Lee Valley Tools
Lee Valley Tools has remained successful for nearly 40 years because of its dedication to offering innovative problem-solving products that are backed by its knowledgeable staff and amazing customer service.
The Ontario, Canada-based company is family owned and has been serving users of woodworking and gardening tools since 1978. “The business was built on finding and selling quality woodworking hand tools and has evolved over time by expanding into the garden and home,” COO Jason Tasse says.
Lee Valley Tools’ reputation has been built on customer satisfaction, integrity and treating its customers like friends. The omni-channel retailer originated as a catalog company and today still offers a print and digital catalog, as well as a website and 15 brick-and-mortar stores across Canada to sell its products. “Our core demographic is mature couples and single homeowners who have a love to work with their hands in a woodshop, garden or kitchen,” Tasse explains.
Although Lee Valley Tools sells other manufacturers’ tools, it also manufactures its own brand of woodworking tools: Veritas. The company says its products are innovative and made in its manufacturing facility at its headquarters. “When developing a new product we listen to our customers while in search of market opportunities,” Tasse says. “In a niche market, who better to help direct us than those who are passionate and share the same love of woodworking tools?”
Labor is one of Lee Valley Tools’ largest investments, so the company hired Manhattan Associates, an Atlanta, Ga.-based global solutions provider for supply chains, to improve costs and find efficiencies, Tasse explains. “We went through a one-year evaluation exercise, which led us to a warehouse management system solution by Manhattan Associates,” he adds. “That is a big investment, but the benefit of working for a family run company is long-term approach to planning and agreed on a foundational system to build the future.”
The warehouse management system was implemented in two phases: Its distribution center went live in August 2010 and its fulfillment center in April 2012. “We selected the warehouse management system because we realized prior to any physical solution we needed control in the system first,” Tasse explains. “Before you start automating things you have to make sure the control is there, otherwise you’ll automate your errors at the speed of light.”
Manhattan Associates helped Lee Valley Tools set the foundation to continue to provide stable products for the long-term. The returns Lee Valley Tools has seen from implementing the software have exceeded its expectations, Tasse says. “We have seen significant labor improvements and increased inventory accuracy,” he adds.
Internal inventory picking errors have been reduced by 90 percent, productivity has increased 20 percent and training time has dropped from three days to several hours. One of the major changes to Lee Valley Tools’ operations was changing from a paper-based pick and manual verification system to a voice-directed pick system.
The voice-directed system navigates pickers to the product location and the employee scans the product to make sure it is correct. “This is a great success story for a mid-size company that was able to tackle operational cost reductions, realize process improvements and improve service levels,” Tasse says.
“We are not about speed of the sales experience, we are about the quality – our approach is to treat the customer like a friend by sharing knowledge and enthusiasm for our product,” Tasse says. “If you want to come in and talk we can share our knowledge, experience and passion for the products.”
The most critical component to Lee Valley Tools’ business model is its knowledgeable staff, so training is held regularly. “We launched into a new line of tools that was not one we manufactured, but sourced, and it was fairly new to the North American market,” Tasse remembers. “Prior to launching, we decided that if we offered this product we want to be the dealer for the full line and very knowledgeable on the products and its uses.”
Lee Valley Tools sent representatives from every facility and store location to receive product training on the manufacturer’s tools prior to launch. For its Veritas brand, Lee Valley Tools has what it calls an internal champions program where every location is trained on the company’s products. “We satisfy that ‘trusted advisor’ component with our customers,” Tasse says.
To ensure it is staying up-to-date on what products its customers are looking for, Lee Valley Tools created an online customer advisory panel that has 14,000 members. This panel helps the company research the market and invites its members to participate in making decisions on new tools. “We recognize the importance of the customer’s voice being represented,” Tasse adds.
Lee Valley Tools says there will always be a market for people who love to work with their hands, which is why it continues to focus on providing problem-solving products. “We believe in Tools for Life,” Tasse says. “Of course, the life part has a double meaning. It represents everyday life or tools for your lifestyle and our quality guarantee that our customers will have a lifetime of value in our products.”