Amish Mills Inc. – Chris Karman, president
Q: Give us an example of a business challenge your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.
Probably the biggest challenge our business faced was right when we bought Amish Mills in 2003. The original name of the company was Country Curios. It was a manufacturer of Amish handcrafted curios (ie. glass display cases) and employed 12 people. The product quality was excellent, but the business itself was a small player in a declining industry. Basically, our challenge was that we had these great, skilled workers who made beautiful furniture – but the single market we sold to was dying. We could have tried to simply go out and find more curio outlets – but again the idea of trying to grow a business in a declining market segment did not thrill any of us.
Instead, we decided to broaden our product selection, go after high quality retailers, and take our company national. While Amish furniture is well known in Ohio, our goal was to take this Amish quality furniture across the country to markets that really had no experience with it.
The first thing we did was change our name from Country Curios to Amish Mills. We wanted our name to immediately show people that we were high quality Amish handcrafted furniture.
The next thing we did was we sat down with our craftsmen and designed new furniture.
To make a long story short, over the next couple of years we put together a nationwide system of sales representatives and expanded our line to include all of the major furniture segments such as office furniture, kitchen cabinets, and bedroom suites. Our products are sold under two brand names – Amish Mills and Daniels Amish Collection. Daniels Amish Collection is run by its founder – Daniel Yoder.
We are not only very proud of our products, but we are also proud of our customer base. We believe we have the highest quality list of accounts anywhere in the USA. Amish Mills and Daniels Amish Collection products are found not only in large high quality furniture stores such as Berkshire Hathaway’s Nebraska Furniture Mart – the largest furniture store in North America – but also at 700 independent retailers across the country.
In that time, since 2003, our work force has grown from 12 craftsmen to more than 85.
Q: In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?
At Amish Mills we encourage innovation at every level. We are a very nimble organization and if someone has an idea on how to do things better, we usually do it. Daniel Yoder, who runs Daniel’s Amish Collection, is constantly working on new ideas, new products, and ways to make things better.. Our sales and marketing department has the flexibility to speak with customers about new designs and many times we end up designing new product lines with the help of our customers. Our craftsmen are extremely gifted and they are always trying new things to make our products the highest quality they can be, in as an efficient manner as possible.
Q: What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned and how have you applied it?
I worked for RPM International for 15 years and the motto there is, “Find the highest quality people you can find, give them an environment they can succeed in, then let them do their job.” I believe 110 percent in that philosophy – hire good people and let them do their job. Everyone in our organization does a great job – and they need to be left alone to run their specific section of the company. Above all, I do not micromanage. Managing is like raising kids. If you don’t let them fail and succeed on their own – then they will never develop to their fullest potential.
Q: How does your organization make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?
I’m proud to say we make a huge impact in our local economy. Being an Amish furniture manufacturer means that we have a lot of hard working, dedicated employees with a strong sense of family and giving back to the community. Not only are almost all of our supplies and raw materials bought locally, but we are involved in several charitable and fund raising activities – usually centered around an Amish or Mennonite cause such as Haiti Relief (which has been going on for 25 years in our community) and auctions/fund raisers for people who are sick or have other issues.
Giving back can come in many forms – such as our time, or the use of our facilities. One time our general manager, Daniel Yoder, along with the local Amish community, used our buildings to make 3,000 pizzas starting at 2 a.m. in the morning – and they were all sold door to door by noon for $8 a pizza! The ingredients, labor and time were all donated – so 100 percent of that money went to help a local person in need.