A few years ago, Plain and Simple conducted interviews with our finisher and several builders. We are privileged to have rich relationships with the Amish folks who make your furniture. We've decided to post excerpts from a number of those conversations here on our blog, so that you all can experience a little of that richness yourselves. Perhaps you'll read this post from one of Alvin Beechy's famous gliders or Freeman Miller's sturdy dining chairs. Wherever you're sitting, we hope you enjoy this little glimpse into the lives of our builders. This week's post focuses on AJ, the builder who makes all of our couches, gliders, Morris chairs, and recliners. If you've ever been into our showroom, you've undoubtedly seen and sat in one of AJ's Bow Arm Slat Gliders (in my opinion, the world's most comfortable chair).
Interview with Alvin Beechy, Jr. of AJ's Furniture
P&S: How did you get into the furniture business, AJ?
AJ: In 1996, I started working in a sub-shop for F&N Dining Chairs. After awhile, Freeman (the owner of F&N) encouraged me to start thinking about something else I could build--like maybe living room chairs. So, in 2000 I started using my weekends to work on building sofas. In Spring of 2001 I attended my first NIWA (Northern Indiana Woodworkers Association) Expo.
P&S: And how did it go?
AJ: Well, business was pretty slow at first, and I was still just working on it on the weekends. But then I came up with a new product: the Bow Arm Glider. I showed this at the 2002 expo and that just put me on the map. It was very popular.
P&S: Was and is! That's our best-selling product.
AJ: And then in 2004 we introduced the Heartland Recliner, and things just kept rolling from there.
P&S: So you were working more than just weekends by this time, I bet.
AJ: Yep. In 2004 we built a new facility--a 12,000 square foot shop right next to my house.
P&S: Wow. How many people work in your shop?
AJ: Right now there's 12 people plus myself. My 16-year-old son works as a laborer, and the rest all live within 2.5 miles of here.
P&S: And what kind of tools do you use?
AJ: We're mostly air power and hydraulics. Very little electrics--we've got a big diesel that powers everything.
P&S: So what do you like most about your work?
AJ: I like having my own business and being my boss. I also like that I can be home with my family. It lets me work on the farm too.
P&S: The farm?
AJ: Yeah, we've got a 50 acre farm that produces hay and cows.
P&S: And don't you have an upholstery business too?
AJ: Yes... well, that's on our property anyways. Some years ago I partnered up with two other furniture builders to start a business to upholster our furniture. It’s called Heartland Fabrics, and it’s got 7 employees, plus us three owners.
P&S: What can you tell me about your family?
AJ: Well like I said, my one son works in the business. We've also got three more kids. My wife Inez does not work in the business, but she grew up here on this farm. I grew up farming too, about 4 miles from here. I've got 4 brothers who also live in the area and are involved in the furniture business. Two of them make chairs for F&N, one of them has a business called Honeybee Furniture, and one of them (he's not Amish) has a finish shop called MD Finishing.
P&S: Hey thanks for taking some time to talk, AJ. I think our customers will be happy to hear some of this.
AJ: No problem, I'm glad I could help.