Daniel Yoder, a 56-year old Amish man from Holmes County, Ohio, has built a thriving furniture business through his attention to quality manufacturing and good customer relationships. He has even allowed his company to open a website for his business, called “Daniel’s Amish.”
A report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on December 24 included an interview with Yoder that elicited his thinking about the accomplishments of his company. Marcia Pledger, the journalist interviewing the businessman, wraps up her session with him by asking to what he attributes his successes. He replies that they come from the same source as all other good things—meaning of course his belief in God. But he quickly adds that he also attributes the success of his firm to the 140 employees who manufacture the bedroom and dining room furniture and who sell the products.
He describes his 120,000 square foot manufacturing plant and the fact that he has decided to add another 15,000 square foot building in order to manufacture even more furniture. He has 12 sales representatives who tell him there is a very high demand throughout the U.S. for his carefully crafted, hand-made, high-quality furniture. He has had to tell them to hold off on adding more stores to the roster of firms that they sell to. But now, he believes, the expansion is warranted because of the demand. He is not modest about describing the success of the firm to the reporter.
Many manufactures of bedroom furniture, he says, sell a queen sized bed, a king sized bed, a couple night stands, a dresser and a chest. Then they add hardware that they think looks good, and a stain they hope will sell. Daniel’s Amish offers 26 different chests, 60 dressers, nine different armoires, nine night stands—and then allows the customer to choose from 60 different stains and 40 different sets of hardware. They offer around 15 different bedroom styles. Added to all of this diversity of choices, his business emphasizes high quality craftsmanship.
Although the non-Amish president of the company opened a website recently, Yoder still believes in the personal aspects of building the business. He argues that while many people rely on the Internet for their purchases, he believes in face-to-face human interactions as much as possible. While he has access to the Internet in his office, he doesn’t buy online. Instead, he values the personal touch of a handshake with another person, and of being able to handle the furniture himself.
He travels constantly to visit stores that carry his products, to chat with the sales representatives in them, and to relate to people. “When I come in the stores they’re very anxious to meet me again,” he tells Ms. Pledger. “They have questions about the product. And I help them close sales for a couple of days.” The staff in his office can follow his travels—driven by his hired driver, of course—by noting the communities from which orders come flooding in.
The reporter conveys the things he is most proud of, especially the high quality of the furniture. He clearly values the fact that he employs a large number of people. But when she asks him directly what he is most proud of, he replies that he is a “furniture guy,” who is glad to be running the company. He says he likes being there to make decisions, and to give advice when needed. He adds, “I have a big heart.”
While most Amish are noted for their modesty and humility, Mr. Yoder apparently has a high opinion of himself. Kraybill and Nolt (1995) discussed the issue of modesty in a book that is the standard source on the transition of the Amish from a strictly farming society to one where many people operate successful businesses. The two scholars write that “success is not a favored word in Amish circles (p.221).”
The authors explain that the Amish prize diffidence and humility, and they are normally leery of success since it might prompt arrogance and pride. If a successful Amish business person were to admit that the enterprise is noticeably productive, it might lead to vanity—which might produce interpersonal problems that could lead to the violence that would violate their entire way of doing things.
As a result, Kraybill and Nolt write, Amish business persons normally cloak their obvious successes in modesty. They tend to be diffident and make long pauses in their statements as they downplay their accomplishments. Business owners, asked about their successes, may hedge by describing the operations of other Amish people nearby in order to avoid the pitfalls of pride in their own projects—many of which, of course, are quite successful.
Kraybill and Nolt base their work on the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Amish settlement. It is possible that conditions and beliefs among the Amish of Holmes County, Ohio, differ from their colleagues in Pennsylvania, though it is also possible that Mr. Yoder’s immodesty may be an exception to the ways that normally prevail in his settlement.