A Different World

The Amish plow into entrepreneurship
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the February 1996 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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."

Read All About It

What are business owners reading these days? The top 10 business books at press time (based on net sales) were:

1.Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin (Penguin Books, $11.95)

2.The 1996 What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles (Ingram, $14.95)

3.J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax 1996, by J.K. Lasser (McMillan, $14.95)

4.Beardstown Ladies' Common-Sense Investment Guide: How We Beat the Stock Market and How You Can, Too, by The Beardstown Ladies Investment Club (Hyperion, $19.95)

5.The Warren Buffett Way, by Robert C. Hagstrom (Random House, $14.95)

6.Make It So: Leadership Lessons From Star Trek The Next Generation, by Wess Roberts and Rill Ross (Pocket Books, $22)

7.Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, by Roger Lowenstein (Ramdon House, $27.50)

8.The One Minute Manager, by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson (Berkley Publishing, $9.95)

9.Selling for Dummies, by Tom Hopkins (IDG Books, $16.99)

10.Microsoft Secrets: How the World's Most Powerful Software Company Creates Technology, Shapes Markets, and Manages People, by Michael A. Cusumano and Richard W. Selby (Simon & Schuster

Contact Sources

Berkley Publishing Group, (800) 631-8571;

Hyperion, Little Brown Publishers, 200 West St., Waltham, MA 02154, (800) 343-9204;

IDG Books Worldwide Inc., 919 E. Hillsdale Blvd., #400, Foster City, CA 94404, (800) 434-3422;

Ingram Book Co., 1 Ingram Blvd., LaVergne, TN 37806, (615) 793-5000;

The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2715 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218-4319, (800) 537-5487;

Macmillan Books, (800) 428-5331;

Penguin Books, 375 Hudston St., New York, NY 10014, (800) 253-6476;

Pocket Books, (800) 233-2336;

Random House Inc., (800) 733-3000;

Simon & Schuster, (800) 223-2336.


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