Family Owned Business profile: Main Street Trader

‘All wood … all good,’ father-daughter furniture business still going strong almost 40 years later

Main Street Trader

When asked what challenges Main Street Trader faces as a family owned business, co-owner Karen Watkins said she had to laugh a little.

“Sometimes, working with family, you are a little too honest with one another,” Watkins said. “I think the real challenge is, you have to know everything, or have the money to hire someone else to do it. You think if you provide a good product and have great customer service people will just show up. You don’t think about how difficult it is to get people to know what you do or what you carry. It’s hard to understand the hours you’ll spend, the direct and indirect costs, how to handle slow times and overwhelming busy times.”

Watkins’ father, Joe Morrison, bought the building that now houses Main Street Trader back in the late 1970s. Watkins said he bought the building as an investment and soon learned it was a difficult location to rent. Morrison decided he needed to find a way to get some income from the building while still working his full-time job at BPA, and Main Street Trader started in 1981 as a flea market and quickly turned into an antique business instead.

“My father has always enjoyed working with wood,” Watkins said. “Over the years we slowly bought and sold less of the small collectibles and focused on the all-wood furniture side of the business. About 29 years ago he brought in the first unfinished all-wood pieces of furniture. Today we carry a large selection of all-wood furniture from manufacturers, as well as wood slab pieces that we create furniture from.”

Although Watkins and Morrison are the two active participants in the business, Watkins said both of their spouses are owners as well. And father and daughter do it all – “from the buying and building, to the cleaning, to the paperwork and all aspects of the business.”

“Since 1981 our revenue and employees have gone up, but in the downturn of 2006 we saw loss in revenue as well as employees,” Watkins said. “We feel lucky to have survived that time and continue to try to work our way back up. It’s not easy to own your own business.”

Although Watkins acknowledges the challenges that come with being a family owned business, she said it has its benefits as well.

“On the good side, I spend every day with my dad,” she said. “I have the best customers. You form friendships. You can make or break the rules.”

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Main Street Trader – like many other retail businesses – faced a lot of uncertainty.

“I don’t think anyone can explain just how COVID-19 has affected them,” Watkins said. “A shutdown was nothing one could ever plan for. You don’t ‘make up’ for being shut down for almost 11 weeks, you just hope you can get back to normal when you open. When we got the greenlight to reopen, we didn’t know what to expect. Would anyone go out? How can we make them feel safe in the store? Could people afford to buy anything? What we found out … we have the best customers. So many customers were happy to see we had survived the shutdown. Many compliments and well wishes moving forward.”

With pandemic guidelines constantly changing, Watkins said they are lucky enough to be in a 6,000-square-foot building where they can easily maintain a six-foot distance. She said the guidelines for keeping their customers safe in retail are relatively easy (clean surfaces, maintain a six-foot distance, hand sanitizer and wearing masks).

“The fear now is that we could be shut down again even though the local numbers indicated that the spread is minimal in small businesses,” Watkins said.

Watkins said that Main Street Trader continues to succeed in the community in part because they “don’t just sell.” She said they work with the needs and wants of their customers. They have the ability to do some customizing, and Watkins’ father also repairs furniture. In short, she said they are a “no-frills company that provides great product and great customer service.”

Watkins said that her father is what sets Main Street Trader apart from other businesses and makes their business unique.

“With his knowledge of woods, finish and repair there is very little he can’t do,” she said. “He has taught me many things over the years, but I have a long way to go. We aren’t just looking to sell the product … we build relationships. We may only see customers every six years … that’s a good customer. They thought of us when they needed another piece. We have a couple of customers that we are now into the second generation that say, ‘My parents bought their furniture from you … now we’re doing the same.’”

Main Street Trader is located at 1916 Main St., in Vancouver.

Joanna Yorke-Payne
Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start

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