Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why Amish Businesses Don't Fail (with Addition)

From CNN Money.

"Wesner, who worked in business management and sales before immersing himself in all things Amish, thinks it lies in the culture, which emphasizes "qualities like hard work and cooperation." Networking through Facebook doesn't exactly have the same community-building pull as teaming up with neighbors to build a barn, and few Americans these days can point to a childhood where they awoke regularly at dawn to milk the cows.

Another key advantage is that Amish business owners tend to stick with what they know.

"Everything about the Amish says things like 'rustic,' 'traditional,' 'handmade,' so they tend to play to those strengths," Wesner says. "Would consumers trust an Amish cell-phone dealer or an Amish computer repair guy to know what he's doing? It'd be a pretty big mental and marketing hurdle to get over."


"Even if most people's idea of an Amish businessman is someone selling homemade cheese transported by horse and buggy, Miller isn't an anomaly, according to Kraybill, who has become one of the nation's leading academic experts on the Amish. He estimates that there are at least 9,000 Amish business owners across the U.S, which he divides into two groups: "caretakers" and "entrepreneurs."

"Caretakers generally have smaller, at-home or near-home businesses with five or fewer employees, and they don't want to grow, but simply sustain income for themselves and a small number of employees," Kraybill says. "The entrepreneurs are a different breed. They have larger businesses and somewhat want to grow, and they are more aggressive in marketing, trying new ideas, and are willing to take risks."


"while the Amish have made allowances and will, for instance, make products that they don't use themselves -- like designer-label leather clothing or high-priced toys -- they won't touch any business "that may be seen as morally questionable." Don't hold your breath waiting for an Amish-owned casino, liquor store or debt collection service.

But modern touches are creeping into the business scene. Some Amish retailers use electricity in their shops, more as a nod to customers who expect air-conditioning and credit-card machines. They're often fueled with alternative energy sources, like solar and wind power."


""The smarter you get, and the more technology you use for your business, the more impact it has on families," he says. "For instance, there was a time the farmer would be in the parlor milking cows, and everyone was there, singing songs, and it was work, but it was also family time. Now, an Amish farmer is likely to be milking forty cows, and the children are at school. That's practical living, and you've got to keep up. But at the same time, it takes away from that balance, and you have to ask yourself, 'How far do you let technology affect your business?'"

Miller answers his own question in the next breath: "I guess you just have to stay true to your convictions and draw your own lines and not overdo it where you lose the values and your way of life."

I wrote my .02 about the Amish here.

ADDITION: Here's also a book on it.


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