Welcome to a new series of blog posts about Lancaster County small businesses! At Good’s Store, we sell many locally made, hand-crafted items, and this year we’d like to introduce you to the people and places behind the products— the small businesses that benefit our community in so many ways.
Daniel Ebersol, founder of Ebersol’s Poly Crafts, is living an entrepreneur’s dream— a childhood pastime turned into a thriving business that manufactures thousands of birdhouses, birdfeeders, and mailboxes each years.
“I started by making wooden birdhouses”, Daniel says. “It was just a hobby.”
“We started in 2005, when I was a boy, before I was married. We started in a shed. I would work on them evenings and Saturdays and sold them at fire company sales. I didn’t buy the business from anyone.”
“I sold my birdhouses at my uncle’s poly furniture business. Eventually I started working two days a week. In 2013 I went full-time. I have two part-time workers, and the children help sometimes. I also do some farming on the side.”
“We saw more and more interest, and people started asking for poly, so we switched over from wood to poly.”
Poly wood (or poly lumber) is made from recycled plastic— “keeps water bottles from going to the dump” Daniel explains.
Poly wood has many advantages over wood. Besides being sustainable, poly wood won’t split, rot, or attract pests. Ebersol Poly Crafts has twenty-six different colors of poly wood available and the birdhouses come in all shades, usually with a contrasting roof.
Like so many other Amish small businesses, Ebersol’s Poly Crafts is located at the owner’s home. The business is in a barn shared by Daniel’s horse and buggy, and his family's house is just across the drive.
In the backyard, Daniel is trying to get a purple martin colony started. Five large birdhouses are mounted on tall posts.
“Purple martins and bluebirds are my favorite birds,” says Daniel. But he had to take down his bluebird houses because bluebirds will try to scare away new neighbors. Once the purple martin colony is established, the bluebird houses can come back, and the two different kinds of birds should be able to share the yard.
How long does it take to establish a purple martin colony? “About a year,” Daniel says. “Before flying to Brazil or wherever they are spending the winter, the martins fly around, looking for place that their young can return to next year.” He’s using an electronic bird songbird magnet to help attract birds.
In the barn, the saws are busy running. While Daniel doesn’t keep track, he estimates they could produce a thousand small wren houses in a week or 80 to 90 of the large, six-hole birdhouses for purple martins.
When asked how many birdhouses they’ve made in all their years of business, Daniel just chuckles. “We got a cash register this year to try to track sales a little better. I’m curious to see how many it will be at the end of the year.
They don’t do much retail. Ebersol Poly Crafts products are sold wholesale all over the USA, especially along the East Coast.
But Ebersol Poly Crafts doesn’t just stick to the tried and true. “We are always looking for new ideas. We’re now making bird feeders with metal drainers in the bottom, to keep water from collecting.”
How has COVID-19 affected the business? Daniel says the demand for birdhouses has gone up. Normally right now would be his slow season, but not this year— there’s plenty of people wanting to stay at home and watch the birds. Productivity at Ebersol Poly Crafts is high, but there’s a shortage of poly wood. “Right now, if I order poly, I won’t get it for six or seven months.”
To finish our tour, Daniel show us how he assembles a simple wren house. Using a power stapler and screws, he puts together the birdhouse and fastens a chain for hanging. He blows out the dust and then a new wren house is ready for a family of birds to make it their home.
(Photos taken by Dorcas Lichtenberger)