To anyone acquainted with Jim Mason, it might be hard to picture the long-time Cloverdale businessman kicking back in a remote log cabin, or peeling rubber at Ashcroft Speedway in a classic hot rod (his own – a 1943 Ford).
But now that he and his wife Nola have stepped aside from their family-run furniture store, Masons Cloverdale Home Furnishings, that’s exactly how he’ll roll.
Instead of presiding over a well-appointed showroom in the historic heart of Surrey, picture him puttering around a cozy workshop or tinkering dockside, ready to set off for a day of fishing.
For a man who’s worked steady since the age of 16, it’s been difficult to imagine one day retiring.
“I used to say I was going to retire in 10 years. And five years later, I was still saying I was going to retire in 10 years,” said Jim in a recent wide-ranging interview about his four decades as a furniture business entrepreneur.
“I realized I needed to set a date.” That date was June 30. There was no party. No fuss. Just a quiet handing over of the reins to his son, Derek, 35, who is buying the business.
Nola found the decision to retire much easier. When asked what she’ll miss about working, she laughed, admitting with a smile, “Nothing!”
Jim and Nola Mason have been fixtures of the retail scene in Cloverdale since Jan. 15, 1992, when Masons Cloverdale Home Furnishings opened for business.
A young Jim Mason got his start in 1974, when he and his father went into the retail business in north Burnaby, opening Mason’s TV and Stereo.
Just a few years later, they bought a furniture store at 70th and Granville Street in Vancouver’s Marpole District.
By that time, Jim and Nola had moved to Fort Langley, where they had a home and started raising a family – three boys: Jim Jr., Derek and Curtis.
Jim Mason was already tiring of the lengthy commute from the Valley to Marpole in 1979 or ’80 when Fortune played a hand. Ed and Lou Hunter, the owners of Cloverdale Home Furnishings at 5767 176 Street, Surrey, were in a pinch. Their furniture store was destroyed by fire, and a shipment of new furnishings in transit was on its way.
A mutual vendor told Jim Mason about the problem and he stepped up with storage space until the Cloverdale furniture company could rebuild.
“That’s when I met Ed, and we kept in contact,” says Jim. “I told him, when he’s interested in retiring, I’m interested in buying his buildings in Cloverdale.”
The deal wouldn’t come to fruition for another 15 years or so, but when it did, Jim knew it would be crucial to keep the original name as part of the new store. So he simply added his own surname, Mason’s, to the original moniker. It had been the same with Fawcett Furnishings in Marpole, re-branded under new ownership as Fawcett Mason’s Furnishings as a gesture of goodwill to faithful customers.
Keeping the original “Cloverdale Home Furnishings” in the new name was critical to Mason’s plans for his move to main street in the historic Surrey district when advertising.
“People like ‘Cloverdale’,” he explains. “We very intentionally retained and pushed it in all of our advertising. It puts us on the map.”
Today, customers come from Vancouver, Kelowna and Vancouver Island.
They’re drawn to the store’s reputation of good quality furniture – with a low price guarantee – and unmatched customer service.
“We have a very high rate of repeat and referral customers,” he says proudly. “People buy furniture so infrequently, they often don’t know where to begin,” he adds. “We take a lot of time to explain because they don’t know what to ask about furniture.”
Over the past 20 years, the business has evolved and expanded, growing to include medium and higher-end products, and moving with the times. “As things changed, we changed,” he says. Where possible, they feature quality Canadian manufacturers of home furnishings and mattresses.
Customers like that it’s a family business. “Even employees become part of the family,” he says.
In addition to Derek, Jim and Nola, there’s Alyson Brent and Ivan Schubert, a Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary student who works part time in the warehouse and who is the fourth brother in the Schubert family to work for Mason’s Cloverdale Home Furnishings.
“I like to say, ‘We are in the making-people-happy business,” he says.
The furniture business is all about developing a relationship with the customer.
“We have to figure out their needs,” he says. “They know they need furniture, but often, it’s not defined. When we spend time up front, we get a happy customer. When people have a good experience, they go out of their way to tell friends and relatives.”
There have been difficult times, and rewarding times. “I’ve passed this onto Derek: ‘It doesn’t matter how tough it gets. When you’re determined, you can get through it with a smile and your customers aren’t aware of the difficult circumstances.’”
It’s only been in recent years Jim and Nola have been able to scale back to working just five days a week, and taking long weekends and vacations.
Canim Lake in the Cariboo-Chilcotin has been a favourite getaway.
Jim says he couldn’t picture what retirement would look like. Until, that is, they bought a waterfront cabin at the retreat.
That’s when he started realizing that there’s more to life than just work, and began focusing on life beyond the furniture showroom.
He’ll remain a property owner of several buildings downtown, including Mason’s Home Furnishings.
He also plans to remain an active force as a director of the Cloverdale Business Improvement Association.
“I expected when I moved here in ‘92 in five years we would see a more dramatic turnaround. We are on the cusp of blossoming as a town centre.”