Business

A new family at Whidbey Furniture

Oak Harbor’s Whidbey Furniture has passed from capable hands to equally capable hands after 59 years of ownership by the Eelkema family.

Ed Baran and his wife Susan Walker Baran officially took over the business in August, bringing with them decades of furniture experience.

Ed has worked in the furniture industry for 27 years, many of them spent as a buyer for the Bon Marche, Meier & Frank in Portland and The America Group, all three companies 11-to-20 store chains. He also managed a Thomasville Furniture Store and worked in upholstery manufacturing for three years.

Susan has also been involved with furniture in the last couple of years. Prior to managing a furniture store in Seattle, where the couple resided, she also managed the Bellingham Nordstrom and ran her own business manufacturing bath and body products. Her experience in merchandising is invaluable in the partnership.

“She’s very knowledgeable,” Ed said.

“It’s a total team effort,” Susan added.

The couple now lives in Useless Bay, where her mother has resided for 20 years.

Seventeen years ago, the furniture professional came very close to purchasing a store in Seattle, but held off in the end. When he heard that Whidbey Furniture might be on the market, Ed and his wife jumped at the opportunity.

Prior to the acquisition, the couple considered building an entirely new furniture store. Ultimately, purchasing Whidbey Furniture emerged as the right choice.

“It’s the largest furniture store on the island and has been successful for many years,” Ed said of the nearly 25,000-square-foot building with an additional 10,000-square-foot warehouse at the rear.

Painting the outside of the store has given Whidbey Furniture a classy facelift. And flowers in front of the Oak Harbor staple are a welcoming touch.

“This gives it a fresh, new look,” Ed said. “We will also be doing some painting inside and carpet work.”

Customers familiar with the store before it changed hands should notice subtle differences, but overall the same quality products and helpful employees.

“We re-merchandised the bottom level and cleaned it up a bit,” Ed said. “We’re going to keep a solid 70 percent of the merchandise, so the content will basically stay the same.”

What will change is the inclusion of an updated inventory that augments the already high quality furniture offerings. Whidbey Island is a melting pot of demographics and the new owners are catering to the diverse needs.

“We’re bringing newer, updated looks and classifications to the store,” Ed said.

One can’t be everything to everybody, he acknowledged, but Whidbey Furniture can do its best to keep money on the island by attempting to do just that.

“Some people go off the island,” Ed said. “So, we’re going to do some upgrading. Offer more modern looks.”

Las Vegas and High Point, North Carolina are the two largest furniture markets in the country. Twice a year in both cities, a colossal exposition is held for buyers. Ed has been to High Point 35 times, in addition to overseas buying trips in Italy and Brazil. A keen eye, however, is only part of the game.

“Relationships in the furniture industry are huge,” he said.

Reputations are just as huge. Whidbey Furniture came with a sterling reputation, a credit to the well-respected family who started the business. Ed and Susan are continuing the tradition.

“It all fits,” he said. “We love it.”

A longtime athletics coach, Ed has had the displeasure of taking the helm with severely dysfunctional teams. Walking into Whidbey Furniture has been the opposite experience.

“It’s a great team,” he said. “Not a lot of things are broken. It’s just tweaks and adaptations.”

Susan emphasized that with an expansive warehouse, customers have ample opportunity to buy off of the floor.

“To have choices, that’s important,” she said. “We just want to offer more.”

Born in England and having lived in the UK for a considerable amount of time, Susan admittedly brings a European bent to the partnership. Whidbey Furniture is not simply a business venture, but an opportunity to craft a masterpiece.

“It’s like having this big canvas to paint on,” she said. “It’s been so much fun.”

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