Recently Galen Lehman took several weeks off from his job as president of Lehman’s. He spent this time visiting suppliers and other businesses he knew and admired. The companies he visited ranged from 1 employee to 300 employees. Most were owned by Amish or Mennonite families. At each stop, he asked, “What is the secret of your success?” This is one of a series of postings about what he learned.
High on a round bump in southern Pennsylvania that locals call the red hill stands an Amish farm house surrounded by a jumble of outbuildings. Each of the outbuildings is dedicated to one part of the process of efficiently producing the best clothes drying rack in the world.
There’s a shop where dowels are turned out from raw lumber that was milled on-site. In fact, each component of the racks are made here…nothing but the screws is bought from any other vendor. (That’s right, rustproof plated screws, not cheap staples that rust like on competing dryers.)
In another building the frames are cut, planned, drilled and sanded. A custom-designed homemade conveyor system delivers the parts from one work station to the next, something I have never seen in an Amish-owned shop before.
Like most Amish shops, the entire operation is non-electric. Modern cutting equipment and the dust vacuum system have been converted to run on motors powered by hydraulic oil pumped by a huge diesel engine.
They know things about drying racks no one else does. For example, they use maple because it’s a good, fine-grained local wood. But oak, another fine local wood, is never used because it can stain your clothes.
Every step in the assembly has been analyzed and fine-tuned to eliminate wasted labor, wasted material and inefficiencies. In fact, they’ve done nothing but make exactly the same drying rack here for 30 years. During that time, they’ve constantly improved the process so that in all those years, the price has increased only slightly. This is the case even though the quality has gotten noticeably better.
The secret of their success is a single-minded focus on making one product in the best way possible. This is one business where new product ideas are not entertained. They already have “their” product. The only question now is how to make it more efficiently.