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A plain looking front hides a major tourist attraction and a wonderful assortment of merchandise.


(continued from
by Bob Vereen, Worldwide DIY Council


Tucked away in an unincorporated community of 600 in northeastern Ohio is a multi-million dollar retail hardware operation with an amazingly huge inventory of non-electric appliances, stoves, tools and lights which it sells around the world.

It is Lehman's Hardware, a two-store chain originally serving the Amish communities surrounding Kidron and Mt. Hope, Ohio, but now also aggressively selling by direct mail and the Internet to customers everywhere as well to thousands of tourists who visit the main Kidron store regularly.

Amish people believe in simple living without electricity or other modern innovations, so the store, founded in 1955, concentrated on finding products to meet the needs of its Amish customers. Its huge selection of wood heating and cooking stoves, for example, may rank as the world's most complete assortment.

In the intervening years, the store discovered thousands of products, such as hand-powered kitchen appliances, water pumps, grain grinders, oil lamps and gas refrigerators, and learned that campers and many other non-Amish customers would buy these products, too.

As it concentrated on finding and stocking non-electric products primarily for its Amish customers, the company developed a worldwide reputation as the place to find these uncommon items, and now makes sales to all 50 states and in over 200 countries around the world. It is said to be the world's largest seller of historical technology.

With its growing reputation, the store has become a prime supplier to other customers, such as missionaries and doctors who work in developing countries, where electricity is often lacking. Lehman's is able to supply many products to make life livable in these remote regions.



<<<A huge collection of wood-burning heating and cooking stoves may be the world's largest?


Hand-hewn beams like this,
together with antique memorabilia, draw tourists from all over.>>>

Today the main Kidron store consists of several buildings-more than an acre under roof, including its latest expansion, the restoration of an 1840's barn as its newest sales floor addition. The barn was painstakingly dismantled and transported across the state to be reassembled as the latest addition to the store. With its huge, hand-hewn wood beams and wood sideboards, it creates an historical setting for the pioneer artifacts on display as well as the merchandise for sale.

Although it specializes in non-electric products, it also carries conventional products for the non-Amish trade. Interestingly, while it searches for and sells non-electric items, it employs the latest retail technology to operate its stores efficiently. It is computerized and boasts an outstanding web site, which helps it create sales around the world.

The main Kidron store has become a tourist attraction as well, due in part to national publicity the firm has received in such publications as Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Newsweek magazine and the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

To further appeal to tourists, the store is decorated with antique tools and other hardware-related items, ranging from pioneer bicycles to wooden shovels. These antique items and wood shelving enhance the pioneer look of the store.

<<<Hand grinders of all sizes for campers as well as the Amish trade.

Non-electric lamps to
fit any décor.>>>

Lehman's also now issues a 168-page catalog featuring 1,000 or more items it sources from around the world, which it describes as "authentic products that work for life." Virtually all are non-electric, though it does contain a few electric items. These are organized into nearly a dozen departments-ranging from personal care to lighting, water pumps, filters, etc. Circulation of the catalog reaches nearly a million each year.

Over the years, the company has improved its catalog and now identifies new items, locally made items, best sellers, etc., with easily identifiable symbols to help customers browse the many items it contains.

It also identifies many of the countries from which it sources products, such as Sri Lanka, Germany, Slovenia, etc. While it imports many items, it is not focusing on Asian-made items.

In addition to serving the local Amish community, the store also helps the community economically by using it as a source of many of its non-electric items-items such as stylish walking sticks, handmade wooden checker sets, etc.

Its main headquarters in Kidron now consists of 3 buildings. The retail area now comprises 30,000 sq. ft., and is supplemented by a storage and service center and corporate headquarters. The recently reconstructed barn nearly doubled its retail floor space.

What is quite surprising is that the company gets along with only two buyers to source the world. They travel to trade shows around the world as they continually seek out non-electric items to add to the store's ever-growing inventory. The firm buys from hundreds of suppliers, as well as two full line US hardware wholesalers.

Because it has become a tourist destination, the company wisely caters to these customers by offering snacks and drinks and Lehman Hardware-decorated clothing items and other souvenir-type merchandise.

When the store opened in 1955, it was only 900 sq. ft. in size and served only the local community. Today it sells in more than 200 countries, issues a million catalogs nearly 200 pages in size and draws visitors from around the world, and is a multi-million retailing empire.


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