A toy store like no other
LE MARS – For that scale-model farm equipment collection that’s not quite complete or for the farmer who wants a model duplicate of equipment he may have customed, the Le Mars Toy Store may be the source to consult for Christmas gift giving.
Albert Schulz’s unique business boasts an inventory of 10,000 scale model toys of tractors and other farm implements in a lower-level room at 30 Plymouth Street SW, Le Mars.
Schulz, 63, a local cattleman and owner of Schulz Ag Agency, opened the toy store 19 years ago.
“It’s been a kind of fluke as to all that’s happened since then,” he said.
Rows of glassed showcases are filled not only with tractors that enthusiasts love to collect, but virtually every type of implement that could attach to them.
Farm trucks are also included in the inventory of both new and old equipment – some kept in boxes 50 years or more by their previous owners.
Schulz said Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving that retailers say is the biggest sale day of the year, requires no special promotion for him.
His toy store customers – local, regional and foreign visitors – visit the store throughout the year, he said.
He’s had customers from 47 states and 12 countries including South Africa, France, England, Switzerland, Canada and South America.
While Schulz acknowledges the growing and harvest seasons may make a dent in his walk-in customers, strong winter customer traffic compensates for the slower summer season.
Stacked boxes at the top of the stairs signal the store’s large number of phone or mail order customers.
The 1,000 who attended the store’s March 2012 Appreciation Day attest to its popularity, Schulz said.
“We appeared last year on national television,” Schulz said, “and that gave us an added boost nationwide. Our attendance at the Dyersville Summer Toy Show gaves us the opportunity last year to meet new customers.”
His presence at farm equipment events such as the Big Iron Farm Show in Fargo, N.D., results in new customers, he said.
Visitors look over full-size equipment deciding they also want the smaller, collectable versions to take home, Schulz said.
Schulz said his customer demographics list range in age from 40 and older. At the other end of the spectrum, he said, are the youngsters who come in with their parents and grandparents.
The store’s varied selection of 24 makes of peddle-tractors, Schulz said, is quick to catch the eye of young shoppers.
For the store’s adult customers, he said, it’s a matter of knowing what piece of equipment they want either for their own collection or to give to a friend, fellow collector or family member.
“It’s often easy to sense the customers who may want something for sentimental reasons,” Schulz said, ” or perhaps to hand down as an heirloom. What you see in this day and age is a sort of agricultural nostalgia.
“You see customers often longing for the good old days and something that brings back memories of visiting grandma and grandpa. Someone may have had a specific tractor and wants one like it.”
Prices vary, Schulz said, pointing to the table called the salvage yard that holds discounted equipment someone has brought in with some measure of damage.
He drew a customer’s attention to a showcased red combine, one of six manufactured in the store’s machine shop in March 2012 by Schulz’s metalworker and lathe contract employees.
Four of the combines, with a price tag of $2,500, have been sold, he said.
“We have customers who come in wanting to have their equipment restored or customized,” he said, “to have for sentimental reasons, perhaps, a name on a tractor or that want something like the real thing that actually runs and drives.
“We’ve also been asked to customize equipment for use in funeral or memorial services for a deceased farmer or collector.
“In other instances it’s a matter of someone wanting to restore say a click hitch or rear weight, to change wheels on the equipment. Our staff can do that, too.”
He pointed to a notebook filled with future customizing or restoration requests.
The majority of the repair or replacement parts needed, Schulz said, are manufactured in-house.
Schulz said he has his own tractor and equipment collection that started with models of farm equipment during his youth.
Schulz said that while he feels complimented when a first-time visitor occasionally believes he or she has entered a toy museum, he’s quick to point out otherwise.
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