Lapp’s Toys is a small, thriving company located in the heart of Lancaster County near Bird In Hand, PA. It is a thriving local small business that makes and sells wooden toys and doll furniture. The owners are John & Mima Lapp, and they graciously allowed us to interview them about their business.
In 2008, John Lapp and his brother Amos bought the business. Each son bought 49.5% of the business, and their dad bought 1%. They bought their current property in 2012 and moved over in 2013. Several years later Amos started dairy farming, so John began to operate the business by himself.
John had a lot of great points to share throughout the interview. I could tell he put a great deal of thought into his business.
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How has working with family affected your perspective?
“I think most people would say there is nothing better, but at times there is nothing worse. It’s a typical family. We made the mistake of not paying ourselves enough.”
Where do you get your wood from?
“Our maple and hardwoods would come from TBM Hardwoods, which is domestic. Our white pines would come from the Northeastern states…The plywood, unfortunately, comes from Russia. You can’t even get close to their price and quality. Some of the smaller products, I‘ll gladly pay more so it can be made domestically.”
What were some milestones for your company?
Moving in here was one. We bought a dump. We spent a month cleaning out trash, and a month renovating. There was dumpster after dumpster of trash leaving here. We put a new face on it. We also dropped the floor about four feet so the retail store could be on ground level. We have no regrets from buying as opposed to leasing. It has worked out well for us.
After buying the business, the sales increased majorly. This was partially because we were two young guys with a lot of energy running it. When our dad worked by himself, he did not really want more business than he could take care of on his own.
We also did not get hit near as hard by the recession in 2008 as much as some high end businesses. People are still going to buy Christmas toys for their children. They might not buy the expensive furniture set as quickly.
How did Covid-19 affect your business?
We shut down for a week and sent the guys home. Then orders began to pour in. The second week and on was similar to the Christmas shopping season. We had a truckload to send out almost right away. The daycare centers were shut down, and children were stuck at home with little to do. We have not really slowed down since. We are basically limited by what we can manufacture. It’s Christmas year-round.
We do keep a fairly large inventory on hand in the warehouse, though. It’s more efficient for us to make a large batch and then pull from the warehouse as needed. The batches can’t be too big, though. A lot of people do on-demand production, which creates greater flexibility and eliminates the need for a lot of warehouse space. We have different ways of making our batches even more efficient, such as varying the paint color. This adds a greater variety with almost the same amount of work.
What are some favorite parts of the job?
I enjoy the flexibility. I used to not have as much when I had young guys working here who had to be directed. Now that I work in the paint room, I can do other things as needed. It’s also more flexible for everyone. Our workers are not required to be here at a certain time. They can come and go as needed based on their schedules.
“As far as the best part, I like having my family here.” One thing we believe in is the value of education versus entertainment. If a child plays with a toy firetruck with working lights and sounds, we would consider that to be entertainment, similar to watching TV, even though they are probably learning something. There have been studies done saying it is better for their brains if they have to make the noises and move the vehicles themselves.
The other factor is we build toys, not models. People suggest putting fine details on such as mirrors or headlights. The problem with added details is you would have more breakable parts, and then they would not pass safety testing. Most of our toys are tested for safety; we started testing them about four years ago.
What are some of the larger challenges you face or have faced?
I think our challenge now would be the same as everyone else—the labor shortage. We usually have six or seven guys here on any given day, but we could really use two more. Sales definitely are not a problem, but rather keeping things in stock.
As far as product availability for raw materials, we have not had much trouble. Things take longer to get here, but we can still get them. We buy some of our lumber by the container, which brings the price down.
What’s a long-term vision for your company?
We don’t want to grow into a huge company. We want the wholesale to keep the prices down for our retail customers. Staying sustainable and becoming more efficient is our biggest goal.
What’s something you would like to tell the customers?
“The education versus entertainment principle is the reason to buy my products. Otherwise, it would be hard to justify the price. The quality is great, but the underlying reason to me is the education. If you went through our house, you would not find a toy with batteries in it. It’s something we believe in.”
Back in the day, older people would buy a lot of these classic-style toys for their grandchildren. It is what they grew up with. The baby boomers, on the other hand, tended to enjoy buying electronic toys for their children, because the technology was new and exciting. We did not get as much business from them. The younger generation, the millennials, wanted to buy the classic kinds of toys for their children. They don’t like the fact that a lot of schools use computers for learning, so they try to teach their children they don’t need electronics to be mentally stimulated. We believe a lot of our sales can be contributed to the shift in thinking.
Remember, at Good’s Store, you can find a select collection of Lapp’s Toys at each of
the four locations.
by Sheldon Beiler
Photos by Susan Burkholder 11/24/21