BY JULIE A. PALM
PHOTOGRAPHY BY AL FERREIRA PHOTOGRAPHY LTD.
Once a waterbed specialist, this destination sleep shop in South Windham, Connecticut, pairs a broad selection of mattresses with a passion for customer comfort and consistent pricing.
All Sleep, a single-store retailer in the northeastern corner of Connecticut, certainly lives up to its name, offering everything from traditional innersprings to latex, memory and gel foams to hybrids and boxed beds to air and water. Yes, water. Oh, and sleeper sofas and futons, too.
“I’m a big believer in showing lots of beds,” says store manager Joshua Eves. “We’re a destination. So, I don’t want to just offer coil cores with gel memory foam on top like everyone else. We have latex options; we have waterbeds; we have airbeds—we have everything.”
The retailer was founded in 1974 as a waterbed specialist called Water & Air Inc. At the height of waterbeds’ popularity, there were six stores in Eastern Connecticut operated by three partners, including current owner Mark Gadarowski.
Today, the sole All Sleep store is a 5,800-square-foot, two-level showroom and a 1,500-square-foot warehouse/workshop. It’s in South Windham, Connecticut—the kind of place people tend to describe to those not familiar with the area by offering up the name of a nearby town, in this case Willimantic, home to Eastern Connecticut State University.
Eves started working at All Sleep in 2001, helping with deliveries while still in high school. He then moved into sales and, in 2013, was named store manager. Eves never intended a career in mattress sales, but an incident in 2007 convinced him that All Sleep was the right place for him.
“I told Mark I was going to quit to hike the Appalachian Trail, but he said he’d hold my job for me,” Eves explains. “Honestly, I think he thought I wouldn’t make it more than a few days. I returned 144 days later—and my job was still here. I’ve been very fortunate. Mark’s given me every opportunity to advance in a career I originally didn’t even know I wanted.”
The next step in Eves’ career is taking ownership of All Sleep, which will happen in January 2018, when Gadarowski retires.
A bed for everyone
All Sleep’s current location, bought by the retailer in 1982, used to be the offices, headquarters and warehouse for the larger six-store operation. Long before that it was the town grange, with a stage for public events and a feed store that sold hay to local farmers. Painted barn red and built with steeply pitched roofs, the two buildings hew to their early, rural roots.
Set away from busy destination shopping areas and strip malls, All Sleep itself is a destination rather than a “walk-by-and-drop-in” retailer, Eves says. And, as such, he wants to make sure consumers can shop for all types of beds in the one location.
All Sleep shows 37 mattress models on the second floor of its retail area. Brands include Simmons’ Beautyrest Silver and Beautysleep, plus Serta’s Sertapedic and iComfort. The retailer has had a long relationship with Gold Bond, based in nearby Hartford, Connecticut, and Eves likes that the partnership enables him to offer customers two-sided beds, as well as futons. All Sleep also carries Eclipse International, relying on the manufacturer to make custom-size bedding for shoppers who request it. Eves also turned to Eclipse when he wanted to design a few latex models exclusively for the store, including “an all-latex version I could pair as a twin XL with a memory foam mattress to create a king bed with two feels,” he says. In addition, the retailer carries an airbed with interchangeable latex and memory foam layers for customized support from InnoMax and an Avena all-foam boxed bed from Symbol Mattress.
“People are interested in the idea of a boxed bed so I have one that they can test and feel. I think people feel better about beds they can touch,” Eves says. (For more on All Sleep’s waterbeds, see page 14.)
Beds generally are grouped by brand and construction. Throughout the mattress showroom, All Sleep sprinkles bedroom furniture, wall art and even some recliners, which are for sale but also serve as a perch for retail sales associates. “When presenting mattresses, we tend to sit—either on the edge of another mattress or in a recliner,” Eves says. “It makes customers feel more comfortable.”
Not surprising given the retailer’s commitment to a broad selection, All Sleep carries not only an array of traditional box-spring foundations and metal frames but also platform bases and 11 adjustable SKUs made by Customatic Adjustable Bedz, Glideaway, Mantua, Serta and Simmons. The Rize Clarity from Mantua, an entry-level model with head and foot adjustability, one preset position and wireless remote, is a best-seller at $825 in queen size. At the higher end is Glideaway’s Ascend, with anti-snore and zero-gravity positions, programmable presets, dual and timed massage, and an elevate feature that tilts the entire base ($1,875).
“I used to be happy to sell two (adjustable bases) a year,” Eves says. “But that changed in February when I decided to floor an adjustable base in king size so people could see how the sides worked independently. When we started that, we sold six that month. Now we put them under as many beds as possible.” Eves thinks the growing number of split-queen versions will continue to drive sales up.
Since Eves was promoted to store manager, he’s been expanding All Sleep’s lineup. He put Serta on the floor to offer mattress shoppers another major brand, increased recliner and sofa SKUs, and added a whole new category, outdoor furniture.
He also amped up the store’s sleep accessories. All Sleep now offers sheets and toppers from Malouf, protectors from Protect-A-Bed and Sleep Harmony, and pillows from Malouf, Pacific Coast and Simmons, among others.
“It had always been the theory here that we couldn’t sell sheets or pillows here because Kohl’s and Walmart sold them for less,” Eves explains. “Now we have foot traffic just for accessories.”
Upfront pricing and low-pressure sales
The retailer is known for its upfront, consistent pricing. Eves tells of shopping at a competitor to pick up a new microwave for his own home and passing by the bedding department, where a mattress had four prices marked through to advertise that day’s low-low sales price. And, Eves says, “It was still $100 higher than the same bed at my store.”
“I get annoyed by the price games some of my competitors play,” he says. “Mattresses already have good margins, and I don’t like stores that pretend beds cost more than they do to start with and keep marking them down. We have real prices on our beds and we put them online, too.”
Typical All Sleep shoppers are ages 35 to 65, mostly blue-collar and working class, usually conservative—more the Beautysleep customer, rather than the Beautyrest Black buyer, Eves says. All Sleep’s prices open at $299 for a basic innerspring queen set and top out at about $3,100 in king size for beds with premium latex or a host of cooling components. Most beds go out the door priced between $695 and $950 for a queen set.
On the foot of every bed is a brochure, or worksheet as Eves calls it, that shows the price of each mattress if purchased with box spring, adjustable base or low-profile platform. The worksheet also tells a little about each mattress and places it within the store’s own comfort grading system. All Sleep tests every mattress model with 3-pound and 45-pound weights, measuring the depressions they create and then, using those values, puts the mattress on an A-E scale, with A being the firmest models and E the softest.
“Mattress shopping can be intense and overwhelming. When people come upstairs and see 37 white rectangles, it’s hard to know the differences between them and not everyone wants a salesperson talking to them the entire time,” Eves says. “This can help them in their initial decision making.”
As All Sleep’s use of the grading system to guide customers shows, the retailer favors a laid-back sales approach. “We aren’t pushy. People aren’t going to buy a bed or recliner if they’re uncomfortable. If you have a salesperson hovering over you, you’re not going to enjoy the feel of the bed,” Eves says.
Shoppers entering the store are greeted first by a display of sofas and recliners—and then a friendly “hello” from staff. “We do a pretty easy greeting and then generally leave them alone for a few minutes,” Eves says. “I get anxious and stressed out in stores when people approach me at 100%. Our goal here is to have people more relaxed.”
An RSA typically accompanies mattress shoppers upstairs, explains to them the pricing and grading system, and then often goes back downstairs for a few minutes while they browse. But if shoppers have questions, RSAs are ready to discuss in detail components, features and differences between models: They want customers to fully understand their bedding options.
All Sleep doesn’t use a sales script or have a set series of beds RSAs start shoppers on. “We let the customer tell us what they are looking for and we go from there,” Eves says. “We don’t want to waste their time.”
After shoppers have narrowed their options, All Sleep RSAs often start talking about the retailer’s delivery times and service reputation to help move the conversation toward the sale.
“When we get to that point and people ask, ‘Which of these two is the best?’ I tell them it’s whichever bed they feel most comfortable on. Just because one might have $100 more foam in it doesn’t necessarily make it the right choice,” Eves says. “People appreciate the honesty.”
The All Sleep staff is small. In addition to Eves, there are two part-time delivery drivers and two RSAs. In recent years, Gadarowski has been functioning as the store’s accountant and part-time frame builder for waterbed frames while Eves handles day-to-day operations. Eves will take over that first role in January and the second role “when I have the time to master it,” he says.
Low-cost marketing pays dividends
Given its location on Route 32, All Sleep doesn’t have the kind of next-door and across-the-street competition from specialty sleep chains, department stores, big boxes and discounters that many mattress retailers face. Most of the store’s competitors are other independent retailers. “We get along,” Eves says. “If we don’t have something that a customer wants, we’ll call each other.” Although he adds with a laugh, “I’ve got the bigger warehouse so usually they are calling me.”
All Sleep’s most effective ad purchase remains the sign in front of the store that people glimpse—and hopefully remember later—as they drive by on their way elsewhere.
“Besides the sign, the best advertising forum for us is still the newspaper,” Eves says. The store typically runs ads a few times a month in The Chronicle, a paper based in Willimantic that covers communities in Eastern Connecticut. All Sleep also spends ad dollars on Facebook. Eves likes the social media platform’s low prices and the highly targeted reach.
The store’s website also drives traffic. “Putting all our prices online is a big benefit to us,” Eves says. “A lot of independents around us may be afraid to do it because they fear the competition. But we want to start from a place of trust with the customer. And I don’t want to shop places that don’t have their prices online.”
In the past few years, Eves has stayed busy adding categories and brands to the All Sleep lineup and readying himself to take ownership. The next step, he says, “is to catch my breath,” but he admits he’s got a long to-do list. He’d like to give the website a makeover and the store, too. “There are things we could do to beautify the building inside and out—things we can do to modernize it but still keep it homey,” he says. And he’d like someday to open a second location in a nearby city.
In the meantime, he’ll keep the focus on offering an extensive selection of mattresses for shoppers to research, touch and test.
“I can’t imagine buying a bed I’m going to spend 10 years of my life on without testing. It’s so important to have a place to go to try the beds—a place that won’t pressure you and will answer your questions honestly,” Eves says. “People ask, ‘Is this new mattress going to help me sleep better?’ And I tell them that we’re a piece of the puzzle. Do you drink (alcohol) before bed? Do you exercise late at night? Eat too much chocolate? Those things interfere with sleep. A mattress on its own can’t cure insomnia but it can help you. That’s our promise to customers, ‘We’ll help you sleep better if we can.’ ”
A new way of collecting used mattresses
Connecticut is one of three states with mattress-recycling laws so, like all mattress retailers there, All Sleep collects a $9 fee on every mattress and box spring it sells to help pay the costs of the statewide recycling initiative.
When the law went into effect in May 2015, it forced All Sleep, located in South Windham, Connecticut, to change the way it handled the collection of used mattresses. Previously, the retailer charged customers $25 to take away used bedding, which it then took to the landfill or donated to local charities. Now All Sleep collects the $9 fee on each piece a customer purchases, takes away used bedding at no charge and remits the upfront fee to the Mattress Recycling Council, which runs the state recycling program. When All Sleep collects 20 used mattresses or box springs, the retailer takes them to a drop-off facility in Willimantic and from there they are taken to a recycling center.
Store manager Joshua Eves says over time he has honed his own explanation of the fee to customers to focus on the environmental impacts of “big rectangles” ending up in landfills where they take up a lot of space and never degrade. Shoppers, he says, seem more understanding of the fee when they know the mattress components will be broken down and recycled for use in other products.
All Sleep never wearies of waterbeds
Many consumers who fell in love with waterbeds during the beds’ heyday still love their buoyant, conforming feel. And All Sleep, which began as a waterbed specialist in 1974, remains committed to its roots—and to servicing all those die-hard waterbed aficionados.
The retailer, located in South Windham, Connecticut, carries three waterbeds—two hardside models from Vinyl Products and one softside from United States Watermattress. It also carries a complete line of accessories, including water conditioner and repair kits, from InnoMax. A complete softside waterbed in queen size retails for about $1,800.
The traditional wood waterbed frame has become pricey and harder to source, store manager Joshua Eves says, so All Sleep makes frames in a workshop in its warehouse.
“We wear a lot of hats here,” he says, explaining that the woodworking business has grown to include All Sleep platform bases and headboards, too. “And we can do custom beds for people who need an odd size. People like to come into the shop and see what we’re working on, and they like that they can customize by picking out their stain color,” he says.
All Sleep typically sells waterbeds to customers who are replacing one they’ve slept on for years rather than people who are investing for the first time, though some newcomers to the category occasionally will buy a softside version. “People are surprised by how good they can feel,” Eves says.
And, he adds, “They’re fun to sell. People have so many options: Do they want drawers in the pedestal or not? A wavier feel or not? Two heaters or one?”
All Sleep does a good business online in waterbed liners and accessories, shipping them throughout the United States.
“An extra $1,000 a week in waterbed accessory sales is nice,” Eves says. “As long as I can find companies to sell them to me, I’ll carry waterbeds.”
Julie A. Palm is chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has 25 years of experience as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines and as a publications director. She is a past editor in chief of both Sleep Savvy and BedTimes magazines. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.