Amish Meets Modern

Posted by Expert Gadget Reviewer on Tuesday, 24 May 2011

When I say I'm working with an Amish manufacturer, I think 99% of people's minds go to Kelly McGillis and Harrison Ford in that 1985 movie Witness.  And rightly so.  I mean, come on. Harrison was super good looking in that movie so that's reason number one.   Until I started working with Ray Yoder and his team, I really didn't know much about Amish culture either.  Other than MAN can they make furniture...and friendship bread!

After meeting everyone at L&J Woodworking, I truly felt like I found the perfect partner.   I was nervous at first.  I wasn't sure if he would shake my hand or think I was insane for thinking I could grow my business but from the moment I walked into the manufacturing plant, there was instant mutual respect between us.  Come to find out, we actually started out similarly in small workshop spaces.  Who knew that the bearded Amish man and the LA girl would have a lot in common?

 L&J is an established woodworking business building everything from gorgeous caskets (yep, I just said that) to traditional Amish furniture to beautiful large scale boat doors and now to my line of modern kids' furniture.  Not only is Ray a very kind, very supportive, very smart man, he's also very forward thinking.  Imagine what it must have been like to get pitched my business -- modern kids furniture made out of plywood?!?  He saw the growth potential, believed in me and was amazed at what had happened in four short years.  We sat at his desk which had one light (powered by big steam silo looking things out back) and a manual calculator.  The rates he'd quoted for me earlier were all hand written. We shook hands and that was that.  Seriously, a very binding hand shake that said without a doubt said we want what the best for each other.  And we work together to make sure what we're doing is a win-win on both sides when hiccups arise, as they do in manufacturing.

To give you an idea of how we operate and communicate, in order to get quotes in the beginning, I needed to build him a sample of the Owyn Toy Box.  So I built one in my garage and shipped it to him in Dundee, Ohio.  He then built one based on my sample which was STUNNING and shipped it back to me. How cool is that?!?!  Most designers send drawings but we did it the old fashioned way.

Technology isn't foreign to him just limited.  I do send computer animated drawings to him either through email to a non-Amish business associate or via fax.  When I was in his office, we discussed how we'd communicated knowing that we were limited.  We do talk on the phone during certain hours; however, we needed a way to send invoices, purchase orders, etc to each other.  He asked if I had a fax machine and I said no.  So the irony was that I had to step up to Amish technology.  I now have a web faxing service so I can send and receive faxes from my email/blackberry.  And they get mine on their fax machine which again is powered by steam.  We use faxing like email and it's been great!!  Everything they send to me is handwritten.  Everything I send to them is computer generated.  Ray just told me today they now have a color fax machine which is hugely helpful!!  He didn't realize Owyn's leaves were green before I sent the actual sample.   The little things like color faxes make a difference. I did have to think creatively when it came to shipping logistics but we worked all that out as well.

I feel so insanely blessed/fortunate/lucky to have L&J Woodworking as my manufacturer and Ray Yoder and his family and staff as my friends.  The fact that his daughter mentioned she'd love to have one of my toy boxes when she gets married and has children is so amazingly heartwarming.

While I'm still learning a lot about the Amish culture in general, I know one thing for sure. That handshake back in October is more solid than a hundred page legal contract and I wouldn't want it any other way.  Oh, and I also know they REALLY know how to make furniture.  Dare I say even better than a mom in a garage who rarely showers?!?