Sales are Hot for Amish Heaters Despite Ad Complaints

By Laura Johnston
Religion News Service
Saturday, March 14, 2009

CANTON, Ohio It sounds like the beginning of a comedy routine. An Amish miracle heater? Really?

"It's a joke because the Amish couldn't use the heater itself," said Donald Kraybill, an Amish expert at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. "It's kind of like Quakers selling Quaker guns. It's sort of an oxymoron."

Even so, Canton company Heat Surge has sold thousands of Roll-n-Glow electric fireplaces.

They're two feet tall, 1,500 watts, wrapped in a mantel of oak ($547) or cherry ($587). And in TV commercials and full-page newspaper ads, they're touted by women in bonnets, men in straw hats and a couple driving a buggy.

"Amish man's new miracle idea helps home heat bills hit rock bottom," declares one ad, fashioned to look like a newspaper article. "You'll instantly feel bone soothing heat in any room. You will never have to be cold again."

It's an enticing prospect this winter, and in this economy. But a $20 hardware-store space heater would likely provide the same amount of heat.

The Amish brand represents "handmade quality, old-fashioned values, rural charm," said Erik Wesner, who writes a blog called Amish America.

He calls the heater ads "mind-boggling because they're making associations with things not typically Amish."

The questions -- Is the fireplace really made by the Amish? Are those real Amish people in the ads? -- are debated on blogs and consumer Web sites across the country.

"I'm somewhat suspicious," Kraybill said. "I think it's an English [non-Amish] company exploiting the Amish name and image."

The Canton Better Business Bureau has received 39 advertising complaints (and 238 complaints overall) about Heat Surge since the company was founded in June 2007. All have been resolved, according to the bureau, which toured Amish workshops in Geauga and Holmes counties as part of its investigation into the complaints.

The company employs more than 300 people in Holmes County, said Commissioner Joe Miller, who grew up Amish. That includes English workers as well as Old Order and the more-liberal Beachy Amish sects, some of whom use electricity in their shops.

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