Patti Nelson and her husband Tom were walking through the smoldering remains of the family business they had operated for 29 years when she noticed something. “The whole building had burned down and there was nothing left, but the front door was intact,” she says. “That was my sign that we were going to re-open and everything was going to be fine.”
What might have devastated most business owners served to make the Nelsons stronger. In 2010, Nelson’s Just Wood Furniture relocated to its current Gold Street location and the couple found out just how much community support they had fostered over the years. “I just love Lewis County,” says Patti. “They rallied for us. Our church organized 40 youth one day to help us get set up here at this location. A fund was set up in the community to help us get back on our feet for a couple of months.” They also received four different offers for new locations to re-establish the business, ultimately choosing the Gold Street site.
Recently, the fire gave Tom an extra level of understanding when two customers showed up late on a Sunday afternoon. “I drove up and there’s this young couple in a truck. I said, ‘Come on in.’ They told me, ‘We’re going to buy a whole bunch of stuff.’” Sure enough, an hour later the pair had spent $10,000 and bought a complete set of new furniture. As it turned out, they’d lost everything in a house fire and the money was their insurance payment.
The 2010 fire also prompted the family business to expand its offerings to include mattresses, recliners, and couches in addition to their signature wooden decor. Customers can buy finished pieces or pick out a color they like and have an unfinished piece stained on site. “We found that people enjoy having more of a variety, although the wood is still the most popular item,” says Patti.
The in-store finishing service is rare in the region and has attracted a loyal customer base over the years. “It’s always been a thriving part of our business,” says Patti. “People love coming in and finding a piece of unfinished furniture that is solid wood. They can add different pieces to their furniture at home that will last a lifetime.”
The Nelsons use pine, oak, and alder that is sourced from Canada, Eugene, Oregon and Tacoma. Many of their pine pieces come from Bridgetown Furniture in Chehalis, and their bunk beds are made by a Centralia carpenter. The outdoor furniture sold at the store is made locally in Rochester while the log furniture is made in Montesano.
They also offer custom color for more unusual jobs. “Sometimes people will come in that bought a bedroom set 20 years ago and say that they want to match the color,” Patti explains. “But the stain colors are different now. Our son Nick will mix colors to match what they bought.” In true family business fashion, Nick is preparing to take over the company in the course of the next two years as Tom gets ready to retire.
The family employs one other full-time person, Jesse Kincaid. Jesse is responsible for some staining and helps with deliveries. He also does some custom building.
The couple has a second son, Mike, who has developmental disabilities, which has meant that Tom has been more involved with the daily operations of the store while Patti stayed home to raise him. In recent years, they were able to procure a job coach through Lewis County Work Opportunities, enabling their son to work with them a couple days a week. “It helps him become more a part of the family and he really enjoys it,” say Patti.
Family plays a role in their customer base as well. Aside from regular patrons, many people walk in because of word of mouth. “We often hear, ‘My mom and dad have a set and they told me to come here’ or ‘I have a friend who shops here,’” says Patti.
Originally in 1981, the couple set out to operate a hardware store, but they quickly noticed that the competition was fierce and the unfinished wood portion was their biggest seller. “We decided to liquidate and branch out,” says Patti. “We became Just Wood Furniture and expanded on the unfinished furniture that we had there.”
As the company transitions into the future, they’re changing their brand to reflect more of what they currently offer. “Because we carry so many more things than just wood furniture, we’re actually tweaking the name and we developed a new logo. It’s going to be Nelson Furniture Company,” says Patti. “The new logo has a JW and a circle for ‘Just Wood’ because we’ll always carry unfinished furniture and finish it for people because there’s a want and a need for it, but we’ve added so many other things.”
Despite the challenges of the fire and everything that came with it, it’s been worth it, Patti says. “Running your own business has its tough times, but the good times outweigh them. We’re just so glad that we made this area our home.”
For more information about Nelson’s Just Wood Furniture, visit www.facebook.com/NelsonsJustWood or call 360-736-3832.