Then & Now: Beachcomber continues to thrive in changing market

"Every market is different, and you need to make sure (the product you buy) fits the market."

Beachcomber is a family business for Kent Melvin

Ever since Kent Melvin’s parents started Beachcomber in Vernon 42 years ago, impeccable service and modern inventory have been cornerstones of the business.

And although the business started out just selling hot tubs and patio sets, the family quickly found that people loved the new styles they saw.

“Bringing in product that people like is one of the hardest things about this business,” Melvin says.

“You can see something at a show in Chicago or North Carolina and think it’s the next big thing. But every market is different, and you need to make sure (the product you buy) fits the market.

“It’s not as easy as going to a show and saying, ‘Lets buy that.’”

The company’s winning strategy was to find pieces with an Okanagan flair and then bring in as much inventory as possible. Consumers don’t want to wait for products to be special ordered, he says.

So it was critical to Beachcomber that they host inventory that consumers want.

“That’s why we expanded,” Melvin notes.

“We needed to be able to show more products. That way, when somebody buys something, they don’t have to wait.”

Having mastered the inventory dilemma, the Melvin family quickly found that another challenge arose—obscurity.

The company became well-known for selling hot tubs and patio sets, but when Beachcomber added home furniture lines, few consumers actually knew they could find home furnishings in the store.

“Whatever you start in, that’s what you’re remembered for,” Melvin says. “You can change it, but it’s not easy.”

With hard work and persistence, Beachcomber broke through that barrier and started drawing customers to its home furniture section.

The business found that being able to work together productively as a family was a challenge —as is the case for many family businesses—but with strong planning and delegation, the Melvins found they could act as a cohesive unit.

“It’s a tricky thing, there’s no question about that. (We make the family thing work by) everyone having their own area that they take care of.

“There is overlap, but when you have a lot of family involved, everyone takes a certain section and that’s what you work on.”

He notes that a significant part of running a successful business involves planning for inventory, and would-be entrepreneurs in the furniture and home leisure industry should never underestimate the importance of quality inventory and the resources it takes to acquire great pieces.

“When we go to shows and talk to suppliers, their feedback to us is that a lot of people get into the industry and don’t have the capital to buy inventory.

“If you’re going to succeed in this industry, you need to have capital behind you.”

At the end of the day, though, Kent Melvin’s strong relationships with customers and employees is what has made Beachcomber a success.

“My favourite part of operating Beachcomber is the people that we work with,” he says. “You meet a lot of great people and make some great connections.

“Anybody can bring in product. Anybody can set up a storefront. It’s all about relationships.”