September 16, 2006 in HandleX

Changing lifestyles

Jacob Livingston Correspondent
 
Kathy Plonka photo

Heidi and Andy Jarski are the owners of Mountain Comfort Furnishings in Coeur d’Alene.
(Full-size photo)

Information

Mountain Comfort Furnishings, 310 W. Haycraft Ave., near the intersection of U.S. Highway 95 and Appleway, is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; (208) 667-8686 or www.mountaincomfortcda.com.

Most people who know Heidi and Andy Jarski would have expected the couple to pursue their individual scientific areas of expertise. After all, both have received degrees from the University of Colorado. Andy, a Breckinridge, Colo., native, got his master’s degree in aerospace engineering, and Heidi, a Denver-area suburb native, received her degree in biology.

But within five years of working in their respective fields, the husband-and-wife entrepreneurs ditched not only the hubbub of the city, but also their careers pursuing science for a completely different lifestyle – owning and operating a home-furnishing business in Coeur d’Alene.

“We both had very successful careers,” Heidi said, “but we decided that the hustle and bustle of the big-city life wasn’t what we wanted.”

While in college Andy had made a name for himself as an engineer working on satellite designs under a NASA contract for Ball Aerospace. After college in 2000, he was snatched up by the aerospace and other technologies corporation, where he continued to help design the Earth-orbiting satellites.

Meanwhile, Heidi went on to work as a cancer and inflammation researcher for a biotech company near Denver.

But there were many aspects of working in the corporate world – such as the chain of command and their long daily commutes – that spurred along their decision to start their own small business. Last year the couple decided to leave behind the instruments and listen to their intuition as they abandoned the science laboratories in favor of living rooms and prepared to open a home-furnishing store, Mountain Comfort Furnishings, in Coeur d’Alene.

“We wanted a little smaller-town feel,” Heidi said.

The move and profession switch was helped along by Andy’s father, Bill Jarski. As the founder of the original Mountain Comfort Furnishings store in Colorado nearly 20 years ago, he had already expanded the furniture franchise to several other resort-style towns in the West. By offering customers in-store home designers and unique and often hand-crafted, reclaimed furniture, the stores embrace the outdoor and rustic feel of the mountainous Northwest yet retain a classy quality in their products.

“We saw that people wanted something different,” Bill said, referring to his own small-business opening several decades ago. “We feel that we have a good approach to a small-scale, specialty store.”

That type of niche-market recognition, and Andy’s and Heidi’s experience of decorating their first home in Colorado, inspired the two to look into the possibility of opening their own small business. The possibility “had always been out there,” Andy said, but after the two married, the move became official.

“I always thought it would be nice,” Bill said when asked if he ever thought Andy would someday open a store, “but I didn’t want interfere with his school and his own goals.”

So in early 2005, the couple had to first identify a city in which to start the business. After considering several other cities in Colorado and New Mexico, the two decided on Coeur d’Alene.

“It had everything we wanted,” Andy said.

With its outdoors, a growing population and … the outdoors, Coeur d’Alene offered the perfect place for the outdoor enthusiasts to set up shop. In addition to locating a city to move to, Andy and Heidi did thorough research for their business plan on finding a suitable location to open the store.

After moving to the area in November and several months of overseeing the store’s interior transformation, the North Idaho franchise branch was ready. On Jan. 25, at the former Rosauer’s supermarket near U.S. 95 and Appleway they opened their doors for business.

While Andy had been around the business operation for most of his life, the two were also able to incorporate some of what they had learned as scientists into running their own small store.

“Most people think there is not a lot of applicable knowledge between the two,” Heidi said. “But there is a lot.”

Being in the science fields is mostly about systems and organization, Andy added. They each also do better in different areas of the business; Andy is better on the number side of things, while Heidi has the better eye for the decorations.

Now, several months into operating the business, the two have learned many of the intricacies of the operation.

With a staff of six – including three designers who offer free in-store home consultations – the Coeur d’Alene Mountain Comfort Furnishings provides customers with unique “rustic elegant” home furnishings.

“We try to tailor each store to each location,” Heidi said.

Since their move to Idaho, both Heidi and Andy have continuously logged 80 to 100 hours per week. Their work life has encompassed much of their home life, too.

“It’s kind of our life right now,” said Heidi as Andy added, “It’s tough to find a stopping point for work,” once they get home.

But neither Andy nor Heidi has any regrets about leaving their scientific fields for small-business ownership. While they have learned that even with the most well-laid business plans, things don’t always go as intended.

“You have to be ready for change,” Andy said. “Things are more spontaneous than something written on paper,” Heidi added.

Though being your own boss has been a rewarding endeavor for the couple, they get the most satisfaction through customer interactions. When you help a customer out, “It makes it all worth it,” Heidi said. “It makes you feel good about coming to work every day.”

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