Flourishing business: N&A Harness success story (2024)

Flourishing business: N&A Harness success story (1)

Life’s circ*mstances often require the pursuit of a new occupation. Noah Miller of Millersburg, Ohio, experienced that necessity early in life as a small Amish farmer. Vernon Miller, who is Noah’s son and partner in N&A Harness, chronicled the evolution of their flourishing business.

After Vernon’s parents, Noah and Ada were married; they assumed the farm from his mother’s family. As a small Amish farmer, providing the needs of a young and growing family can be challenging. This necessitated Noah exploring ways to supplement the farm’s provisions. After pondering the harness Noah was accustomed to working with, he realized the harness could be improved. With this interest and ability to work with small tools, Noah started making harness for neighbors and the greater Plain community.

In 1989, Noah launched his fledgling business in a modest 16’x30′ building. And he worked with the bare necessities in the way of tools. The business would become known as N&A Harness Shop; initials derived from Noah and Ada. “As with any new business, dad will tell you that it was trial by error. But dad stuck with it and made it work,” Vernon said.

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From the outset, Noah worked only with BioThane, a synthetic product that replaced leather. As Noah became more involved, he discovered that much of the equipment was designed for leather, but not suitable for BioThane. To overcome this obstacle and with his mechanical aptitude, Noah started designing and making his own equipment. The redesigned equipment is pneumatic powered using air cylinders.

Other harness shops learned about Noah’s innovations. They inquired whether he would build equipment for them. And so, Noah obliged and this soon became a sideline business. An example of his innovations is a puncher that makes multiple holes in a strap to secure the connecting buckle.Noah also developed a spot setter that sets and clinches the decorations on the harness. Additional equipment was created to accommodate their needs. Noah’s son-in-law, Leroy Hershberger, has assumed the ownership of this business enterprise, known as Sunset Design and Tool.

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PRODUCT LINE

Harness for draft horses and mules represent a large sector of the company’s product line. It is estimated that the Amish population doubles every 20 years. With a growing population among the Plain community, the buggy horse harness represents a growing segment of the business.

N&A Harness has added a fine harness for light horses. They have also added an extensive line of training products. Naturally, supply and demand is what drives their business. Often customers express a need not currently offered through their product line. The company will add a new product once they determine that it’s a viable compliment.

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Before tweaking an existing product or introducing a new product, it is fully tested on the family’s horses. In the case of a draft horse related product, Vernon’s Belgians are the test horses.If it applies to a light horse, their Standardbred buggy horse is utilized. Field testing provides assurance that a product is ready for everyday use.

When queried about their most unique harness, Vernon said, “Due to limited demand, our draft horse show harness would be the most unusual since very few shops make this high end item.” Another unique and popular product is the Practice Harness for draft horses. It is not intended as a show harness but used for training.The first set was made for Vernon’s team of horses. After it was perfected, the harness was released for sale.

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Although the original N&A Harness was primarily BioThane, some components were made from leather.With this mixture, proper leather maintenance could be overlooked.Leather deterioration and cracking soon resulted. To achieve the desired quality, Noah found it necessary to outsource parts made to his standards.He first learned about a neighbor who had experience making products with urethane. Utilizing Noah’s plans and the neighbor’s ingenuity, molds were created to make the needed parts. There are now several businesses supplying these parts.

Outsourcing has grown to where several businesses provide parts. New and enterprising companies have emerged through this relationship. They have become proficient in making the specialty parts. N&A Harness supplies the materials and the resulting parts are made according to their specifications. The entire product line is made by N&A Harness; either in their own shop or parts supplied through outsourcing. As a result, the company’s quality standards are achieved.

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According to Vernon, “BioThane is light weight and more cost efficient. Consequently, it has become the standard material for making harnesses.” From the multiple grades offered by BioThane, N&A Harness utilizes their top quality. The BioThane Corporate website states, “BioThane is a polyester webbing with a TPU or PVC coating that makes it more durable, waterproof, easy to clean and weldable.It is stronger and easier to maintain than leather.”

BUSINESS GROWTH

Any successful business will attest that word-of-mouth is their best form of advertising.With humility, Vernon said, “We have been blessed by how our product line has been accepted. Our customer’s endorsem*nts along with a dedicated dealer organization are contributing factors for our growth.”

There are many variables associated with the different harnesses. Consequently, the company does not maintain a stock of complete harnesses. Comprehensive orders are received by phone, fax or email and relayed to the shop for assembly. N&A Harness strives to complete and ship an order within a couple days. Shipments are made either by UPS or a common carrier. In addition, businesses in the local Amish community have twice a week pickup and delivery service. “Through this process, we assure prompt delivery with customer satisfaction.” Vernon said.

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The N&A Harness dealer organization grew through different channels. Often a person used their harness with satisfaction and become a dealer. Endorsem*nt through use of the harness has contributed to their success as a dealer.In other instances, a horse related business will become a dealer. The dealer organization has grown with representation throughout the United States, Canada and several foreign countries. A product catalog is updated annually and provided to their dealers. Further communication is achieved through a periodic newsletter along with notices of specials.

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N&A Harness served retail customers from their base of operation until 2019. By eliminating retail sales, the company can better serve their dealers. They are also focused on building a stronger brand image. Heretofore retail space is utilized for additional warehousing.

During the past 34 years of business, N&A Harness has expanded about every five years. From their meager start, the company now occupies an 11,000-square-foot building for offices, warehouse and manufacturing. All facets of the building are supported by one natural gas powered engine.The generated power includes electricity, phone system and compressors for pneumatic driven tools.

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As with the growth of N&A Harness, additional members of the Miller family are involved in the business. Family members include Vernon’s brother, Wayne, who provides services through Timbercrest Harness. There are additional, non-family employees. The work force prefers to start early, so they report in at 5:30 a.m. Several employees ride their bikes to work as they live nearby.The others depend on shuttle service.

The flourishing business of N&A Harness is a testimony to God’s blessings when a family worships together and works together.Miller’s business has also provided opportunities for other families to start a business by supplying parts.As Vernon said, “We are grateful for our blessings as we strive to produce a Top Quality Harness at a Fair Price.”

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Hendricks was a resident of Colorado for 32 years. He now resides in Mansfield, Ohio, his home state. Hendricks covers a vast array of subjects relating to agriculture. Email at fwhendricks@gmail.com.

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