On our recent list of five Amish publications you might like, we included the Plain Communities Business Exchange, a monthly paper for and about Amish and other Plain businesses.
Today we have an interview with PCBE’s Carl Heule, who leads public relations for the publication. Carl shares what the PCBE is all about, who reads it, and his thoughts on a few of the more unusual Amish businesses.
You can also win a year’s subscription to the PCBE. Just leave a comment on this post to enter. I’ll update this post with a random winner by the end of the week.
Q & A on the Plain Communities Business Exchange
How did the Plain Communities Business Exchange begin?
Carl Heule: Moses B. Glick started the PCBE in 1993 because he saw the need for quality business news in the Amish community. In 2003, it transferred ownership and is now managed by the Lapp family in Millersburg, PA.
How did you get involved and what is your position?
I’ve been writing articles for several years, and today I coordinate public relations. This means I work closely with the authors and organizations who submit work for publication.
I also have the special and enjoyable challenge of moderating interviews like this one. I do not have a Plain background and perhaps that makes it easier to navigate these sorts of things.
What is your readership?
Every month, we deliver thousands of copies to a wide variety of Amish and Mennonite communities, and we’re read in workshops, in homes, and on cross-country train trips.
Our readers might also subscribe to Die Botschaft, The Budget, Family Life, and The Connection but our special niche is the Plain economy. Dad might like our magazine the most, but the whole family can enjoy it, too.
What will readers find in the Plain Communities Business Exchange?
That is a good question because there are so many features to consider.
At first glance, the publication is simply a snapshot of the Plain economy. Looking closer, readers will find business columns, interviews, transcriptions, and an active market for tools and equipment.
We also publish stories and a travelogue in serial format. Naturally, every aspect of the Plain economy has some tie-in including woodworking, metalworking, agriculture, construction, natural health, and social events like trade shows and auctions.
In many ways, the PCBE is a forum for Amish and Mennonite entrepreneurs to learn from one another, and this information is exclusive because we’re only available in print.
Why are there so many advertisements, and how can that be interesting for readers?
Each issue is packed with ads but our subscribers actually enjoy them and many subscribe for that very reason.
I struggled to understand this until one day I realized that every advertisement is actually a story about a company in a particular place and time. Whenever that company changes its ad, it adds another chapter and that’s engaging for the readers.
Last year, a new company from Indiana started running ads for scrap and waste handling equipment, and now I search for it each month because the story of their business is just beginning.
What are some of the challenges your see Plain businesses facing today?
That’s a good question. Certain sacrifices are inevitable if you run your business according to the rules of your church. For example, most of our subscribers do not have a website, and that seems like a bad idea if you own a business.
That said, maintaining a useful website requires time and technical expertise. That’s a challenge, too. If you’re an Amish carpenter, what’s a more profitable use of your time? Collecting likes on Facebook or actually building furniture?
Most sell furniture through dealers who are online anyways, so the decision is easy. Sometimes a challenge boils down to perspective, and the Amish are great teachers in these regards.
Pictured below: The layout process at PCBE.
What are some of the more interesting or unusual Plain businesses you are aware of?
The list is pretty long because there are so many great examples. Maybe that’s another reason the advertisements are so interesting. They collect all of the unusual offerings in one place, like solar panel kits, self-published games, horse tonics, and hacker-proof computers. You can’t hack a computer if it can’t go online, right?
Personally, I think the fabricating shops are quite interesting. This month we’re featuring an Amish company that assembles very powerful and incredibly dangerous firewood processors. Harvard University and Abercrombie & Fitch are both customers. I was really surprised when I heard that.
What do you enjoy about your work and what are some of its challenges?
I spend each day exploring the Plain economy, and I truly enjoy learning from Amish and Mennonite entrepreneurs. In terms of innovation and creativity, some of these guys can easily compete with the tech gurus in Silicon Valley and that makes for great stories. Writing for a Plain audience can be a challenge but I still enjoy it.
In what ways has the Plain Communities Business Exchange changed or been changing?
It used to be black and white in tabloid format, but now it’s 11 x 15 and typically runs longer than 100 pages, most in full color. It’s pretty hefty and still growing.
We’ve also implemented a style guide to improve readability, and the look is cleaner and easier to follow. In terms of content, we’ve plugged in many new features, and the results have been great.
Pictured below: PCBE in 1993.
What are the the goals of the changes and new features?
Every month we ask ourselves, what is relevant to our audience? We try to answer this question through constant improvement, including the changes and new features.
From a non-Amish (English) perspective, the Plain Communities Business Exchange is like the Wall Street Journal, social media, several trade publications (agriculture, woodworking, metal fabricating, etc.), and a little fun all rolled into one.
It’s a confusing and wonderful mix, and while we try to bring order through change, leaving some things be is part of the publication’s character.
How can readers learn more and/or subscribe to the PCBE?
We do not distribute digital copies online but we do have a basic website where people can order a subscription, which you can find here. Most of our readers subscribe by mail and this option is available to everyone else as well.
Just send a name, mailing address, and $15.00 to PCBE PO Box 520 Millersburg, PA 17061. It could take another six weeks for the first issue to arrive, but you’ll be happily surprised when it does!
UPDATE: Just drew a random winner from your entries. Congrats to comment #40, Jamie. Please send a mailing address (to email@example.com) where you’d like to receive your subscription to PCBE. Thanks to everyone who entered; if you didn’t win and would still like a subscription, see the info just above on how to do that.