July 22, 2024

The Boss: Minding the Mattresses

That part of my life has come full circle: three years ago, I joined another rock band whose members are in the mattress industry. We call ourselves the Insomniaczzz and play at industry functions.

I graduated from Rutgers with a business degree and a minor in journalism. I had been editor in chief of the college newspaper, which got me an interview with The Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia. The editor told me I’d be meeting the pope and doing all sorts of interesting things. Then he got to the salary, which was a letdown. I turned down the job and looked for a position in business.

It took me six months to find a job. I ended up moving to West Bend, Wis., to work for the Rolfs division of Amity Leather. After executive training, I returned to New Jersey. My sales territory was the northern part of the state.

I wanted to control my own destiny, so, four years later, in 1981, I left to join my father’s mattress business, 40 Winks, in Westmont, N.J. We opened a second store, which I managed, and a third, which my brother managed. My sister became manager of the fourth store. We grew to 23 stores in the New Jersey and Philadelphia area.

Every day was an adventure in the retail bedding field. In 2000, we were struggling when Fort Dix, the Army base, ordered 100 mattresses for refugees fleeing Kosovo. A few days later, the base wanted another 100. We hustled and delivered those as well. They ended up ordering a total of 6,600.

We were grateful for the orders but had a terrible time filling them. I asked my contact at the base how it planned to pay; when he said by government Visa, I worried. I thought he was talking about the document needed to travel to Kosovo. I asked him to explain and he said, “You know — cash, check, credit card. Visa.” I never felt so dumb.

In 2001, another mattress company moved into our market, followed by a second. Both were national chains, and larger. The area was a mature market and we couldn’t compete. When we downsized to four stores, my sister took over daily operations and sold the stores a few years later.

I left in 2003 to join Therapedic, a mattress maker started more than 50 years ago in Garfield, N.J. I began as vice president and became C.E.O. in 2004. The dynamics are very different than at 40 Winks. In a family business, you work with relatives daily, but you’re also with them a lot in your free time. It can be good for some families, and it was good for us for a long time. But family members respond differently to competitive pressures, and there was some tension among us.

When I arrived at Therapedic, I thought that we had more factories than we needed. We contract with manufacturing plants; we don’t own any outright. It wasn’t easy to tell board members that we were going to trim the company’s size until I could make it stronger. Some were not comfortable with the plan but went along with it. From 2006 to 2009, I cut the number of factories from 14 to 8. We were like a tree with too many limbs, and we needed to prune back to grow better. We’ve added factories back and now have 13 producing our mattresses.

We’re not a top-tier company. Research shows that that a majority of customers buy from the top four brands. But in difficult times, customers look for alternatives, so we midtier companies pick up market share.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=42bb4c93ca269243ddde7cb1efdf1c25

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