having things that were imported from, say, France or England was a matter of snobbery? Or when something marked “Made in Japan” was automatically assumed to be cheaply made and inferior? My, how times change.
You asked the question – should we carry 2 – one China, one US made.
If you have the storage and funding to allow you to do that, then by all means.
I shop at Walmart but all my axes are gransfor-bruks.
I shop at Walmart but my sleeping bag is a Wiggy’s bag.
I KNOW the quality I’m buying with the G-B axes and Wiggy’s sleeping bags. Then again, a lead fishing weight is a lead fishing weight no matter where it’s made.
And as written above:
I believe â€œthink globally, act locallyâ€ is just common sense. I try to buy what little I buy from the most local source I can find. Lehmanâ€™s offers goods I canâ€™t find anywhere else, and your reputation is based on the quality of those goods. Therefore, I think you should continue to offer the highest quality you can find, at the lowest price you can offer. If you cannot find an item produced solely in the U.S., but have a customer demand for such an item, then you will be forced to offer the imported goods. It will remain for the consumers to weigh their need for the item against the fact that it is imported.
When faced with the option of purchasing an item “Made in the USA” or “Made in China”, I will pay more to purchase “Made in the USA”. I feel it is better quality and the hidden costs associated with “Made in China” far outweigh the few dollars I may save now. That is one thing that attracted me to Lehman’s and this website initially. With the recent recalls because of lead paint and the “date-rape” drug, Americans got a harsh lesson in this reality that so many choose to ignore for more and cheaper “stuff”. If I can’t find a “Made in the USA” alternative for something I want to purchase, I have to think long and hard about whether or not I really want the item. However, I always thought my books were safe from Chinese domination. I have a pretty extensive personal library of self-sufficiency and gardening/farming books as well as children’s literature and non-fiction for my home school. Imagine my surprise when I purchased a new gardening book by Storey Publishing, brought it home, and discovered “Printed in China” on the title page. After ranting and raving for a few days to everyone who would listen (or even pretend to listen), I finally did what all good Americans do–wrote the company. We’ll see if anything comes of it.
My main disappointment stems from the spirit of Storey publishing–all those books on self-sufficiency and independent thinking. It seems counterintuitive to promote environmentalism while outsourcing your printing. The company’s mission statement is pasted on their website as follows: “To serve our customers by publishing practical information that encourages personal independence in harmony with the environment.” I don’t think it is environmentally harmonious to write books here, print them on the other side of the world in a place where the people are locked into slave-like working conditions and materials are consistently substandard and sometimes hazardous, and then ship them back here to teach people how to live a simple life.
Recently, I was shopping for a book on butterflies. After comparing a book from Storey and one from another publisher, I chose the other publisher because of one statement: “Printed in China”.
Let’s encourage our book publishers and makers of all our goods to go “Made in the USA” in the best way we can–avoid buying anything that says “Made in China”.
Thanks for this input. I appreciate your carefully thought through comments.
I was not aware that Storey had done some printing in China. That is a big disappointment.
This illustrates a common problem we have run into: USA companies quietly and suddenly moving some or all of their manufacturing overseas. There have been many cases where we stated in our catalog that an item was “USA made” only to have the supplier move the manufacturing of the item overseas. Typically we only find out about it after a customer calls to complain. It makes us look like liars.
It’s frightening that things can happen that quickly.
I think I’m with WolfBrother on this one. Above and beyond scarcity, what it boils down to is quality.
I don’t have a problem paying a little extra upfront when I’m secure in the knowledge that I have a tool or product that will perform as expected- when expected. Whether the tool was made in the US, Canada, China, UK, Germany, or the darkest corner of the Amazon is inconsequential.
Attempting to run down from which countries raw materials might have come from, knowing the manufacturing likely took place in a second, and the actual packaging in a third; feels like a futile exercise.
In respect to Storey Publishing, who I have absolutely no affiliation with, what they do is “content” and that’s their product. If the books are poorly bound, the paper and ink substandard and subject to early degradation- there’s a legitimate gripe that needs to be brought to their attention. I’m sure they don’t want their product line jeopardized by printing quality issues.
Aside: I might be mistaken but I seem recall that paper making and printing were of Chinese invention. Somehow I’d expect them to get it right for no other reason than national pride.
And with that said, I hope Lehman’s continues to offer superior quality products.
Now where did I leave my coffee . . .
[…] 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” […]
I prefer to buy American, although the higher price is sometimes hard to swallow. Can the USA manufactures make things more cost effectively? I’m not sure, but we have to support our fellow citizens. Consume less, or save for the important things we want, which in this fast pace, social media craziness is not always easy.
I look to you for American made/ Time to take care of our own/
I appreciate this topic. Thank you. I work with a man from China. He and his family are a first generation family and speaking with him about China or about Wuhan has been an eye opener. As a result I will be buying as little as possible from Walmart. I will need to buy less since I will be paying more. Im totally fine with that. Look up Nike products and their slave labor conditions that are involved with their products . I will never buy Nike products as a result of taking a little look. I used to ask myself how people historically accepted slavery here in the USA? Now I see how. People ignore what makes them uncomfortable or what effects their pocketbook. People will justify anything on “ inconvenience” alone.
Another source of conversation about china: brief but interesting mention on Youtube. Can Am Missing 411. David Paulides. 12/26/2021. A few minutes- first few minutes in his YouTube presentation- but thoughtfully presented. It made me pause and think about our global interaction with China. Please consider selling products not made in China. Thank you!
Well it seems as though with this dilemma you may have created a new business opportunity for someone. The fact that you have found a business in a America that cannot find an American Foundry to produce the piece they need. Perhaps the business opportunity is for a web site or circle of productivty that is pushed through the lines of business communication to find a US company for the product they need and/or perhaps even someone maybe willing to start a company based on the need.
America, the land of opportunity, is still here we may just have to start communication lines to find those opportunities, kinda like the old days when neighbors actually spoke to their neighbors.
I for one , and sure that I’m not alone that I would rather pay more for a made in the “U.S.A.” than a china import as I don’t live in that country or like having to buy their poor quality merchandise with no choice available to me !
I for one have stopped buying poor quality items, especially things like clothing or linens, where not only poor materials are used, but they save money by short changing materials like to short or to tight sleeves, or sheets that don’t fit or has elastic that never last.
I guess you catch my meaning….I would be happy with one well made item, and, willing to pay for it…. then to waste my hard earned money on inferior products. This has also helped me downsize my life. A win win situation ;)
You get what you pay for.
As for China having better quality I would talk to the American vendor and explain the situation and try to work out the improvements that needs to be made.
I believe that the “thinking globally” slogan is what’s got us into a situation that would be devastating for the country if China were to stop trading with us. That might have sounded impossible a couple of years ago but with the state of the world now, anything could happen. I think we need to think AND act locally to preserve our nation. Buy American unless you have no other choice. Doing without and living more frugally IS a choice we can re-learn.
You would be better off buying from any country that is our ally, China is not our Ally. If I can’t find it made in America, I will buy from any of the following countries, England, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, Poland, Switzerland, Spain. So think about that.
Yes please I would much rather pay more for something, knowing that the quality is good and and purchasing USA is providing jobs for Americans. We have come to depend entirely too much on imports, for example look at our oil imports from Russia. .If Russia and China would come together in the Ukraine situation and we stopped receiving products made in China for which we depend on every day,we are really going to be hurting.We need to reopen factories and put people back to work, making the products that our grandparents and parents used..and buy the way..I am still using alot of those things that gave survived the test if time and their usefulness. When I purchase something I always feel a sense of pride when I see that stamp made in the USA.
Thank you for addressing this issue. I am of the age that I can remember in the late 50’s a relative was having a home built, and noticed a pile of boxes that held door hardware and was stamped “made in Korea”. He found the builder and reminded him that he wanted American made products and was reminded that would cost twice as much for the hardware. He stuck to his guns and though I haven’t been to that house In decades, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was all in working order.
Many American manufacturers do get materials from overseas. One of those materials is steel. There are no steel plants in this country anymore so companies have no choice but to import. When we needed a new dishwasher several years back we were told it would 8-10 weeks because there was a shortage of sheet metal coming into the American manufacturer.
China has no problem using slave labor (prisoners) or children whose families need to eat.
When buying I check for country of origin and if I can get American made I will most likely pay the higher price
Praying for you as you listen, watch and wait for the Lords instruction. Prov. 8:32-36
Well obviously you have to do whatever you have to to stay in business, but I too would rather NOT support china in any way, especially after the covid pandemic. Just do what you have too.
American made unless unavailable from US
I personally would love to see USA totally get away from purchasing anything from China, we need to be able to produce our own products in this country. We are a nation that does not need to depend on China for anything!!!! China only wants to rule us with their ways and we need to get back to USA made items. It is so sad that we are being sold out to China, people need to wake up and see what it has been doing to our country. We can’t continue this, I am proud to be an American and I care what happens to our country people need to stop buying China made items and America needs to start producing all our own items totally.Quit depending on other countries to supply us, we have all the resources we need. And then American products wouldn’t cost so much. Make quality items that last and not junk that is thrown in the garbage, that is what they make junk!! I am tired of wasting my hard earned money on throw away junk. I support American made!!!
jlb in Ohio
I recently bought your apple cider press. One of its selling points was that it was made and assembled in the USA. I wanted to know that if I needed help or maybe even replacement parts, I would be able to reach out to someone in this country. Yes it was quite a bit more expensive than some of the wooden ones and presses built outside our country, but now the family joke is that it will last longer than I will. I’m comfortable with knowing that I’ve made a purchase that will last, is easy to care for and clean up. It’s important that you maintain the quality of products your customer’s have come to expect.
Iv bought USA all my adult life. I own 3 pairs of Whites boots if that tells you anything. Here’s the deal bud, our politicians are / have knowingly, voluntarily sold us out. America is in very bad shape. You pray on it, talk to your family about it then follow your gut. It’s a rare day it will steer you wrong. Lastly id like to thank you, your family & staff for helping make our lives better over all these many years with all your nifty gadgets.
God bless you Sir,
I would rather buy US made. I don’t mind paying more for well made products.
I want American made! This article was written in 2007, but today 2022, I am fed up with China, as we come out of a pandemic! I think Lehman’s should do more to promote that the items are American made.
Your Ax issue, tell the American manufacturer the improvements that were made, if they are still in business. I am sure they would ‘up their game’.
Please try to understand that there is much more to it than just the price and quality. It is a battle that must be won! And must take place right now! Today! I was a regular customer for about 50 years but it just doesn’t seem the same now that you purchase so much from China. I am just an English man but have deep roots in the Amish heritage. I have my genealogy which dates back 500 + years. I am a proud American! I will continue to fight this battle by buying American when ever I can. May our Lord Jesus be with you in ALL your decisions. Richard Paul Lehwald Jr. Former Wayne County resident that now resides in Michigan and Florida
I am in Florida and in the process of opening a Farm and livestock supply store i am very much against China made products, but we also are struggling to find US manufacturers but we will continue to try and promote US made products and hope our customers will support American Companies
Whole towns have been destroyed by Walmarts …. The local hardware store, fabric stores, etc. They simply can’t compete. Inflationary prices will prohibit some customers from buying American. They have to make a living for their own families, feed and educate them and provide healthcare. American workers get insurance, a decent wage, good working conditions etc. This all adds to the cost of products. Chinese workers have zip. It’s slave labor and not right, but some don’t see that at the point of purchase. Obviously, the quality of American made items is far superior. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter …. Some just do not have available funds to spend. I don’t like supporting authoritarian regimes, but the USA may become one itself. Our country is in deep peril. Time to band together and become more self sufficient and support other Americans, regardless
So, is this even an issue anymore? You and your sister sold the store so it may not even be your decision on what to do now. I noticed you haven’t answered any of the recent comments. China’s best chance is if no one speaks up or does anything to stop them.
We reply to comments, Lang! While we are now owned by HRM, we are still the same Lehman’s.
Please don’t allow the cheaper products produced in China pull you away from your products made here in our USA and so many of them by the Amish. I have purchased so many products made by the Amish and in our USA, and the quality is non-negotiable. When folks state they are cheaper at Walmart, etc., reply with the lack of quality from China and how those we make are stable and last forever.
Put up a big sign telling the customers you sell American made- -point out the products and emphasize how Americans should buy these items to support their country.. people do pay attention if you let them know they still have a choice
Please do not use last names.. some people get nasty
I WILL NOT INTENTIONALLY BUY ANY CHINA MADE PRODUCT. NO MATTER THE COST. PLEASE PLEASE be aware of the horrid horrid punishment and TORTURE Chinese citizens have to endure because of what their government does to them. You are only aiding China in the Absolute cruelty and torture the government of China is putting on their citizens. Shame on you for doing that… PLEASE PLEASE STOP GETTING ANYTHING FROM CHINA. I also regret getting things from you and realizing after I receive them, they were made in China.
Greetings President Lehman. As I am not in your shoes, and am unqualified, I hesitate to suggest a specific solution to the above issues. I do however wish to thank you for having the courage to address this topic, and especially publicly. So many people I talk with are in general agreement with the problems posed by China’s manufacturing dominance and encroachment into seemingly nearly every market but feel powerless. Sometimes, even I have villainized certain vendors for selling products made in China. Wal-Mart is a prime example. And some vendors seem perplexed as to the fact that I even ask for the country of origin/manufacture. And in fact, I am not even one to advocate strictly only buying USA-made products. I am content with buying from Japan, Taiwan, Germany, and not just the USA. So my motive is not purely patriotic, but it is still based on my ethical views. The inherent problem is not China (I am referring of course to the country in respect to how it is run under its totalitarian regime and not to the it’s citizenry, their ethnicity, or it’s geography). It is the fact that so many people are willing to give up their power and make themselves vulnerable in the long term potentially to the effects of a global monopoly (and political influence), low-grade (not always) products often containing hazardous/toxic substances, less available product selection, etc by the fact that they are willing to buy these products. In other words, people who buy Chinese products are more of the cause of this present situation than China is. China is simply willing to supply what the people themselves want. Granted, that regime has an agenda, but most people seem unaware of the true “dangers” associated with buying from China. And (understandably) they purchase what is offered at a lower cost. We can all sympathize with that. And I will try to abstain from harsh judgment, as I am only recently awakened to these problems, myself. But Lehman, like any vendor/supplier, attempts to provide the customers with what they want in order to stay in business. So, with all considered, it may mean that you are already doing the best you can in your attempts to navigate the complexities put forth. It seems that you are doing all you can to balance out people’s product needs while prudently limiting China’s dominance over local American businesses in your stores. Thank you for so doing.
I applaud your efforts to support American made items. Quality seems to be a fading attribute for manufactured items these days. Unfortunately that is sometimes true for USA manufacturers also. This might be a case where, if possible, you could offer both the USA made item and the higher quality imported item. There is no way a manufacturer can pay a living wage for labor and compete with typical Chinese wages. A USA company can compete with the quality of the merchandise produced. The Walmart comment is likely true and if I were the customer and wanted a temporary, throw away I would probably go to Walmart. However, if I wanted a quality item that would last, even be handed down for generations I would not. I’m glad to know that Lehman’s considers quality in selecting the merchandise that you carry.