Are you willing to get bit by a dog to solve your labor shortage?

When you own a company every problem is your problem no matter the size. From something as simple as clogged toilets to managing disgruntled employees everything is your responsibility at the end of the day. Especially when you’re a young entrepreneur bootstrapping with limited cash and wearing multiple hats.

How bad do you really want your business to succeed? Are you willing to put yourself in awkward situations if necessary when your back is against the wall?

Think back to August of 2020 in the midst of the cerveza sickness. Our product demand was as high as it’s ever been but we kept running into the same problem everyone else was: shortage of employees.

Now I live in Indiana so outside of a few towns no one really took the cerveza sickness too seriously even in 2020. Our problem was that even if the majority of the public wasn’t worried about getting sick it did give them an excuse to stay home from work and demand absurd wages for minimal amounts of work even when they did show up.

Everyone who has owned or ran a business (large or small) in the last few years is no stranger to this problem.

What do you do in the Midwest if your back is against the wall and you need a labor problem solved? You turn to the old ways… the Amish.

We started to employ a large amount of Amish around 2014 and it has been a perfect fit for the work that we do. The Amish are honest, hardworking, and reliable people. Everything an employer could want…with a few quirks. Granted, they aren’t perfect and won’t work any shift other than first, but they won’t steal tools out of our factory either and there is no drug problems to worry about.

Who has ever heard of an Amish meth addict?

As this gap kept growing between our production capacity and product demand we had to find a solution one way or another. How do we attract more employees that have no access to a computer and online help wanted ads? Our only answer was to do door-to-door cold calls to recruit more Amish help.

These cold calls were focused on buying labor not selling a product.

I’m fairly familiar with the Amish way of life since I’ve been around them at work for years and grew up close to them geographically, but it is a whole different ball game to drive house to house and solicit their labor. It would be awkward enough to go door-to-door in a normal neighborhood and pass out help wanted flyers.

I drew the short straw and took the lead on the first cold call trip armed with nothing other than yellow help wanted flyers and a smile.

We broke the county down into four regions and I took the southeast region which is closest to our factory. Off I went on a muggy August afternoon with flyers in hand and a smile on my face. My cold calling efforts went fairly well and I had mixed success. Most of the families in the area had at least heard of our company since we already had Amish staff so they were receptive. Some of the interactions were awkward, as you can imagine, but I kept plugging along.

This was the only way we were going to solve our labor problem and get more product out the door so even though it was unconventional it was the only way forward.

Each time you pull up to an Amish home it is impossible to tell if the family is home or not. Whether the family is there or not no lights are on and no TV is playing. The homes are always somewhat dark so you never know until you knock on the door. This adds a little more suspense to each stop.

Knocking on Amish doors is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.

Most Amish families have multiple outside dogs and most of their dogs are well behaved and friendly enough. Granted, they do get a little wary around automobiles. Those combustion engines sure are futuristic. Anything other than a horse and buggy draws attention.

After a few hours of doing cold calls I arrived at a nicer Amish house about a quarter mile off of the road. As I pulled in a few dogs come running over like they’ve done at the 30 other houses I stopped at that day and I didn’t think anything of it. I grabbed a help wanted flyer, hopped out of my car, and started walking towards the door.

That’s when all of a sudden a fairly large blue heeler mix bit me right on the butt as I was about half way between the house and my car. Now if you aren’t familiar with heelers (I have one so I should have seen it coming) they are bred to herd cattle and like to bite the cow in the ankle/heel hence the name “heelers”.

I could either retreat to my car or risk another bite and pass this flyer out. I chose retreat and defeat. The dog won the battle and the war I guess because I didn’t visit that house again. That dog didn’t like solicitors or my yellow help wanted flyer. To put a cherry on top the dog also decided to bite my car tire as I pulled out.

I never made it to the front door of that house and can only imagine how much the family inside laughed if they saw what was going on. With my pride and backside hurt I decided that was a good time to put an end of my cold calling for the day. The good news is we did get several employees out of my efforts, but it cost me a nice bruise on my back side.

Moral of the story here is as a young entrepreneur you are personally responsible for fixing every problem at your company. Everything is your fault good or bad. Ultimately, it comes down to the person at the top to solve every problem, creatively or through sheer determination & effort. Sometimes hard work is the only way out of a problem, but other days you have to think outside the box.

As far as I can tell there is only a few ways to get ahead of your competition. Outwork them, out think them, or some combination of the two. Whatever route you choose just know there might be an angry Amish dog somewhere along that path. Or at least that’s what I’ve found in my own experience.

Thank You,

Scott Kohler

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