When Lee Valley began 40 years ago, it was a simple mail-order business selling just one item, a barrel stove kit, out of Leonard and Lorraine Lee’s small Saskatchewan log cabin home without any electricity or running water! It may seem to us today that a barrel stove is an unusual choice for a product line. But, back in the day, barrel stoves, unshielded, were the only source of heat for homes and schools during cold winters months.
Growing up on a farm, Lee and his brothers learned to be resourceful. Under the guidance of their father, a carpenter and farmer, they built everything from granaries to barns to chicken coops. “Even my primitive [farm] training was of substantial benefit to me later in life,” Lee said. “I was able to convert my hobby of woodworking into a business.” He always said he preferred job content over a salary because he was more creative and productive doing work that he liked. “When I do work I like, I’m a happier person,” he said. He applied some of the marketing research skills he had obtained while working in the Canadian Foreign Service to critically look at the Canadian woodworking market. With the help of his family, he decided to test that market by selling barrel stove kits in rural weeklies. It was tough. But it worked.