What once started off as a simple request for a yard sign has now grown into a full-fledged business that Keri and Gene Lehman, of rural Van Meter, had never imagined.
“When it first started out, I wanted some life-sized deer to place in the yard,” Keri Lehman said. “Gene –who has been a welder for 30 years - drew them out by hand, and then cut them with a plasma cutter by hand. People started to see that and wanted different things like their names on it so it kind of grew by word of mouth.”
As orders started coming in, the Lehmans decided they needed a specialized CNC machine to help speed up the design process.
“Gene was spending hours creating the designs by hand,” Keri Lehman said. “He would dye-grind the letters and would spend hours on one piece. We looked into a machine so we could produce more and create the letters better without spending all our time on a single item.”
Cutting the pieces now takes a matter of minutes; however, the design process is the most time-consuming part according to Keri Lehman.
“It takes minutes to cut the design, but throwing a design together can take me anywhere from a couple minutes to two or three hours,” she said. “Neither one of us has a background in CAD software so it took me three months to get a handle on how to design the metal.”
The designs that are used are based off of a template, but then Keri Lehman mixes them to create an entirely different design.
“People come up to us sometimes and don’t think what we make is made out of metal,” she said. “I think they are surprised and that’s a good thing.”
After the metal is designed, Gene Lehman said he grinds the piece, places the hangers and hooks on the item, cleans up the piece with a powder-coat, and then cooks it for a half an hour.
“It’s really a quick process after it’s designed,” Gene Lehman said.
Items Gene and Keri have produced over the past year include signs, fire pits, napkin holders, coat and key racks, and quilt blocks that range in price from $20-250. Some of their most requested items are their farm scene pieces and camper signs.
Although the Lehmans have a wide selection of items to choose from, they are hoping to create new designs to offer their clients for next year.
They also are looking to expand their reach by offering their products on eBay, etsy, and Pinterest.
“Right now we’ve sold our products through word of mouth and a little through social networks,” Keri Lehman said. “I’m hoping to get a handle on our website (www.lehmanmetal.com) next year as well.”
Currently, Keri and Gene Lehman operate Lehman metal as a side job. Keri is an IT test lead at John Deer Financial and Gene is a welder.