Thursday, January 2, 2020

September 30 2019

I updated the history from 2008 to 2019.

During the last week of September, we started hearing rumors of the closing of the Bethlehem Store. The rumors were backed up by reliable sources.

On September 30, 2019, the end came quickly. The door that was unlocked for the first time in 1948 was locked permanently for the last time at 5pm on September 30, 2019.

The Website and facebook page are still up using the old address. The Phone is being answered by a Rental company that only does bounce houses and games. That Bounce house company purchased and liquidated most of the inventory except for tables and chairs.  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

update 2016

A partnership disagreement at the Bethlehem store started when my sisters who are my partners decided not to forward my share of the rent. The two sisters of this 3-person partnership made this decision so they could pay themselves. It seemed that since the beginning this blog has been a target.  In one of the documents I possess, the sisters demanded that I take my all my social media sites down, including my business website and keep them down.  So at the advice of my lawyer I have not added content to this blog.  This has not stopped the sisters from slandering me and my business’s reputation.  As I start writing again I will back up what I write with documents collected over the last 3 years. 

At the bottom each story I will start posting “in their own words”.  This will be quotes and actual writings from the document stash that I have collected.    

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snowthrower service

This is just one of my updates as stories come too me. This is from a note we give to some of our repair customers.  Just remember it is unedited.  I would appreciate comments. 

Dear Snowthrower Owner
When it snows we are at our best.  For 65 years we have provided service support for the Lawn equipment industry.  I am disappointed that our servicing of your Snowthrower did not live up to yours or our expectation.  Our hands are tied by manufactures and dealerships that don’t provide support after the sale.  In this case parts availability was the issue, this is a problem with servicing discount/home-center snowthrowers.  90% of the requests for Snowthrower service over the last 6 years are because of a corrosive additive that the EPA requires in fuel.  Below is a page from a project to write the History of our business.  An unedited unfinished copy can be found at this link.

Toro introduced the first affordable Snowthrower for homeowner use in the mid 1950’s, and Leiser’s offered the first Toro snowthrowers to the homeowners of the Lehigh Valley. We sold and serviced Toro and Ariens Snowthrowers until 2006.  The Snowthrower business became unprofitable as the discount retailers under-priced us.  The discount retailers were able to do this by selling a stripped down version of what we sold and eliminating product support.  When you purchased a Snowthrower from Leiser’s It was assembled adjusted and delivered free of any charges.  Our customers were instructed on the Snowthrowers use and if our customer had a problem we would brave any snowstorm to take care of it. 

During a blizzard in 1966 Linden Street in Bethlehem was closed by 8’ snow drifts.  We cleared Linden st to a passable side street so our driver could make deliveries.  During the next few days our driver was out on the road past 10 or 11 at night delivering new machines picking up equipment that needed service.  Many times this meant clearing the street with the Snowthrower to get to the customers house.   Everyone else in our business was assembling new machines or repairing customer breakdowns this would include us kids and our friends. 

We understood our customers’ needs and knew the number of snowthrowers and the amount of parts we needed to stock, even if we didn't know when the next storm would hit.  We stocked more dollars in parts then most dealers stocked in equipment.  In 2006 the year we dropped Toro our retail parts inventory was almost $55,000.00.  We stocked 10 auger belts for every Snowthrower model we had sold the previous 20 years.  We were at our best during a snowstorm.  Something I still pride myself in.  One particular Snowstorm in the 70’s my father left the house in cross country skis and I rode my snowmobile on a 10 mile trek to get the store open.  My trip included several miles on a 4 lane highway.  For a large storm I would even spend the night in the store so it would open on time.

During the snowy winter of 1995 there were no snowthrowers available on the east coast.  Even the discount retailers were sold out.  We found Toro Snowthrowers in snow-less Utah dealerships and had them shipped in for our customers.

Times have changed.  We try to offer the same services to the owners of the discount house customers however we are limited.  We can only stock parts that we know we can sell.  Unlike The Toro Company we cannot return obsolete parts for credit.  Many times requests for parts are for models that we have never seen before, or equipment from companies that have shut down.  This year a customer requested service for a Red Chinese built Snowthrower sold online.  Chinese engines are even showing up on name brand machines in such large numbers, they forced the largest US producer of Snowthrower engines to quit engine and parts production.   

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Start here

I have been working on this story for years.  Over the last 6 months I have but a little more effort into the project.  What you are reading is a first draft.  You are sure to find spelling, grammar, and other errors.  

I have been collecting and scanning pictures and hope to add them to the text.  I also have 2 chapters I am still working on. 

Please leave comments and corrections.

Introduction 1945 -1948

Introduction 1945 -1948

This is an introduction to a story about our family business. I have not been actively involved in The Leiser’s Rental in Bethlehem since I purchased the Forks Township Store from the main company in 1995; however, I have a financial investment in the Business’s success. The reason I decided to take on this project is that the business is on very shaky ground.  The current management is the older of my two sisters and one of her sons. Neither of them has any understanding of the business’s history. Without the knowledge contained in this story, they can’t save it. They have ignored my help and continue to blame everyone else including me for the declining state of the business.  

The story was not written on how to grow a successful business. There are plenty of good business books in the Library on that topic. It is an interesting story that follows a very successful business my father never planned on starting.   

This is a History of the Leiser Family Business. The business my father started in 1948 entered its 6th decade in 2008 without its Founder. In my Father’s estate planning, my father provided my mother with a steady income that would allow her to afford a comfortable life. He set up a foundation to take care of his hunting trophies and restored a one-room School House he owned. My Father enrolled his Farm in a farmland preservation program, and my Father was very generous to his favorite charities. As his health failed everything seemed to be in order however my father would leave his business without a succession plan.


The answer, I believe is that my father never expected the business to survive his involvement. Some of his letters in the last years of his life would allude to this.  To the best of my ability, I will draw the Map that will take my father’s business from Dawn until Dusk.  The Map that I draw will show it was not all smooth sailing.  Along the road to any successful business, there will be potholes and dead ends, my father’s business is no exception.    

This is a story of the business that would start with my Father collecting bricks for the foundation long before the agreed-to 1948 starting date.  During World War II my father was training to be a fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps.  When the war ended my father would pursue his love of flying.  Using the GI Bill to attend Spartan School of Aeronautics my father would complete a course in Airport management.  He would then return home to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and search for a job.

Immediately after The war, there were not many jobs available in the Bethlehem area.  Local industries were still retooling from War production while trying to absorb the thousands of newly discharged soldiers. My father would take on some part-time jobs. He would work for my grandfather at the estate of a Bethlehem Steel executive.  For a time my father worked nights as a bartender and during the day operated a handyman service.  My grandfather was a nurseryman by trade; this background would set a direction for the handyman business. 
My father purchased a used Rototiller and a surplus Jeep; he offered a custom tilling service. In other words, if you wanted a garden dug, you would hire my father to dig it with his tilling machine.  My father would also cut lawns and purchased a chain saw to cut trees.  With the chain saw he saw an opportunity to sell chain saws to farmers and contractors in the area.  My father would spend the winter traveling the roads of the Lehigh Valley, demonstrating the chain saw to farmers.  He had an innovative product; unfortunately as hard as he worked my father would sell only a few chain saws in those early years.  Most farmers could not justify the amount of labor saved compared to the cost of the saw.  The farmers were amazed by the speed but would confess to my father that they had all winter to cut wood with a hand saw.  

The chain saw; the power chain saw had been developed in the early 1900’s it was a heavy, expensive machine.  Even the lightest chain saw needed 2 strong men to operate. Wartime advancements in the production of aluminum castings would make the chain saw lighter cheaper and portable.  The first brand we sold was Mall, over the years we have sold and rented most major brands of chain saws.

The postwar chainsaw was an innovative product; however, it was not a product that the business could be built around.  My Father never intended to open a retail store so the chain saw was just a product that would enhance his handyman business. 

My Father still envisioned finding a career in aviation; however, with no aviation jobs available, he would pursue his lifelong love of aviation as a hobby.  My father was active in the Civil Air Patrol and the founding of the local Pilots Club. He would be involved in flying all his life however aviation would always remain a hobby as he would grow his business.

Another business opportunity that would present itself to my father was home building. One of my father's friends convinced him to by a large Army surplus Glider. These kits were cheap and were purchased to reclaim the lumber used in the wooden crates, and the wood recovered from the glider. My father would salvage enough lumber to build himself a house.  A few years later, he would marry and build a second house, and then a third house.  These three houses still stand in the rear of my grandfather's property at 3301 Linden St in Bethlehem. 

My father would touch other business opportunities; however, the steady income from the handyman business would occupy his days. 

The wooden propeller had no real significance to my father's flying. My father purchased it after it was salvaged from a wrecked airplane. My father hollowed out the center and mounted a clock in the center. When his first standalone store opened at 2960 Linden Street in 1955 the propeller clock was hung above the front door. In 1970 it was moved to the new 3608 Linden Street store. It was always a conversation piece. When the nephew was evicted from the 3608 location in 2018 the propeller was found mixed in with a pile of garbage in a back office. The propeller now hangs inside the front door of my store.

First decade… 1948 - 1958

First decade… 1948 - 1958

My Father acquired a Toro dealership in 1948.  I doubt he knew that he found a product to grow a business around.  Power lawnmowers were not new, Toro introduced a consumer sized powered Lawn Mower in the mid 1930's.  However in the 1930’s the suburbs hadn't been invented yet and with a limited market they were very expensive.  With the post war building boom came yards that were too large for push mowers.  A power lawnmower in 1950 was still expensive item.  A walk behind power mower could cost a homeowner 2 to 3 weeks’ salary.  As the demand for power lawnmowers increased prices would drop and the suburban sized power lawnmower moved from luxury item to a necessity.

It was never made clear how my Father and Toro got together, however with virtually no investment my Father would be given exclusive rights to sell Toro lawn equipment in the 2 counties that comprised the Lehigh Valley. This was postwar retailing, where business relationships were consummated with a handshake rather than a contract.  My Father would go on to slice up his territory by wholesaling Toro products to other retailers within his territory.

The lawnmower necessitated a change in my Fathers handyman business. The lawnmower was not an item he could sell out of the back of his Jeep.  The lawnmower would need a showroom.  My Father installed some large windows in my Grandfather’s garage, and Donald W Leiser Sales and Service was born. As the lawnmower business grew the handyman business would be phased out. Toro lawnmowers would be the single product that would support my Fathers new business.

Location is always very important and establishing the business in the center of Northampton county would give my Father’s business access to a strong middle class.  The Lehigh Valley was the home of Mack Truck, Bethlehem Steel, and Ingersoll Rand.  The Lehigh Valley’s many college's that included Lehigh, Lafayette, Muhlenberg, Moravian and others would get a boost from the GI Bill.  This would help grow a, middle and upper middle class community with disposable income.  The town of Bethlehem was built on the side of a mountain. Between downtown Bethlehem and my Grandfather’s house would be miles of flat land ready for suburban development.

Even with the opening of the retail store this would not set my Father on a lifelong career path.  He would find other business opportunities to explore. Dad’s lifelong love of the outdoors would start another business. My Parents had a season long campsite at Promised Land State Park in the Pocono Mountains. When the State of Pennsylvania started leasing building sites my Father would lease a site and build a cabin.  During construction Dad would watch the neighbor struggle in his cabin building project.  In helping the neighbor with his cabin my Father would notice the neighbor’s lack of building skills. This would give him the idea of building cabin shells. He would install the foundation, erect the floor, walls, and roof and the owner would finish off the inside. While this would be a mostly weekend and off season business Dad would find customers for his building services.

My Father had only completed a few of these shells, when back to back hurricanes spawned flooding would devastate the Pocono Mountains in 1955. The flooding would kill hundreds of people; wash out most of the bridges.  Dad would fly my mother and me up to the cabin site he was working on to check on it. The floods had pick up the enter lumber pile and push it against the foundation without the loss of a single board.  He would finish that cabin; however the demand for cabins in the Pocono’s had died. 

Another product that would be a stepping stone in the growth and diversity of the business would be the backhoe. Today the backhoe loader is now found on every construction and landscaping project, however before World War II the backhoe loader as we know it did not exist. Digging a basement or digging a trench was accomplished by hand or with a “Steam Shovel”.  The prewar power shovels needed to be hauled to a construction site in pieces and assembled before use. Moving a power shovel from one job to another could take days.

My Father would start by buying a Shawnee or Pippin backhoe kit assembling the kit, and installing it on the customers tractor. Now a digger could be driven to a job site used and then driven to the next job. This would lead to Dad acquiring a tractor dealership, to supply tractors to install backhoe kits on.  The tractor dealership wer would acquire was International Harvester Industrial Tractors. With International Harvester industrial equipment Dad had a full line of construction equipment from garden tractors to bulldozers.

The tractors and construction equipment necessitated a move out of my Grandfather’s garage.  In 1955 Dad would purchase 3 acres at the intersection of Linden St and Macada Rd in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and move the business ½ mile South of my Grandfather’s garage. The building was built mostly for lawn equipment business, however the showroom floor was reinforced enough to hold the weight of a bulldozer.
As the businesses first decade was coming to an end the business was still evolving, however it seemed to be on a solid foundation.  From a starting point of a chain saw in the back of a Jeep, to the 44 x 48’ building the business was a success.  

My Father hadn't yet hired a full time employee, as extra help needed, it would be provided by my Mother, my Grandfather or Friends.  Every Friday Mom would drive a truck to Philadelphia with a check to purchase replacements for the mowers that had been sold during the week.  Dad would schedule deliveries and service calls for evenings so he could operate the store during the day.  This was truly Mom and Pop.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

Picture Link.

I plan on collecting sorting through and posting pictures.

Current photo links

Pictures from my Toro Collection are scattered through the picture page.