Ray Mahan figured his company might give Medford a second chance somewhere down the road.
The president of Scan Design Furniture admittedly didn't expect an imminent return to the Rogue Valley after the Bellevue, Wash.-based company said goodbye in April 2010 after a 21-year run in the former Crater Lake Ford location.
But the regional chain, featuring distinctive Scandinavian-style furniture, will reopen at its former location on the northeast corner of Main and Fir streets later this month in response to improving market conditions.
"I look at it as a really good opportunity, and I think we can serve the community because we always had a good customer base here," Mahan said.
Mahan offered no stirring speech, ala Gen. Douglas MacArthur, three years ago when Scan Design exited downtown Medford.
The housing market was in a free fall, the neighboring Joseph Winans Furniture was on its last legs, and the erstwhile Bella Vita project across West Main Street was drawing more flies than interest from possible tenants. "It was so dead here during the months leading to when we liquidated," Mahan said. "I sense there is more traffic going through downtown now. It seems more people and more traffic are passing by the store. The housing market is starting to pick up, and that's obviously helping our industry."
Mahan said he had a gut instinct that Scan Design would be able to resurface in Southern Oregon when the economy improved, and the fact that the building hadn't been sold or leased made a revival attempt that much easier.
"There's a lot more energy than I expected when I got here," Mahan said. "I saw that Trader Joe's and REI were going in, and those guys do a ton of market research before they invest, and that was a sign that it was worth our investing down here."
Crowded flights were further evidence the time was right.
"I flew down here four or five times, and the flights from Seattle were always overbooked," he said. "I asked the boarding agent if it was normal, and she said it has been that way for a while."
When the One West Main office and retail complex — surrounding the Evergreen parking structure — was announced in February, Mahan was ready to roll.
"I kept track through connections with sales reps, and the few stores left are doing well, partly because of the lack of competition," Mahan said. "I thought, 'Why not get in now and grow back with the community?'
"It's also positive for us to come back downtown because there's a new store (Scrub Hub) kitty-corner from us, and there are a couple of new restaurants down the street since we've been gone."
Mahan caught up with former local manager Linda Jones, who had returned to school for training in the medical field, and she quickly agreed to return to her old post. Brett Manley, another former employee, signed on to handle sales and distribution.
In what Mahan considers a pilot program, deliveries will be contracted out to J's Moving Specialist, a Medford firm.
"We're doing OK in Seattle and Portland," he said. "Furniture is tied to the economy and housing growth, and we've seen housing prices go up 14 percent in Seattle. A lot of the economic outlook is tied to the government, and we can't control that. What we can control is service and value."
Scan Design was founded by Jens Bruun in 1964 and gradually added locations in Washington, Oregon and Hawaii. The chain opened its 21,420-square-foot Medford store in April 1989.
Bruun died in 2002, but he had turned ownership over to a charitable foundation, whose board employs Mahan. The company's profits go to the foundation, which is dedicated primarily to support of higher education and Danish cultural experiences. The foundation also owns Scan Design's buildings.
At its height, the company had eight stores. After the housing-bubble burst, the company downsized to four locations. The retailer presently operates in Lynnwood and Bellevue, Wash., as well as Gresham and Eugene. "We saw things turn in early 2007 and closed our Hawaii store," Mahan said. "By closing some stores and keeping our strongest ones, I felt we could weather the storm. It was a good move; the company stayed healthy and that enabled us to have a solid platform moving forward."
Once the Medford store is up and running, Mahan said, he will turn his attention to Tigard for a sixth location.
In the beginning, much of the Scandinavian-inspired furniture came from Europe. Rising production costs led those companies to close a decade ago and forced Scan Design and other retailers in its niche to seek manufacturers in China and Thailand to fill orders. More recently, Mahan said, offshore costs have led to new deals with furniture makers from North Carolina, California, the Puget Sound and Portland areas, as well as Winnipeg, Canada. "Up until 2005, you got your buying done at the Copenhagen Furniture Fair in a day-and-a-half, but that began drying up," he said.
Furniture trends continually change, but shows in European trade havens such as Milan, Italy, and Cologne, Germany, are indicators of what to expect here. "When you see wood trends shifting there, you know its coming to the U.S. in about two years," Mahan said.
Little by little, a skeleton crew, including Mahan, is spreading out the store's new inventory. Several truckloads already are on hand, but the showroom won't be fully stocked for weeks. "Down here, the challenge is to drive traffic and get our name back out there," Mahan said. "It's a small community, and we'll have an easier time than if we opened a store somewhere in California, because there are a lot of people who know us here."