You cannot help but notice the sign hanging above the counter at Lima Lumber.
“The BITTERNESS of Poor Quality Lingers Longer than the SWEETNESS of Low Price.”
That’s the philosophy owners Kevin Gratz and Mike Steiner used to steer Lima Lumber for 38 years: They carried quality goods and offered exceptional customer service.
That’s also been the key to salesmanship for 33-year employee Dave Lamb, who not only knows the names of customers but also those of their families.
As Steiner said, “You don’t come in here and have someone tell you to go look on aisle 12.”
Retirement now knocks on the door for the trio. Gratz and Steiner have sold the business, and Lamb also said it is time to enter a new phase of life. This will be their last week of getting up before 6 o’clock in the morning and heading off to 1101 Delphos Ave., Lima.
“We started talking about retirement a year ago when COVID hit. It seemed like a good time,” Gratz said.
Gratz is 69. Steiner is 68, and Lamb is 65.
The three could write a textbook on what it takes to run a successful business, but they laugh when you mention such a thing. Yet as you listen to them talk, it’s clear that not everyone could pull off what they did.
Sure, they worked long hours, but anyone can work long hours. It was more than that.
They also were confident they could do the job better than anyone else. They set out to establish a reputation among their customers of being an honest place to do business.
And on the job, they respected each other’s opinions, had fun and made sure their employees knew their families would come first.
Gratz recalled how he and Steiner came about owning the business.
“It was my birthday, November of 1982, when I got called upstairs by the owner,” Gratz said. “He told me they were going to close the place. The economy was terrible at the time. The prime rate was sky high with an 18- to 20-percent interest rate to buy a home. The Wolfe family, which owned Lima Lumber, had other businesses and decided this one was going to go.”
Before Gratz could start feeling sorry for himself, Steiner had his ear.
“Mike said, ‘We can do it; let’s buy it,’” Gratz said. “I was 31, he was 30. The economy was in the tank, and people weren’t building. And what did we do? We bought a lumber yard.”
Steiner said it made as much sense as anything back then.
“I knew Kevin wasn’t afraid to make a go of things and neither was I,” he said.
Years later when the big box stores muscled their way into Lima — Furrows, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Menards — some people in town wondered if that would be the death knell for a place like Lima Lumber.
They should have known better.
“We had a good bunch of customers,” said Lamb, who came aboard in 1988. “We not only enjoyed talking with them, but more so listening to them. We had their respect, and they had our respect.”
Gratz began working for Lima Lumber when he was in high school.
“My dad was the dean of students at Lima Senior and got a call from Lima Lumber, who had a job opening for a student. I went to see them but got lost and arrived after they closed. I went back the next day, and they gave me one more chance. I never forgot that.”
What’s the future hold?
Lamb’s keeping the door open. Steiner said he cannot imagine keeping his hands off wood.
“I have a shop at home that I imagine will keep me busy,” he said.
Gratz has a different tune in mind.
“I’ve always wanted to write a song. That’s what I’m going to do,” he said.
ROSES AND THORNS: Somebody’s dribbling a basketball in the rose garden.
Rose: To Paul Boecker, a 1973 graduate of Ottoville High School. Before the pandemic, he missed just one high school boys’ basketball game in 44 years, and that was because he was in the hospital for fear he had a heart attack.
Rose: To the Car-E-It Party Shop in Ottawa, which handed out between 40 and 45 free meals to snowplow drivers, first responders, police and fire personnel and village workers on Tuesday in appreciation of their public service.
Rose: To Bill Crites, a 2002 Elida High School graduate. He appeared Thursday on the Food Network’s popular cooking show “Beat Bobby Flay.”
Rose: To Joe Flarida, a Lima native and Shawnee graduate who heads the Columbus group Power a Clean Future Ohio. The nonpartisan coalition helps communities transition from pollution-generating energy sources. In Lima’s case, the group will evaluate its fleet of vehicles and make recommendations.
Rose: To Martha Boogher of Lima, who celebrates her 103rd birthday today.
Rose: To Sandra and George Coon of Westminster, who celebrated 60 years of marriage last Wednesday.
Thorn: Lima’s 3rd Ward councilor Carla Thompson will not be allowed to have her name on the November ballot because she turned in a petition that was one voter shy of the 25 required.
Thorn: William E. Miller, 43, of Carey, was sentenced Wednesday to 120 days in the Allen County jail on charges of abuse of a corpse and failure to report a death after he left a woman’s dead body in the back seat of a vehicle parked at Lost Creek Reservoir. The woman had died at a home on Eastown Road from a drug overdose.
PARTING SHOT: Your customers won’t love you if you give bad service, but your competitors will.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.