Harkness Furniture at 100 years
contemplates its past and future
Editor's Note: To commemorate Furniture World Magazine's 150 anniversary as well as HFA's own 100th year, HFA has chosen to highlight the retail successes of its longtime member Harkness Furniture.
Ask most business owners what it takes to run a century-old company, and you are likely to get a few shrugs. If you ask Dave Harkness, he will quickly reminisce about the generations of family members who ran Harkness Furniture before him, and gladly share the details of their tireless effort, vision, and perseverance over the last 100 years that helped grow the company to where it is today.
“It all started with my grandparents in 1920,” said Harkness, president of Harkness Furniture. “They were Scottish immigrants. My grandfather had health issues from working in the factories, so he moved to Vancouver, making enough money to bring his family over. They settled in South Tacoma, Washington, where he picked up the trade of weaving and cleaning rugs. He operated out of his garage and would ride the streetcar through Tacoma, knocking on doors, grabbing the rugs, bringing them to his garage to clean them, then bringing them back to his customers.”
A lot has changed since those early days, but that same drive and ingenuity has remained at the core of how Harkness Furniture has always operated. Dave’s father, Jim, and his uncle George took over the business in the 1930s and ’40s. As the second generation, the two brothers began to expand the business beyond just carpet and upholstery by adding furniture and appliances.
If you ask Dave Harkness, he will
quickly reminisce about the generations
of family members
who ran Harkness Furniture before him.
“During WWII, there was a real scarcity of appliances because so much metal was being used to support the war effort,” said Harkness. “As part of a buying group, they were able to get appliances, which helped the business to grow quickly. They ordered vacuums, appliances, drapes, about eight categories in total. At one point at least 10 family members worked at the store.”
After the death of Dave’s uncle in the 1950s, his father continued to run the business. He was joined by Dave’s brother Jamie in the late 1960s. The company continued to grow, doubling the size of the location. It was soon after that Dave decided to join the family business.
The exterior of Harkness Furniture was recently updated. The unforgettable 1950s outdoor neon arrow sign (pictured top right) was kept as part of the current store design.
“Some people choose their profession; I feel like I was born into mine,” said Harkness. “In junior high I knew I wanted to help lead the company. My father told me, ‘If you really want to own and operate this business, you will need a four-year college degree and also a background in management and accounting.’”
So, Dave joined the operation in 1975, after receiving his college degree, and continued to expand the business. Following the passing of his father in 1985, he led the company through some trying times, including a fire that burned their warehouse to the ground.
Then came the recession of 2008 —perhaps the toughest period in the company’s hundred-year history. And now through the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the store to close for a month. Fortunately, the business has been blessed with unprecedented sales volume since reopening.
With Dave’s son, Kellen, joining the company in 2008, the fourth generation of the Harkness family-owned business has entered a new chapter.
“I had planned to eventually sell the company when it was time to retire. But my son, who had never worked at the store, came home his junior year of college, and said he may want to try working in the business,” said Harkness. “He came into the store and my advice to him was, ‘Focus on what you enjoy the most within the organization—and find people better and smarter to run everything else.’”
With his son Kellen as a part owner, Dave is better able to reflect on the decades he has been at the helm and, more importantly, the generations before him that helped to build the Harkness legacy.
The Next Century
“This is what our family has created, and I want to carry it on,” said Harkness. “They lived a very modest life. We operate as a Christian business and try to model these values for our staff and customers. We strive to err on the side of the customer. If we need to make an exchange or offer a refund to satisfy their needs, this is what we try to do. We build lifelong customers through trust and by offering good values. I feel privileged that we are able to touch and enhance people's lives by helping make their home environment more enjoyable.”
Dave believes the success of the business comes from the hard work and support of those around him; the skilled team at Harkness Furniture, Cyndi, his wife of 44 years, his son Kellen and his daughter Kimberly.
This effort has been recognized over the years, even achieving the National Home Furnishings ‘Retailer of the Year’ award.
The future looks bright as fourth generation Kellen Harkness continues with the successful family values and takes the helm.
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