Quality Home Furnishing Since 1936
By Angel Wyrwas
Baker Furniture has been part of this community for 81 years, served several generations of families and has built lasting relationships with its customers. The store was first opened in 1936 by Leif Holmlund near the Baker Lake Theatre on Main Street. Orville Stevens began working for Leif while he was still in high school. He served in the army during the Korean War and after the war returned home and resumed working at Baker Furniture.
The original building in the store’s current location was built in the 1950’s and expanded in 1957 with an addition towards the alley. In 1966 Orville became the sole owner of Baker Furniture and expanded south after purchasing the Red Owl Grocery building.
n 1981 Orville’s oldest son, Tom Stevens, returned from college to join his father in operating the business. “I remember being about five years old and going with my dad to unload our freight off the train in Marmarth,” said Tom. “Back then it was cheaper to unload it over there before it hit the state line.”
A building to the north that housed a barbershop was purchased in 1984 and a 90-foot addition was built that now is home to the bedding department. There was consistent expansion, even in the family working there. Orville’s youngest son, Dave Stevens, returned from college in 1986 and joined Baker Furniture servicing all the store’s electronics.
Teresa Stevens joined the store as a sales person and bookkeeper in 1990 after joining the family. Then two years later a warehouse was built on the lots behind the store to expand the flooring department.
“In 1992 we joined AMI-Furniture Leaders to increase our buying power,” said Tom. “That way we could provide a stronger line up of furniture. Instead of not being able to buy from certain distributors because we didn’t have the need to buy their minimum container requirements, now we could share containers of furniture with other stores. We’re able to negotiate great deals with larger manufacturers and by increasing our buying power we can offer even more selection.”
When Sears closed, it left Baker without a source to purchase appliances locally so Baker Furniture added appliances to their store. In 1994 they joined BrandSource to increase their buying power for appliances and began offering extended term financing.
Tom and Dave took over the main responsibilities of the store from Orville in 1998. However, Orville never truly retired from Baker Furniture. He remained active in the store selling and repairing furniture until he passed away in 2009.
“After Orville passed away there were so many people in the community that shared amazing stories about how he had helped them pick out their first set of furniture or helped them finance their purchase,” said Teresa. “The best story is from someone who told us that he had stopped by her house on a service call. Orville made a point of complimenting her on her decorating style. The compliment had really meant a lot to her.”
Baker Furniture grew again when they purchased the Washington School in 2000 to use as a warehouse. Then in 2002 Lanny Vail of Vail’s Friendly Furniture wanted to retire and approached Tom and Dave to purchase his location in Bowman, ND. After deciding that it would be a good fit, Baker Furniture expanded to a second location in Bowman. Dave now operates that store.
“It’s interesting,” said Tom, “that we really see a difference between what sells in that store vs. the one in Baker. They are distinctly different stores even though they aren’t that far apart.”
Baker Furniture strives to provide a great selection of products, trying to offer a good-better-best selection in their lineup of furniture, appliances, floor coverings and beds. “The quality our customers are looking for can vary even within their own homes,” said Teresa. “Maybe they want the best for their living room upstairs, but don’t want to spend a lot furnishing the recreation room in the basement. We make sure that we are offering great price selection.” They offer a long list of brand names as well including Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, La-Z-Boy, Flexsteel, Tempur-Pedic, Serta and Shaw.
In order to keep up with an ever-changing market they started making plans in 2008 to expand the retail space in the Baker location. Baker Furniture purchased the building that had housed All 4 You Flowers in late 2011 and tore it and the old Red Owl building down in April of 2013. Their new addition with a mighty storefront was completed in March of 2014.
There have been many changes in the furniture industry in 81 years. “The way merchandise is hauled to us certainly has changed from the days we unloaded it off the railroad,” said Tom. “We also live in a ‘now’ world where most customers want to come in, pick their furniture and take it home the same day. We have to stock more inventory now.” Tom also mentions that when he started in the business everything was American made and within a period of ten years almost all furniture was being made overseas.
Not only change, but also many variables affect the furniture business. Tom laughs a little and says, “It doesn’t just depend on oil prices. The furniture business is affected by rainfall, elections, and everything both locally and globally. When foam goes up in price, so do manufacturing costs and so does our cost.”
One of the biggest challenges Baker Furniture always faces is purchasing right so they can continue to be competitive with the big box stores. “We’re not a box store,” said Teresa, “These are not just customers, they are our family and friends.” The buying groups Baker Furniture belongs to helps them be competitive by providing valuable information and resources for maintaining their website, employee training, advertising, software and help on how to use and maintain all the social media platforms that are necessary to communicate with their customers.
Then twice a year they attend a furniture market that allows them to see the furniture trends from all over the USA and many other countries. The AMI Furniture Leaders group meets during these markets and everyone shares what has been selling in their market, interesting new products and any great buys they have made. “Our sales reps also share with us what is selling well in Montana so we can buy what our customers want,” said Tom.
Whether or not Tom and Dave will one day pass the store to their children is an unwritten chapter. However, Baker Furniture will continue to provide service and support for everything they sell. They are committed to reinvesting in the community. “We will continue providing a full line of quality furniture, appliances, and floor coverings at very competitive prices,” said Tom.
“It’s satisfying to make a difference in someone’s life,” said Teresa. “When someone takes time to say how much they enjoy their newly remodeled living room or how the new mattress they purchased has relieved their back pain and now they are sleeping better all night – those are the most rewarding moments.”