FIRST came some Amish families, and now Amish-made furniture has arrived in Manitoba.
A northwestern Ontario company that sells Amish-made, solid-wood furniture is expanding into Manitoba with the opening of two franchise outlets.
Dave Rempel, centre, with his daughters Cassandra Rempel, left, and Jessica Rempel in their new store, Strictly-Amish-Furniture. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press )
The first Strictly-Amish-Furniture outlet -- a 4,000 square-foot store in the Cavalier Square shopping centre at 1600 Regent Ave. W. -- opens today. Another 1,700-square-foot store is to open next month in Steinbach.
The stores will sell a wide range of wooden furniture products that Strictly-Amish owner and founder David Rempel buys from about 50 Amish family-owned factories in Indiana and Ohio. The products include chairs, tables, entertainment units, china cabinets, and bedroom and office furniture.
Rempel said buying products directly from the Amish is a unique experience. Because they shun modern ways, there are no phones in their factories. Although he can fax orders to the factories, if he wants to speak to someone directly, he has to leave a message on the lone public phone in the community and they call him back.
"But they're a very good group of people to deal with. They're honest and hard-working and the trust is always there."
He cited one instance when he visited a factory for the first time, picked out a piece of furniture to take back with him, and told the family he'd send them a cheque in the mail. And they had no problems with that arrangement.
"That doesn't happen anywhere else," he added.
Rempel describes the furniture as mid- to high-end in price. Their lowest-priced items are their chairs, which run from $325 to about $600. Dining room sets (a table and six chairs) sell for an average of $5,800, while bedroom sets (a bed, dresser, mirror, two night tables, and a high-boy dresser) run from $8,000 to $10,000.
While those prices might sound steep to some bargain-conscious Manitobans, Rempel and his daugher, Jessica, said they believe there are enough quality-conscious buyers here to make it work.
"This is not assembly-line furniture," Dave Rempel said. "It's hands-on with each piece."
"And people are starting to look for quality again," Jessica added.
The Amish movement began in Switzerland in 1693 when parishioners split from the Mennonite church because they felt it had become too liberal.
Despite the historical links between Amish and Mennonites, Rempel said he didn't expand into Manitoba because of the large Mennonite population here. Nor was it because some Amish families moved to the Gladstone area in 2006 -- the first Amish settlement in Canada outside of Ontario.
Rather, it was because he'd been testing the Prairie market for the last two years with temporary retail kiosks in local shopping malls in cities like Steinbach, Saskatoon, Lloydminster and Edmonton. And the public response was always good.
"All of a sudden it dawned on me: Why don't we franchise this because there is a market out there for good-quality furniture," he said.
The first franchise outlet opened recently in Warman, Sask. (near Saskatoon). The Winnipeg store is the second, and the Steinbach outlet will be the third.
The two Manitoba franchises are owned by the Bartsch family from Blumenort, who are related to Rempel through marriage. Son Jerome, 22, will run the Winnipeg store, and daughter Vanessa, 23, will oversee the Steinbach outlet.
Rempel would like to have at least one more franchise outlet in Winnipeg and one in Brandon. Bartsch said his family might be interested in purchasing those, as well, if these first two prove successful.