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Not just for tools

For over 15 years Lee Valley Tools Inc. has been conducting in-store seminars for woodworkers and gardeners, including everything from landscape planning to turning bowls.

“The seminars are a way of providing customers with knowledge and information, and perhaps introduce them to something they may not have tried before. In some cases, they might not have the equipment at home. We provide the equipment and the material,” says Hal Moulton, manager of Lee Valley Tools in Saskatoon.

The seminars are not meant to be a profit centre for Lee Valley and costs are kept low to encourage people to try something new. The fee covers expenses, and any proceeds are donated to the United Way. Because the presenters are often local professionals or hobbyists, people who take the seminars feel they can contact the instructor afterwards if they have any questions. “Occasionally we’ll bring in presenters that are known nationally to introduce new ideas and keep things fresh,” Moulton says.

Some of the seminars are specifically geared for women, such as the Women in Woodworking class. “We found women are interested in woodworking, but some beginners can feel intimidated in a class with men and a male instructor, as they believe their knowledge on the topic may be limited. By offering a beginner seminar exclusively for women, and with a female instructor, they can learn the basics with more confidence and are more open to asking questions. Armed with the basics they are then more likely to take more focused seminars in a mixed class.”

Parents often bring their children. Blake Hugo and his son Mackenzie have participated in four woodworking seminars. “It allows us to spend some time together and Mackenzie can gain some skills which he’ll carry with him for the future. It’s also a good confidence builder,” says Blake. Mackenzie adds that he enjoys the classes because they’re more hands on than textbooks at school.

Hal Moulton has been with Lee Valley for almost 18 years, and appreciates the policies and practices the founder of the company implemented. “Leonard Lee is a man of principle and integrity and highly respected by all who know him,” he says.

Lee was born and raised on a farm near the community of Wadena, and grew up in a log cabin without electricity or running water. He went on to obtain a diploma in civil engineering from Royal Roads Military College in Kingston, Ontario, and a bachelor of economics degree from Queen’s University.

In 1977, Lee needed a stove for his workshop at his farm near Ottawa. He remembered the wood-fuelled 45-gallon barrel stove of his youth, and built a stove using castings that would accommodate the barrel and turn it into a stove. He thought it was something other people would be interested in, so put together some mail-order kits and began marketing them that winter. He broke even after the first year and decided to go into business. Lee produced a catalogue, and within a year the business was showing profits. In 1978, recognizing the scarcity of good woodworking tools in Canada, he founded Lee Valley Tools Ltd., a woodworking and gardening tools mail-order business.

Today, Lee Valley Tools has 15 stores across Canada and employs over 900 people.

“Our reputation is based on three principles that Mr. Lee regarded as important: customer satisfaction, integrity, and treating the customer as a friend.”

In 1997, 59-year-old Lee handed the reins of the company over to his son Robin, and now lives in Ontario with his wife Lorraine.

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