By Mike Ryan, OCJ field reporter
Ohio has been home to the Amish since 1808, when the first settlers moved west from Pennsylvania to settle the scenic, rolling eastern Ohio. Today, roughly 60,000 Amish reside in Ohio across more than 50 individual settlements and over 400 church districts.
The Amish culture is known for its agrarian nature, but as farm technology has changed, food safety practices have evolved and farmland availability has become an issue for some Amish communities in recent decades, the Amish have looked to new areas of enterprise to make a living, including making furniture. The now booming Amish furniture industry started simply with just a handful of barns and shops. As more English discovered the value and craftsmanship of Amish-made furniture the niche business took off and now there are more than 80 regional locations that bridge the logistical, transportation and technology gaps between Amish craftsmen and modern shoppers.
One such business is Oak Creations of Millersport that is celebrating 25 years of working with the Amish and the English. This Buckeye Lake region storefront is a testament to the owners’ passion for high-quality Amish furniture — for which they have a sharp eye — and their loyal customer base who appreciates the individualized attention offered by owners and operators Mike Finlaw and Rosann Franks, and their daughter, Emily Finlaw.
They sell beautiful Amish handcrafted solid wood furniture in oak, cherry, maple, and other hardwoods, specializing in high-quality home furnishings at affordable prices in a wide variety of styles, wood types, finishes, and custom designs. Oak Creations attributes some of their longevity to the strong business and personal relationships they have with their Amish builders, with whom they deal directly.
“We are passionate about our relationships with both our customers and our builders, and we need builders who are passionate about what they do. Our craftsmen have the same values as we do; and their passion for and pride in their product shows,” Rosann said. “Their respect for family values and strong work ethic goes hand-in-hand with what we are doing with our business.”
Mike has been around wood his entire life, working in his family lumber business, Finlaw Lumber of Zanesville, and managing building supply companies in Columbus prior to getting into the furniture business. And this skill and expertise from a life of woodworking gives him discerning vision for well-wrought pieces. The direct relationships with the talented builders are important.
“We have very solid, long-term relationships with our builders. I try not to deal with a middleman and I deal directly with over 150 Amish builders. We have worked with some of them for over 20 years, and they are like extended family,” Mike said. “We always help them out and we are very loyal to our builders. We try to stick with Ohio builders, and most of our products come from Stark, Holmes, Tuscarawas, and northern Coshocton counties.”
At least two trips a week are made into Ohio’s Amish country to touch base with craftsmen and to pick up product.
“I make 10 to 20 stops throughout Amish country every Monday. I place orders, transport furniture to finish shops, pick up hardware, and freight small finished products back to the store. These weekly business stops are also good for business relations, as lack of access to telephones for some in the Amish community can make communication a challenge,” Mike said. “The box truck goes up to Amish country on Wednesday and we then do deliveries Wednesday afternoon and Thursday.”
The heirloom Amish furniture industry and Oak Creations itself have changed greatly over the past twenty-five years.
“In the beginning, the demand was for only oak furniture with designs coming from a very limited catalogue. But the industry has exploded over the last 25 years and there has been great change in what is wanted and offered,” Mike said. “When we first opened, our products were coming from suppliers in Michigan that my cousin Roger, who had a furniture store in Kalamazoo, used. We quickly outgrew this, began dealing directly with our builders, and started doing more custom jobs and working with other wood types and design styles.”
Once quality products are secured, Oak Creations then relies on quality customer service to match the right places with the right furniture. Rosann and Emily, who has a background in Interior Design, work with customers on a sense of proportion and creative insight that helps customers conceptualize what is needed and what would look best to really pull a room together.
“Mike has an eye for how furniture should be built and good design work. For custom work, which consists of over half of our business, he can envision what a customer needs and what the finished product will look like. Our vision for what is needed and what may look best is a gift we give the customer. Our job is to educate the customer about quality and design, let them know what they should be looking for in a product, and then let them decide,” Rosann said.
Long-standing customer loyalty is a boon to Oak Creations, which strives to provide personalized attention to patrons of the furniture shop.
“With our furniture, we are creating a look that is both current and timeless. Certain people want to go more contemporary and others want to be more traditional, and we can accommodate either taste,” Emily said. “We design a lot of our own furniture, as well, and we strive to create a beautiful piece that is solid and well-constructed, but also at a reasonable price. Our furniture is not the most expensive and not the least expensive, but it is the best value. We are selling great quality, hardwood furniture for less than imports can be bought.”
The business connects the niche production of Amish craftsmen and the consumers who appreciate and value those products.
“There is a niche of people who appreciate and enjoy quality furniture and may want to pass it down. We cater to people who embrace the home as a place for family and friends. Our tables bring a lot of families together at the start of the day and at the end of the day,” Roseann said. “If it was just about money, I would have gotten out of the business a long time ago.”
Today, Oak Creations’ sole location in Millersport is a 6,400 square-foot showroom adorned with beautiful furniture and filled with an array of unique country decor that is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment. A visit to Oak Creations shows the Finlaws’ expertise in both furniture and hospitality and this year’s Holiday Open House will be held Nov. 1-10. Located at 2474 Blacklick-Eastern Road, Oak Creations is a study in Amish craftsmanship and down-to-earth country values. They can be reached at 740-467-2600 or at www.oakcreationsofmillersport.com.