Sam Stoltzfus doesn't rely on a computer in his business. Indeed, Stoltzfus doesn't even have a telephone-at least, not in his shop. But the 52-year-old business owner, who crafts bazebos and storage sheds, isn't unusual by his community's standards. That's because Stoltzfus is one of a growing number of Amish entrepreneurs.
"When I was going to school, I could count on one hand all the Amish [business owners] who were making a living from their shops," says the Gordonville, Pennsylvania, entrepreneur, who opened his Irshtown Shop more than 10 years ago. "It used to be thought impossible that a man could make a living [this way]."
Not anymore. As Donald B. Kraybill and Steven M. Nolt detail in their recently published book, Amish Enterprise: From Plows to Profits, (The Johns Hopkins University Press), times are changing for the Amish. Greater urbanization and the dimished availability-and affordability-of farmland have led this traditionally agrarian society to embrace entrepreneurship.
"They're sort of being forced into this," says Kraybill, who selected the Amish settlement in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, as the focus of his book. "They're deciding to stay and move into business rather than migrate to more rural states."
According to Kraybill's estimates, there are approximately 1,000 small businesses in the Amish community of Lancaster County, 300 of which started in the last five years. Fourteen percent produce annual sales in excess of $500,000. Even more impressive, the failure rate for these typically furniture- or construction-oriented businesses is only about 5 percent.
Kraybill cites close community ties and a strong work ethic as factors contributing to the success of Amish enterprises. Also, because they are forbidden to attend high school, the Amish stress the importance of apprenticeship.
Stoltzfus, for one, credits his grandfather for teaching him his craft. "He was my inspiration," he reflects. "Grandfather just always said, 'Now, Sam, this is the way you do that.' I'll never forget it, and I hope someday to pass that on to my children and grandchildren."