I live in Ohio Amish Country. My house was built by an Amish builder, who also happens to be the bishop of his Old Order Amish community. I live on 8 rural acres that was sold to me by an Amish farmer. I looked for land in this area for many years before I found the right piece. It had a little rise, which was the perfect spot for my house, woods, open meadows, a pretty stream, and a natural pond built by beavers.
When it came time to find a builder, my husband and I interviewed over 20 “English” builders. We nearly signed a contract with two of them - until we checked their references and looked at some of their work. We had just about given up hope of building when we made a trip to an Amish lumberyard one day. This yard cuts and mills most of the building and furniture materials for the Amish builders and furniture makers in this area. We figured that if anyone knew good builders, the lumberyard guys would. They gave us strong recommendations for 3.
In the meantime, we drove around the area and found some new builds going on. One builder’s name kept popping up as we looked at the quality of the work. It turns out that he actually built several of our closest neighbors’ homes and they all raved about him. We were warned by some of the locals that he was in high demand and had a very long waiting list. He does no advertising at all of any kind. All of his work comes from word of mouth and from his reputation as a fine craftsman, not just a house builder. One of them offered to call him for us, because that might get us moved up his project list. It did. He gives preferential treatment to repeat customers and those they recommend to him.
With our experience in building this house with an Amish builder, let me tell you why
the Amish are so successful in business. He does no advertising at all of any kind. All of his work comes from word of mouth and from his reputation as a fine craftsman, not just a house builder. His waiting list for the start of a project is about 3 yrs. at any given time. During the worst of the building recession, he never stopped building or even slowed down. We had house plans drawn up by a very well-known and pricey architect. In our first meeting, he examined our plans very carefully and made notes. Then, he sat and asked us questions about how we plan to live in our new house, what we liked and didn’t like about other houses we had lived in, what our dream house would be like if cost was no object, and what were the “must have” and the “nice to have, but not mandatory” in every room of the house. This went on for over 3 hours and by the end of that time, we felt like he was an old friend. He sent us home and asked us to give him a week to "think:
We went back to his workshop the following week. On his drafting table, he had a new set of plans that he had drawn himself. He went through them, room by room, wall by wall, and even down to the placement of the electrical outlets and light switches. Both my husband and I were astounded! He had perfectly captured our dream house much better than the original plans by the pricey architect did. With just a few minor tweaks, we had our house on paper. He gave us the cost sheet a couple of days later and it was calculated so carefully down to the penny that his house plan, which was the far more complicated and full of details that we hadn’t even considered before he suggested them, and far more upscale finishes, came in $100,000 under the original plan.
We took his cost estimate sheet and 2 page “contract” to our attorney. When he saw the name of the builder, who is quite well-known in our area, he said “Oh…Roy’s your builder? That’s good enough. I don’t even need to review this. His word is his contract.”
Well…that was exactly right. Roy promised delivery of the completed house in 120 days - almost a miracle in itself for a very complicated 4000 sq ft house. We were lucky and got a long run that summer of perfect weather. It was finished in 92 days. His Amish crews worked from 6:00 am to dark, 6 days a week. Roy had estimated the materials so carefully that at the end, there was less than 1/2 a dumpster full of waste to haul away and that was mostly packing materials. And the best part…the house actually came in even under his estimate.
So what can “English” business learn from the Amish? I have a beautiful home with amazing finish details, solid cherry handmade cabinetry, cherry floors, a walk-out finished basement, an amazing sunroom that has become my favorite room in the house, a great room with a hand-laid stone fireplace, a wall of windows, and a 23 ft open ceiling. I have a kitchen designed for cooking and baking that wowed a kitchen designer from the big city. All of this came in the form of suggestions made by my builder after he sat and asked us all those questions. He listened to us and he cared about making us happy and he delivered on all his promises and all his estimates. In short, he made his customers happy and he kept his word to us. I think that’s all anyone really asks of any business.