Christopher Karman, chairman, Amish Mills
» Every day, there is always something more you can do. There’s always something you can make better, always something you can improve upon. If you keep doing that, at the end of the year, everything will be bigger and better and more profitable.
» Customers like to buy from people they like and know, so we’ve built up a lot of good relationships.
» If you keep trying to do your best and you put out a good product, the results will follow.
Christopher Karman didn’t know a thing about furniture-making when he and his brother Ted purchased Country Curios in 2003.
Karman, a Hudson native, was working as a vice president for Zinsser Co. in New Jersey, a subsidiary of RPM International in Medina.
“I was doing really well, but I wanted to own my own business and move back to Ohio,” says Karman, the chairman of what is now called Amish Mills. “We didn’t really care what the business was. We just wanted a business we could grow.”
And grow they have. When the Karman brothers purchased Country Curios, the company had 12 employees and made only custom curio cabinets. They’re now a full-fledged furniture manufacturer, selling everything from kitchen cabinets to tables to bedroom suites under two brand names, Amish Mills and Daniel’s Amish Collection.
They’ve grown to more than 70 employees and have more than 700 independent dealers throughout the country. Daniel’s Amish Collection, which is managed by Daniel Yoder, the former owner of Country Curios, was added to the company two years ago and has grown by 400 percent. This year, sales are already up 70 percent.
“The biggest challenge has been the space,” Karman says. “We are constantly running out of room.”
Karman credits his company’s success on several things: good employees, good craftsmanship, good products and good customers. It’s a lot of good, good, good.
The company is based in Mount Eaton, which is in eastern Wayne County and is home to the largest Amish community in the world.Not surprisingly, 95 percent of Karman’s employees are Amish.
“They all speak Dutch,” Karman says.
Woodworking is an ingrained part of Amish culture, so Karman’s workers have been building furniture their entire lives. “Around here, we have a lot of skilled craftsmen,” he says. “That really helps.”
Karman likes to tell a story about an employee named Jacob though he says this short conversation could have taken place with any of his employees.
“You’re really doing a great job,” he told Jacob.
“I wouldn’t be much of a man if I didn’t,” he replied.
“Everybody takes pride in their work,” says Karman. “We could have 3 feet of snow on the ground, and everyone would be here on time. We have no human resources problems. If I come up with a new design, they know how to make it in the best way.”
Sometimes even the best way can be just a bit too much. When the company delivered its first set of kitchen cabinets to a home, Don Cochran, president of Warehouse Cabinets, came out to look at the install.
“Oh my,” Karman remembers him saying.
“What? Is there something wrong,” Karman asked.
“No. You could park a car in these things,” Cochran replied.
“Our guys are used to a certain level of quality,” Karman says, chuckling. “We had to change it a little, but it’s still a much better cabinet than anything out there.”
Barring a major catastrophe, Karman says, Amish Mills will grow by about 50 percent this year. Much of that growth is driven by Daniel’s Amish Collection, which is available at major furniture retailers throughout the country.
Not surprisingly, this makes Karman happy.
“It’s a pleasure for me to go to work every day,” he says. “I’m definitely glad to be back to work in Ohio.”