5 Reasons Why Amish Businesses Succeed While Most Startups Fail
They’ve been the subject of movies, tourists’ photos, stares, fascination, and ridicule.
They are the Amish. America’s “Plain People.”
Living in rural Pennsylvania, it’s not uncommon to see Amish buggies sharing the road with cars. In the spring, fields are dotted with men behind teams of plow horses.
What has never ceased to amaze me is how a community who ends their children’s formal education at grade eight…
Wears plain clothing, frowns on adornments like buttons (other than on shirts) and forbids the use of zippers…
And shuns modern technology – they don’t own cars, computers, radios, televisions or tap into public electricity…
Still manages to completely shatter the 65% failure rate of startup businesses in America!
The failure rate of Amish startups in the first five years is less than 10%.
What is their secret?
Cheryl lived in the Lancaster area (specifically Elizabethtown) for six years and saw first-hand how they live and run their businesses. Her family’s business buys furniture and crafts from Amish artisans.
Despite the many opinions people have regarding their chosen way of life, one thing is indisputable: Amish businessmen are clearly are doing something different than the rest of us.
Forget the hottest entrepreneurial startup “meccas” of Phoenix, AZ and Austin, TX. Here are five rules for success to learn from the humble but very smart Amish businessman:
In the Amish society, teens learn trades by working alongside their parents or other adults. Colonial America passed on skills the same way. Mainstream society has virtually stopped this. Why? It works.
The small business that brings in college students who want real experience and spends the time to train them is smart. I’ll bet that some of those college students go on to own the business someday when the owner decides it’s time to sell and retire.
2. WORK ETHIC
If you grew up in a family who made their living by farming, you get this. Kids are raised to pitch in and help. Summers aren’t about lying by the pool all day catchin’ the rays. Saturday mornings mean getting up before sunrise because cows that need to be milked don’t sleep in.
Hard work is an integral part of Amish life. And running a business (as all of us who have made it past the five-year mark know) takes hard work. Painful sacrifices are made day after day. The 5-hour work week lifestyle is not an option for a startup.
I know we all have visions of grandeur and want to build big brands, but the Amish believe that “bigness spoils everything.” Smallness implies quaintness and trust. Bigness implies corporate and distrust.
Donald Kraybill, an Elizabethtown College sociology professor and author of The Riddle of Amish Culture attributes their success to staying personally invested in their enterprises. They understand that creating relationships with their customers and employees is key.
The Amish stick to what they know based on how they live. So it’s not surprising that they focus on the restaurant, hand-made furniture, quilting and crafts, buggy making, and market stand industries.
Travel to Intercourse, Pa (not kidding…it’s east of Bird-in-Hand and north of Paradise and where the movie “The Witness” was filmed) you’ll find shops like Carriage House Furnishings, Kauffman’s Handcrafted Clocks, and Village Quilts.
We give this a fancy name and call it “niche marketing.” The Amish have just always sold what they know and do best.
5. LOW OVERHEAD
You won’t find air-conditioning, luxurious offices, fax machines, espresso machines and cereal bars (sorry, Infusionsoft) in Amish businesses.
In full disclosure…on the days that my A/C goes kaput in my office, I’m not very productive or pleasant to be around. But I do know that equipment is costly to maintain and not all of it is needed to run a thriving business.
It’s interesting to note that Amish employers in Amish businesses are exempt from paying into Social Security, health insurance, and pensions for their employees. Although it does keep costs down, they still have to pay into Amish Aid, the community’s own mutual-aid fund. And they do pay income taxes like all mainstream businesses.
The point is that the Amish are willing to work in less than ideal circumstances for years at a time to avoid debt.
So while I don’t see us all at Barron Marketing shunning zippers, air-conditioning, and cars anytime soon…there’s plenty of room for some belt-cinching around here.
Seize the day!