RETAILERS Patience needed with suppliers, vendors say

Merchants do business with the Amish without phones or credit cards.
Demand for Amish-made wood products has spawned several specialty shops throughout the region -- owned by non-Amish entrepreneurs.
The story of how each retailer acquires Amish goods is as unique as the wares they offer.
At the Crossroads & amp; Antiques at Ellsworth, Amish-made swings, lawn furniture, playground equipment, gazebos and storage sheds come from eight different sources, said Beverly Porter, who owns the store with her husband, Jim.
Some of the items come from Amish woodworkers in Trumbull County, she said; others come from Amish factories in Holmes County. Porter buys the lawn furniture, swings, gliders and play sets outright, but will specially order large items such as sheds and gazebos.
Differences: Doing business with the Amish, she said, is much different than dealing with large manufacturers. Prices and quality can be better, she said, "but you and your customer have to be a little more patient. It can take up to eight weeks for an order to be delivered."
Customers often have to wait until orders received ahead of theirs are filled, she said, and finding out if special items are available or when an order might be delivered may take days. With large manufacturers, one quick telephone call can provide customers with information almost instantaneously, she said; with the Amish, one might need to write a letter and wait for a response.
The Amish don't accept credit cards, Porter added, so all business transactions must be in cash or by check.
Because they want to preserve their wholesale business, Porter continued, the Amish "don't sell to us and another retailer five miles away. I like that. They stay loyal."
Sales of Amish items account for one-third of sales at Crossroads & amp; Antiques, Porter said. Customers have come from throughout Western Pennsylvania and Northeastern Ohio.
At Master Craft Builders in Canfield, Amish-made picnic tables, benches, Adirondack chairs, playhouses and gazebos account for the bulk of retail business, said Mark Cooley, sales manager.
The goods come from Amish craftsmen in central Ohio, central Pennsylvania and Canada, added Tiffany Tomasic, whose mother, Gail Tomasic, owns the business.
Approached: Unlike many retailers specializing in Amish-made products who seek out suppliers, Amish craftsmen "found us," Tomasic said. They thought displaying their wares in front of Master Craft would boost sales of their picnic tables, she explained. "We started with one picnic table and a few chairs."
In 1993, she continued, the Amish-made items Master Craft offered for sale could be listed on one page. Today, that list covers five pages and customers from as far as California, Washington and Texas order swings, gliders and chairs via the Internet.
As sales grew, the Amish craftsman who displayed the first picnic table contacted other Amish woodworkers to display their wares there, too. "They have this whole network in their own community," Tomasic remarked. Because the Amish do not drive, she added, they hire Mennonite neighbors to deliver the goods.
Woodworking: At Yoder's Amish Shoppe in the Eastwood Mall, items come from several Amish woodworkers and craftsmen from Sugarcreek to Lancaster, Pa., said manager Sherry Bingham. The store's owner, Terry Yoder, is from Greenville, Pa., she said, and opened his first shop in the Shenango Valley Mall seven years ago, capitalizing on his contacts with local Amish. Today, in addition to the Eastwood Mall location, he operates stores in Meadville and Indiana, Pa.
Furniture -- dining tables and chairs, bedroom sets and deacon's benches -- come from Amish in Sugarcreek and New Wilmington, Bingham continued. Jellies and candles come from Amish in Lancaster, Pa. Some of the other items, such as ceramic dishes depicting faceless Amish figures are made by local non-Amish artisans.
Because Amish do not drive, and many don't have phones, Bingham said Yoder travels from one supplier to the next, placing orders and picking up items to restock his stores. Customers, she said, "come from all over, even overseas."
Customers buy because of the quality. "When you buy something here, you're going to leave it in your will," she said. "Locals buy the big stuff, travelers get things they can carry."
One of the most unusual items in Yoder's Amish Shoppe is an "on it," Bingham said. It is an ironing board that converts to a chair and a stepladder. Ironing board covers and cushions sold in the store are made by the woodworker's wife, she added.
Floral shop: Barbara Glaspell of Warren used to buy and resell Amish produce before branching into furniture a few years ago. Now she buys furniture from Amish friends in New Wilmington, Pa., for a friend who sells it in her floral shop.
Using Amish furniture to decorate her store contributes to its warm, country theme, said Peggy Jensen, owner of Jensen's Flowers and Gifts in Warren.
While sales of flower arrangements are her primary business, selling Amish-made home furnishings is a nice sideline, she said. "Our customers appreciate the quality."
Pie safes and cedar chests are the most popular items, she said. Other Amish-made items Jensen's carries include dining sets, rocking chairs, library tables, gliders, porch swings, deacon's benches, kids furniture and children's rocking horses.
"I'm not sure if this is true, but I think the rocking horses are made by a father and painted by his daughter," Jensen noted.
Glaspell hires a truck to pick up and deliver her wholesale purchases to Jensen's shop.