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Posted on Sun. Oct. 07, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

Just because marketing says Amish …

… doesn’t mean the craftsmen really are part of that community

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At a glance

Here’s a look at some outlets that sell Amish goods in northeast Indiana:

Berne

•Bernhaus Furniture

•Karen’s Treasures

Harlan

•Our Country Home

Shipshewana

•Brandenberry Furniture

•Eash Sales

•Long Lane Furniture

•Wana Cabinets & Furniture

•Weaver Furniture Sales

•Shipshewana Furniture Co.

Source: AmishAmerica.com

It is the marketing of Amish.

Building contractors who belong to the faith have embraced advertising online, in newspapers and through fliers. The reason is simple. Advertising works, especially when many consumers value Amish craftsmanship. Of the more than 7,000 contractors in Allen County, hundreds are Amish builders, officials say.

According to Ohio State University researchers, the Buckeye State is home to the most Amish community members – 60,233 – and Pennsylvania follows with 59,078 Amish residents. Indiana comes in third with 44,831 Amish.

But something is amiss in Amish marketing – builders who may be lying about their heritage.

Known for living by a strict religious code, Amish individuals rarely allow themselves to be photographed and typically shun the spotlight. So if you see an “Amish” contractor with a television or radio commercial, “it’s highly unlikely” they’re authentic, said Steve Schmucker, owner of SJS Construction in Grabill, whose website is www.amishcontractor.com.

“I don’t really know a lot about it,” said Schmucker, 28, who has been in the business for almost a decade. “I just try to do the best I can and try to be competitive and fair. I do think that people are pretty amazed with our work.”

Sam Schwartz Construction of Berne hopes so. Schwartz has been offering complete building services, including new home construction, for 22 years. The builder said he is Amish and advertises his business as such.

Schwartz has noticed companies claiming his faith who are more than a little suspect.

“There are some out there who say they are Amish, and they’re not,” Schwartz said, declining to elaborate. “It’s probably a compliment, but it’s not right. It’s up to them because it’s a free world, but it is dishonest.”

Leadership in the Amish community agrees. One elder, who requested anonymity, said he believes the false advertising stems from members who left the faith, but because of their upbringing still consider themselves Amish.

“They figure using Amish in their name will give them an inside edge,” he said. “We frown on that sort of thing.”

Fort Wayne attorney Scott Federoff says litigation against such practices would prove tricky.

“It would be really hard to be called to the mat on that,” he said. “I mean how do you know someone is Amish? Do they do really good work, do they have a beard, what?”

The best way to stop deception is for a customer to sue based on the quality of work being contrary to what was promised in contract, legal experts say.

Schwartz said he’s too busy to be concerned with any crusades against frauds.

“I’m focused on my work,” he said.

Ditto for Schmucker.

“I don’t really get into all of that,” he said. “I concentrate on the customers. I try not to spring any surprises on people. Some companies will go with a (low) price, but make it up with a lot of extras at the end.”

And while his company does have a website, Schmucker said he is cautious not to get into marketing battles with fellow Amish contractors.

“There’s plenty of work out there, and it’s enough to go around,” Schmucker said.

The Better Business Bureau of Fort Wayne hasn’t received any consumer complaints about scams, such as contractors trying to pass themselves off as Amish.

The organization also doesn’t have any significant figures showing Amish builders performing shoddy work.

The assessment doesn’t surprise Kendallville resident Rachael Metz. She said Schmucker put a new roof on her two-story, Cape Cod-style home.

“I learned about them through a flier,” Metz said. “My son was really impressed with them, and they had a low bid, so we went with them. All I can say is when they’re working, there’s a lot of hammering going on.”

The job took about two days.

“They don’t seem to mess around,” Metz said.

That jibes with reports Jamie Lancia has heard. The president of the Home Builders Association of Fort Wayne said the Amish generally have a good reputation.

“They have a very good work ethic and are hard working but like with anyone else, you still should do your research and make sure they’re insured. They do good work. I wish more of them were members of the association.”

As for deceptive marketing methods, Schwartz said he leaves that to the consciences of the offenders.

“It’s up to them if they want to run a business that way.”

pwyche@jg.net

 


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