Things are busy at Outback Toys

By on December 20, 2017

Manager Adam Lehman with a big toy truck at Outback.

Farm toys are holiday favorites

When you visit Outback Toys in Lititz for the first time, you may not be sure if you’re in a store that sells “playables” or a specialty shop of “collectibles.” The sales area, small by comparison to the big box stores, is chock full of trucks and farm equipment toys, built to scale, and exact replicas of major manufacturers like Case IH, Massey Ferguson, John Deere, New Holland Agriculture, Allis Chalmers, and Kubota.

And, Outback sells lots of other stuff for farm fans who want to wear a John Deere hat or a Case IH shirt, water bottles or blankets with the appropriate equipment logo. It truly is a sight to see, especially during the Christmas rush when parents and grandparents are loading carts with large toy trucks and tractors.

Outback is a leader in farm-related toys. The store is busy year-round and is a destination for visitors from across the U.S. and around the world.

Outback is a local business with a unique heritage. It is a unit of Binkley & Hurst — a major farm equipment sales and service company, now with multiple locations. The company dates back to the late 1930s, serving Lancaster County farmers from its Rothsville Station Road location.

In the 1970s, brothers Leonard and Amos Hurst joined the dealership and with David Binkley formed Binkley & Hurst. A few years later, with the mega merger of Case and IH equipment manufacturers (now called Case IH), B&H became a major player in the business and continues to be a significant force in the sale and service of farm equipment regionally.

Toy trucks fill an aisle at Outback Toys in Lititz.

Similar to automobile dealerships, B&H always had access to small replica tractors and farm equipment from the manufacturers they represented. The toys were displayed on a shelf in the parts department to sell to customers, most often for their children.

In the early 1990s, B&H’s parts department manager Isaac Hurst asked his young assistant Adam Lehman to take the toys, display them prominently, and see if he could build sales as a “sideline” operation, explains B&H’s president Don Hoover, who joined the company in 1983 and spearheaded the changeover to an employee-owned operation in 2006.

What happened with the toys, to this day, has both Adam and Don shaking their heads. The farm toys became so popular they took on a life of their own and began to require more and more shelf space in the parts department. The Hurst brothers and partner Binkley built a 15,000 square-foot building behind the dealership for Lehman and his inventory.

Hoover smiles when he says, “We then got so many customers coming to the parts department asking for toys, we started giving directions by saying, ‘Oh, the toys are out back.’ The name stuck.”

As sales volume grew, it was obvious, Hoover explains, that Outback needed bigger quarters. In 2007, the store moved to a two-story former shoe factory on Lincoln Avenue in Lititz.

The sale of farm toys and related items would appear to be just a niche business, but Outback has captured and held onto a customer base that has remained fiercely loyal and helped keep sales steady in a time when most toy stores are struggling to stay relevant in a world of Internet sales.

Outback Toys keeps a foot in the past with significant on-site inventory for walk-in customers, as well as a traditional catalog where they field calls by a telephone sales staff that is augmented with additional help during the holidays. And, to survive in the age of the Internet, where even many in the Plain family community are online, Outback has a growing presence in Internet sales.

Besides new inventory, Outback has sourced older toys from collections as well as customized one-of-a-kind pieces for collectors that are not available anywhere else. For example, one customer took a fairly generic looking Farmall tractor and powered it with a small motor, which in turn powered a model forage wagon to give him a fully operational battery-powered toy tractor and forage wagon.

Outback’s off-site warehouse, also in Lititz, is a beehive of activity during December as UPS trucks roll away from its loading docks daily with filled orders for customers across the county and internationally.

Store manager Lehman comes from a farming background, but knew little about the toys when he was given the opportunity to grow the business.

“I learned fast,” he smiles.

And, says Hoover, “He continues to learn and be innovative. And with a dedicated staff, Outback provides customers with knowledgeable and friendly service, either face-to-face, by phone, or Internet contact.”

The store exhibits at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg in January and works with the farm show staff to showcase one or more special collectible that would not be available anywhere else. Outback also can be found at the Delaware State Fair during July, as well as Ag Progress Days in State College in August.

The employee-owned Binkley & Hurst operates with a strong Christian ethic that is clearly stated in their mission statement, vision and core values. From their senior staff to the newest hire, employees are dedicated to success, and it is reflected in how they treat customers.

In early December, when asked if the staff was working long hours to fill orders during the holiday season, Lehman smiled as he headed back to his phone and computer, and said, “I’d call them extreme hours until Christmas.”

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance feature writer and photographer who recently retired to this area from New Jersey. He welcomes reader feedback at artpetrosemolo@comcast.net.

 

 

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