Good listening, straight talk and a personal touch lead independent sleep shop to top New York City ranking
BY BETH ENGLISH
ARTISAN IMAGE INC.
As a New York City native, Craig Fruchtman understands the daily grind.
Every morning, he leaves home and hops on the subway. His route takes him through Times Square to his store in an office building on West 38th St. in the Garment District.
But the hassle of fighting crowds and getting to work on time makes the owner of Craig’s Beds feel his work makes a difference.
“We all go through the grinder every day,” he says. “We have to get rest during the night to be effective during the day.”
Even the text on the retailer’s website touches on this: Mattresses are “a place where we are reborn every night. … A comfortable, supportive mattress is critically important to living to your full potential every day.”
Tumbling into bed
Beds were not Fruchtman’s original calling. In fact, his first job out of college was in finance. He spent two years in Philadelphia, helping people invest their money.
“I was good at it, but it just wasn’t for me,” he says. Instead, he wanted to own a business, like his father.
When his mother became ill, she called and asked him to return to New York to work with his father. So he left Philadelphia and joined his father, Barry, and sister Jennifer in the family textile business.
Originally, it was supposed to be a temporary stop for Fruchtman, but six months into working there, Jennifer died.
“After she passed, I felt the need to stay to help keep my family whole,” he says. “It was devastating.”
He would stay with his family business for the next 10 years.
For his father’s company, he selected fabrics that were marketed and sold to department stores. “That gave me the confidence to start Craig’s Beds in 2010.
It became time that I did something for myself, for my own personal growth.”
Finger on the pulse
Connecting with people is what Fruchtman does best. “I learned that if I’m a straight shooter, it makes a difference,” he says. “We give good customer service. That means being real. No one wants fluff anymore.”
As soon as people walk in the door, Fruchtman gives them the store policy. “I’m very straight up,” he says. “They know who they’re doing business with, and we avoid headaches.”
One of those policies is a 90-day comfort guarantee. While many stores offer one for 30 days, Fruchtman doesn’t think that is long enough to really know if the mattress will be the right fit.
“I’m more interested in getting it right.”
As a result, he’s developed a specific kind of clientele. While Craig’s Beds gets the occasional celebrity, as well as business and education leaders, his main customers are those who prefer to patronize independent businesses and like the personal touch.
“They feel like they’re part of the story,” he says.
Many of his customers share glowing, five-star reviews on websites such as Yelp and Google, often noting his lack of sales pressure and personable demeanor.
“It’s whoever connects with you,” he says. “I’m hopeful if we do the best job we can, the experience gets passed on.”
By appointment only
It’s for a practical reason, really. “I really hate turning people away, but we have to limit how many are in the showroom at once,” he says.
The 1,100-square-foot store holds 15 queen and six or seven twin mattresses. “For the city, that’s a big space,” he says.
Mattress stores are unique in that people need to lie down to see what they like, he says, adding that older shoppers often need more help. And then there are those who are nervous, who come from outside the city and are there simply to get a bed for their college student who is moving to the Big Apple.
Fruchtman starts by asking them how they’re currently sleeping. Is there a partner involved? What do they like or not like about their current bed? After the series of questions, he has them lie on the mattresses.
“I call it the Craig’s Beds work out,” he says.
He tells them to think of it as a wine tasting, and then he leaves them alone.
When they lie on a bed that makes them wish they had made a change years ago, they’ve found their match, he adds.
Many of the Yelp reviews note how reasonably priced the store’s mattresses are. Craig’s Beds’ average ticket ranges from $600 to $1,300 for a queen size.
Say the word
Much of Craig’s Beds’ growth has to do with word-of-mouth, as well as recently snagging a spot on a CBS New York news rating of the top five mattress stores in New York City.
Fruchtman tries to promote the store by working through public relations, not necessarily advertising. Case in point: He recently created a Summerfield gummy bear bed. And while mattress shopping is largely an in-person activity, he’s adept at working the online realm. Browsers of his site can shop by mattress brand, type, tailoring (tight top, pillow top, double pillow top, euro top, box top), comfort level or price. They also can see customer favorites.
In addition to websites for Craig’s Beds and Summerfield mattresses, Fruchtman blogs (craigsandjensmattressblog.com) and regularly puts content on the store’s Facebook site.
“All the efforts contribute to success, not just one thing in particular,” he says. “Online creates opportunities, increases the odds.”
For example, he recently received a hotel order, which he believes wouldn’t have happened without a website.
Fruchtman also is keen to figure out how to bring his business to as many people as possible. To capitalize on a growing trend, he recently created his own version of a bed in a box, calling it Craig’s Bed by Summerfield. It’s a medium-firm mattress—“the Swiss army knife of mattresses”—with more density in the foam.
“I’m not reinventing the wheel; I’m making the wheel better,” he says.
Visitors to the store often have an opportunity to meet Fruchtman’s father, whose textile business is right across the hall. “It’s a big source of pride for our family,” Fruchtman says.
Another family touchstone? The name of Fruchtman’s mattress line. One Mother’s Day, he asked his family to brainstorm names for the brand. They decided on Summerfield, his grandmother Anita’s maiden name.
He even includes her advice in his “Top 10 Tips for Sleep” list on his website. “My Grandmother Anita loved giving advice. One of the more memorable tips she gave me was, after a long, stressful day take a long hot bath to relax and separate the day’s events from the evening. I find that when I personally have trouble sleeping this helps the most.”
If you were to ask Fruchtman what he would like to do if he didn’t have Craig’s Beds, he would have a ready answer. His dream job would involve sitting down with Seth Rogen or Chris Rock and making movies that would make people laugh or touch people’s souls.
But for now, he has other dreams. Fruchtman wants his business to grow to maybe three to four times its current size.
“I used to joke: To be an entrepreneur, you have to be dumb enough to believe in yourself,” he says, and then corrects himself. “Not dumb enough. Optimistic enough.
“This is not for the faint of heart. You have to be able to stomach it.”
Ultimately it comes down to making life better for people.
“We want people to dream big,” he says. “This is our big dream.”
Now, that’s a sweet way to promote a bed
The novel, confection-laced creation features a queen-size mattress from the retailer’s Summerfield line covered with 26,135 gummies that are arranged in a tie-dyed rainbow pattern. It contains 500 coils and is 15 inches high, 60 inches wide and 80 inches long. It took more than 225 pounds of bears and 117 tubes of glue to blanket the mattress in candy.
Fruchtman says he designed the candied sensation to let consumers know the mattress will make them “sleep more soundly than a thousand hibernating (gummy) bears.” He also says he built it to say thanks to his customers and supporters.
“I wanted to do a project where we can express our appreciation to all of the people who made a stop in their life journey at our business,” he says.
Fruchtman was inspired by and partnered with Twelv, a New York fashion magazine that created a gummy bear dress a few years ago.
The Summerfield bed in a box became available nationwide in March. And the gummy bear bed was on display last month at the candy store It’Sugar in NoHo.
Craig’s Beds finds success with its own mattress line
First, they wanted less expensive mattresses.
Several also requested beds like their parents had—two-sided with coils, not memory foam.
It struck Fruchtman as a great opportunity. He was eager to embrace his own creative freedom and develop a mattress line that he could price affordably.
Three and a half years ago, he introduced Summerfield. With 20 beds in the line, Summerfield mattresses include a wide array of components, including gel, latex and innerspring. He considered it a way to close the gaps in the marketplace.
“We listened to the customers,” he says.
When he introduced the line, he offered a full refund if a customer was unhappy with the product. To date, sales of the line have totaled more than $3 million.
The mattresses are available online at Summerfieldmattress.com. He offers free shipping to the tri-state area and major cities along the East Coast.
Fruchtman provides an online “Shop by Comfort” tool that enables a consumer to answer questions that will lead them to their preferred level of comfort. They include: Are you a side, back, stomach sleeper or combination? Are you a heavy, medium or light sleeper?
Developing this mattress line has been a little like being a baker, he says. A baker can wake up in the middle of the night with the dream of an exotic dessert. As the sun comes up, he has made the dessert of his dreams.
“That’s what Summerfield does for me.”