Builders throughout Lancaster County, and some as far north as Maine, know the name of AB Martin, an Ephrata-based company that has earned a reputation as a reliable source of metal roofing and other building supplies. Today, the company carries on the legacy of its founder, Amos Burkholder Martin, an Old Order “horse-and-buggy” Mennonite who believed in hard work and friendly service.
The company began in the late 1940s, when Amos Martin started to build and sell chicken shelters with metal roofs. He later partnered with his brother and another man to start a small construction company. On the side, he sold supplies like spouting, nails and metal roof panels — basically whatever his customers needed. In time, metal panels became his specialty and people started calling him “Tin Amos.”
Martin’s company grew organically but steadily. He didn’t follow conventional wisdom when he started, having neither a company name nor a business plan. He simply began with a good work ethic and a desire to help people — two elements that still describe the company today. Eventually, his company took on his name, and business began to expand in the 1960s before booming in the ’70s and ’80s as Martin and his family responded to needs and opportunities around them.
The company that Martin started as a side business has grown into a large supplier of made-to-order metal panels, with truck drivers making daily deliveries to neighboring states and weekly deliveries to Maine. Robert Zimmerman, a Cumberland County farmer turned roofing supplier, partnered with the Martin family in 2002, and in 2017 the Martins sold their shares to Zimmerman and his sons Lavern and Dwayne. The Lancaster Patriot spoke with Lavern about the company and the principles that guide it.
Through the years of its existence, AB Martin has expanded and refined what it offers. In 1997, the company invested in a roll former, a large machine that allows the business to manufacture its own panels from large coils of steel. With a later addition of a computerized roll former, AB Martin can now process some custom orders in as little as 30 minutes and often produces more than 10 miles of panels each day. The company began to sell lumber in 2004 and has added other building supplies since then. AB Martin caters primarily to pole frame builders but is able and eager to serve general construction companies and even do-it-yourselfers.
AB Martin has a long-standing reputation for quality work and customer service, and its well-organized facility is further evidence of a thriving business. Zimmerman attributes much of the company’s success to its many dependable employees, from the equipment operators on the shop floor to the office staff. He is thankful for the solid work ethic that is so common in Lancaster County, and because the company has so many diligent and self-directed employees, there isn’t much need for management. People know what needs to be done, said Zimmerman, and they do it. “I’ve got a lot of people working here that are smarter than me, and I appreciate that,” he added.
At a time when many companies struggle to find and keep workers, AB Martin employs nearly 100 people. The owners are grateful for a low turnover rate, and they understand the importance of encouraging good employees to stay. To that end, they offer good wages, benefits and a bonus program, and they allow plenty of overtime hours for those who want the extra work. They also invest in good trucks and equipment, since they know that these make a workday more pleasant for employees.
The company also benefits from local ownership, Zimmerman pointed out. For the Zimmermans, local ownership means not only that the owners live in their community, but also that they are able to be involved in daily operations. By living locally, the owners personally know many of their customers and they know and understand the needs and trends in the area. The Zimmermans illustrated this mindset recently by selling their Cumberland County branch to the manager of that location.
There are very few job titles or official positions in the company, however: AB Martin has what Zimmerman calls a “flat” structure. When an employee has a concern, he can go directly to one of the owners, which helps to maintain a personal relationship and a sense of mutual appreciation. Additionally, if extra help is needed in a situation, the owners are ready to lend a hand. Zimmerman was encouraged that in a recent employee newsletter, both of the profiled employees mentioned their appreciation for the local ownership and the owners working side by side with everyone else.
The presence of related industries in Lancaster County is of course another contributor to AB Martin’s success. Zimmerman said that farmers from as far away as Connecticut and Long Island will come to the Lancaster area, dropping by Messick’s in Mount Joy for tractor parts or PaulB Hardware in Ephrata for their hardware needs before stopping in at AB Martin for building supplies.
Like Amos Martin — who would have turned 102 this week — the current owners do not always follow conventional business wisdom, but their way of viewing business seems to be working. “I’m sure we’re not doing it like the big corporations would like to see or some business advisors would like to see,” Zimmerman admitted. “We overstock on inventory because we want it for the customer, we pay way too much overtime, but it’s working. We have product in stock. We have employees that want to work.”
Since Amos Martin did not seek a name for himself but instead sought to build a company that would bless both his employees and his customers, the name of A. B. Martin continues to be respected and valued by those who know it. This story is an important one to the company, and so AB Martin recently released a book entitled “More Than Roofing: The AB Martin Legacy of Service.” The book is available for purchase at several local bookstores and at the AB Martin facility, located at 82 Garden Spot Road in Ephrata. Regular business hours are 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. More information can be found online at abmartin.net, and videos of the production process and showcases of finished roofs can be found on the company’s YouTube channel, @ABMartin.
Freelance writer Nathan Birx has written articles for The Lancaster Patriot since March 2022. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.