Le Mars Toy Store: More than just toy tractors
By KRISS NELSON
LE MARS – If you are looking for a toy tractor, semi-truck or have an old one that has seen better days and could use a makeover, look no further than the Le Mars Toy Store.
Owner Albert Schulz has been in business for 22 years now, and his store has grown over the years.
The business started in an interesting way, according to Schulz.
“It started as kind of a fluke with a front window display of my own toys at one of my other businesses,” he said.
That display eventually grew into what Schulz claims to be the “most diversified farm toy store in the United States.”
The fact the Le Mars Toy Store offers restoration and customization of farm toys as well as semi-trucks and features a large inventory of old, new and custom toys is the reason the store has earned the title of largest, most diversified farm toy store in the United States, Schulz said.
The store has a wide selection from collectors, custom, salvage yard, and toys that can be played with.
“Within each brand, the customers have their favorites and they are very loyal to their own brand,” Schulz said, adding it gives a whole new meaning if the customer is either a red person or a green person. “There are some crossovers where the person isn’t all green or red but possibly has both. That is the reason why we offer all kinds of varieties when it comes to the different brands of tractors.”
It’s estimated there are more than 10,000 items in the store, ranging from parts, decals, pedal tractors, 1/64, 1/16, and 1/8 tractors and toys.
There’s more than the Le Mars Toy Store offers.
“We have a salvage yard, we do customization of tractors and restorations, we handle old and new products of all sizes and we sell parts,” Schulz said. “We have a large variety which makes us the most diversified.”
When it comes to custom work, they have done just about everything.
“Basically with customs, I started out tweaking a few things 20 years ago,” he said. “Now, we have progressed into the level that we cut and mill and design most of our own parts.”
A customer might come in looking for a toy tractor to look just like their real one.
“We can do that,” Schulz said. “From loader tractors with hydraulic hoses, quick hitches, transmissions, and etc. A lot of guys, like myself, have a real tractor with a chrome pipe on it. They sound better, look nicer. Even the new style steps and air cleaners. They want those looks on their toy replica.”
He added some of the work is done at the store, while other work is done off-site.
“We will do the lighter custom work here,” he said. “I design it and our contractors have their own machine shop and finish it.”
They will also restore pedal tractors.
One of the most recent unique projects the store just recently restored was a 1923 fire truck.
This particular fire truck had belonged to a customer’s father, who 3 years old in 1923 when he received the truck as a gift.
“We’re talking heirlooms like that,” Schulz said. “We get a lot of sentimental stuff. When customers spend $500 to $1,000 in these tractors, these are heirlooms that get passed on to their next of kin.”
Sometimes restoration and customization can get very extensive on different things, he added.
The Le Mars Toy Store has also customized items to help commemorate shows or events, including a tractor each year for the Albert City Threshermen Show and a toy semi for the Plymouth County Fair every year.
Not only does Schulz believe in promotion, but he also believes in community service projects.
The store has several they are involved in.
One of them involves a show and tell project. As a child is starting school and comes into the store, they receive a free $10 toy, which they have to take to school as a show and tell project. Afterwards, they have to write a letter about their visit and experience.
“This program continues on for older children as well, but they have to write a story,” Schulz said. “Have their teacher grade it and send us a copy.”
Schulz feels these are great learning opportunities for students because they learn to speak about their tractor in front of their class as well as helping them to improve their writing skills.
“That’s just one of our ways we give back,” he said.
The Le Mars Toy Store also helps fundraising efforts of area volunteer police, fire and emergency medical technician agencies by donating pedal tractors.
“They have to sign a contract with us and tell us they are going to go out and sell raffle tickets for a set price,” Schulz said. “We give them a free pedal tractor.”
Over the past few years, about 18 pedal tractors have been donated and more than $50,000 has been raised by the EMT and fire departments annually.
The store has donated pedal tractors for these efforts outside of Le Mars as well, according to Schulz, reaching out to other areas throughout the state of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota.
The store believes in giving to the different volunteer departments because they are always there when the public needs them.
Additionally, the store also works with terminally ill children, sponsoring events with Shriners Hospital for Children.
Why collect toy tractors?
“When we were kids, we had toy tractors, but it is something to associate with what you also had,” Schulz said. “Maybe it’s going to grandpa’s farm and driving his 4020, and now you’re corporate somewhere, but you remember those days. Maybe it was your pride and joy and you are now retired, but want one to look at.”
Sometimes customers are buying to add to their collection.
“Whatever you collect, always enjoy what you collect,” he said. “That’s the thing.”
The Le Mars Toy Store will be holding its annual customer appreciation days from March 22 through 24, with lunch provided each day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“We serve a free, hot meal to everybody that comes,” Schulz said. “We do it to say thank you. It builds customer relationships. They are like family and friends.”
Last year. the store served more than 2,000 people. Customers traveled from places such as Pennsylvania, Colorado, Michigan, throughout the Midwest and even Canada.
Schulz said they are all tractor enthusiasts, with some coming for the enjoyment and others coming to buy something – either for their grandchildren or for restoration.
In the fall of 2016, Schulz was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Right now, Schulz wants people to know, as of this last fall, he is stable after undergoing major surgery in December 2016 and doing quarterly check-ups since then.
He said he would like to thank the hundreds of people that have called to see how he is doing.
Many people have asked him to not close the store because it means so much to them and they enjoy stopping buy.
But, he stated, it also means a lot to him to have them stop by and he plans on keeping the store open and doing business as usual.
Schulz added he owes a lot of credit to his employees for without them he could not do it.
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