T-shirt, jeans, and hard work: The road to success!

Published 4:37 pm Monday, May 9, 2016

Matt Troyer (Photo by Linda List)

Matt Troyer (Photo by Linda List)

Traveling on I-26 from Spartanburg, I always enjoy the billboard advertising Foothills Amish Furniture. It depicts a charming, young Amish girl peeking out from her straw hat. It makes me curious about the culture of the Amish community and how they have become known for high quality, hand crafted furniture.

This morning I’ll be visiting with Matt Troyer in downtown Landrum. Matt is the proud owner of Foothills Amish Furniture. I’m interested to hear Matt’s story and I want to learn more about the Amish and the furniture they create.

We settle into some comfortable, log style chairs and Matt begins his story. “I was raised Amish in Ohio. We lived without electricity or motor vehicles. The horse and buggy, the symbol of Amish life, was our mode of transportation,” he tells me.

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“My dad was a mason. He had a masonry company and I learned the trade from him. He gave me a great work ethic and taught me that persistence and hard work pay off.”

But at age 17, Matt decided to leave the Amish lifestyle. With a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and $20, he left to explore the outside world. For 20 years he worked for other people as a mason.

“That was the school of hard knocks,” he smiles. “There were hardships and difficult times. But I was lucky to meet and marry a beautiful, southern girl.”

Matt’s Amish father in Ohio had opened an Amish furniture store. Matt worked with him for awhile, learning the Amish craftsman mentality of taking pride in the quality and detail of the work.

“We had some tough years. I was trying to read and study and learn all I could about marketing, business development, and the retail business. I worked long hours doing masonry to supplement our income. My wife, Beth, stuck with me and, as a team, we created a vision, always looking to the future,” Troyer said.

“We were living in another part of South Carolina,” he explains. “It just wasn’t right for us. We heard about Landrum and we knew that it had a growing Mennonite presence. So we took a drive up here to explore. It was destiny. As soon as I crossed the railroad tracks into town, I knew this was home,” he says wistfully.

Of course the old adage about business, ‘location, location, location,’ was a key to opening a successful store here.

“I started with a small shop across from O.P. Earle School. It gave me a chance to test the waters and see if the Amish furniture product would work in Landrum. After a couple of years, I was ready for a larger space. At that time downtown Landrum was faced with empty storefronts. Not much was happening here,” he remembers.

“This space I’m in now was available and it seemed like a natural. Hare and Hound was open across the street, so people were gravitating toward this end of town.”

Matt laughs and relates a tale he’s been told about the building he’s in. “I’ve been told that back in the ‘70s, someone was making counterfeit money in here, $100 bills were printed.  The FBI discovered what was happening, moved in and busted the operation.” Well, as the saying goes, ‘If walls could talk!’

I ask about the furniture, how it’s made, where it’s made, why the Amish?

“The Amish used to be basically farmers. They made a living from the farm. But good farmland was disappearing and prices for land kept going up. The Amish needed to find new ways to support themselves,” Matt says.

“They were known as prideful craftsman, for making quality furniture. Nothing is mass-produced. It’s made on the farms and is all solid wood. Every piece has heart and soul worked into to it,” he said.

He explains how they have adapted tools and equipment to run on air and hydraulic power so they aren’t using electricity. The wood, walnut, cherry, brown maple, and oak comes from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. The tree farms are always replanted so that the lumber supply is constantly replaced.

I ask about his most unusual sale.

“Well, a couple from Canada pulled up in a van one time,” he chuckles. “I had a large dining room table, 24 feet long. It had 18 leaves.  They bought it on the spot and loaded it in the van and off it went to Canada.”

Foothills Amish Furniture has grown to occupy a second building. A deck has been added to display the outdoor furniture. With a successful business and three growing boys to raise, spare time is scarce.

But Matt has the kind of mind that never rests, is always looking ahead, developing new plans and ideas.

Matt explains his philosophy, “I started with the T-shirt on my back and now I’m enjoying a successful business. If you put God in the driver’s seat, great things happen!”

Foothills Amish Furniture is located at 106 E. Rutherford St, Landrum or online at  foothillsamishfurniture.com.