An Interview with our Founder: Joan Howell - Echo's China

An Interview with our Founder: Joan Howell

An Interview with our Founder: Joan Howell

As we celebrate the past 40 years of business, it only made sense to interview my mother, and founder of Echo’s, Joan. Despite living on the Sunshine Coast for the past 23 years, she still keeps in touch with the business on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. If you click on the links below, you can read some great articles dating back to the early 1990s. I hope you enjoy!

Where did the idea for Echo’s come from?

Joan: “I had opened two consignment clothing stores in the 1970s. One store in West Vancouver and one on Lonsdale. I guess I was getting tired of the clothing business, so I decided to open a second-hand and antique store in its place. I had always loved going to auctions, garage sales, and I liked older things better than new ones. When the recession hit in the early ’80s, I noticed a lot of people wanted to buy and sell china, so I started carrying and matching dinnerware—and so it all began.”

How has the business changed over the years with regards to technology, advertising, and your customers?

Joan: “The best form of advertising was word-of-mouth, not Facebook. I spent a lot of money in classified newspapers and magazines. I did many talk shows on the radio with Ralph Mayer and Bill Williams. I traveled across Canada doing the same. People would phone in and ask me questions about their sets. I also did some TV shows and traveled to England going to different Pottery factories. Back then, long-distance phone calls were very expensive. I also got one of the first toll-free lines. That helped a lot.  We didn’t have computers, just a recipe card with the information and stock amounts that we would cross off when something sold.”

As a businesswoman, do you have any suggestions for other women or men wanting to start their own business?

Joan: “You have to be passionate about your business. I learned a lot from my customers’ wants and needs. I didn’t want a business partner because I wanted to make decisions and do it myself. Know your strengths and weaknesses and hire people to help with your weaknesses. Mentors are important—have several. Surround yourself with good co-workers. Ours have been with us for anywhere from 4-25 years.  Enjoy the journey. And for me personally, I often rely on my higher power for guidance.”

There have been over 150 birthday wishes sent to Echo’s so far…are you surprised? What do you think is so attractive about china, crystal, and silver? Why do you think people collect it?

 Joan: “People love their dishes for the memories, emotion, and sentimental attachment. For example, some people love Simpsons Belle Fiore because they remember it from their grandma’s or a family cabin. It brings back memories for them. I am moved by all the wishes and the time it took to send them. I am grateful.”

What’s in the future for Echo’s and for you, personally?

Joan: “Echo’s will continue and continue to change. I think with Covid, people have been at home cooking more and going back to old ways. I think when families can get together again, it will be about everyone helping with the cooking, setting the table, and presenting a nice meal. Family and friends all helping, not one or two people in the kitchen alone. What Echo’s has to offer will grow and expand.

 As for me, I am in the process of moving back to North Vancouver from the Coast and will definitely be making more appearances in the shop. I still love it!”

Click here to read more about Echo’s through the ages.

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