This is our 25th annual woodworking catalog. Lee Valley was incorporated in July of 1977 but our first catalog was not mailed until the following year. We had prepared as well as we could (given our naiveté in the mail-order business) and sent the first few thousand catalogs to a compiled list of known woodworkers. The most common response was "Where have you been until now?" The second most common response was "Received your excellent catalog but I am disappointed that you do not carry... (fill in the blank)."
As we scrambled to fill orders and adjust our product line, we discovered that we were dealing with a remarkably honest slice of the consuming public. The best example ever involved a $50 British dovetail saw. The manufacturer originally packed them one to a box, but later changed the packaging so that two were nested in a box of almost the same dimensions. Before we noticed the change, we had shipped seven of these new boxes to customers but charged them for single saws only. I believe we discovered our problem when the first duplicate was returned. Even in those pre-computer days, we could quickly determine that there were six more duplicates out there and who had them.
I thought it would be interesting to just sit tight and see what customers did. Four more came back quite quickly and we sent Thank You notes and shipping cost refunds. A week passed and the sixth saw came back with a comment that it had caused a small moral dilemma but conscience won in the end. After several more weeks, the seventh and last saw came back with a long, anguished letter from the customer telling us that we had caused him some of the most uncomfortable weeks of his life. He had initially expected that we would discover our error and contact him. When no letter came, he began to speculate about where he might sell this little jewel of a backsaw that he had gained at no cost. However, he continued to feel guilty about the whole affair and, to re-establish his peace of mind, he finally sent it back to us with a complete confession and a plea to never again test him.
Years later, when we started selling gardening tools, we found that gardeners had the same ethical standards. In short, we have had an easy time of it these past 25 years because it was possible to do so many things based on trust. Thank you for trusting us this past quarter century to respond to you in the same manner you have responded to us.
Leonard G. Lee