Customer service, emphasis on premium beds and a catchy name are all part of its winning formula
First things first. Yes, there is a Fred behind Fred’s Beds, the mattress specialty retailer on the North Carolina coast. But his name is really Frank. We’ll explain.
In the 1980s, bedding entrepreneur Frank Stansbury took a real estate class from a friend, who liked to use a hypothetical couple named Fred and Eunice to illustrate various real estate scenarios. Soon Frank and his wife, Beth, began jokingly calling themselves Fred and Eunice. And when they looked to open a mattress store in Raleigh, North Carolina, they liked the catchy rhyme of “Fred’s Beds.” “Eunice’s Beds” didn’t have much to offer.
Thus, a bedding chain was launched, one that is now led by Lisa Stansbury Humphrey, Frank’s daughter. Frank and Beth Stansbury remain involved in the business.
Lisa, one of relatively few women to lead a mattress retailer, is president of the Fred’s Beds store in Wilmington, North Carolina. She and her husband, Joel Humphrey, who has been with Fred’s Beds for eight years, are the co-owners of the other Fred’s Beds store in Southport, North Carolina. That town is the jumping off point for Bald Head Island, a vacation getaway about two nautical miles away from where the pirate Blackbeard once roamed.
A good name
The Fred’s Beds name is one of the keys to the success of the retailer, the Humphreys say.
“People want to know if there is a real Fred,” Joel says. “That’s important to them.”
That gives the company a family feel, one that separates the retailer from some larger competitors that have set up shop in the Tar Heel state.
Customers sometimes say they know the Fred that they believe is the founder of Fred’s Beds.
“You would be surprised how many people come in and say, ‘I went to high school with Fred,’ ” Lisa says. When they say that, they are really saying they don’t know Frank Stansbury, she continues. But that’s fine, because Fred’s Beds strives to give all its customers the same great service it would give to family friends.
“We try to kill them with kindness and personality,” Lisa says.
Fred’s Beds uses its own delivery crews, taking mattresses to customers’ homes and picking up the old mattresses. Those crews do whatever they can to help customers with their new beds, performing tasks such as fixing antique frames and adding extra support for a mattress that needs it. (Many do, Lisa says.)
Over the years, various publications repeatedly have named Fred’s Beds a “Best Place to Buy” a mattress, and that good word gets around. “People know our name,” she says.
The retailer does well with beds from Kingsdown, a manufacturer founded in North Carolina more than a century ago. Customers appreciate the North Carolina tie, and the Fred’s Beds team appreciates the support they get from Kingsdown.
“We’ve had great relationships with Kingsdown forever,” Lisa says. “I loved Tom McLean (a long-time Kingsdown executive who now is retired). He gave me the beginning of my sleep education, teaching me that softer mattresses are often better than firmer mattresses. I also learned a lot from sleep educator James Maas and from Kingsdown sleep expert Dr. Robert Oexman. Kingsdown does such a good job of making sure that retail salespeople are well-educated.”
Fred’s Beds puts that sales education to good use, using it to help sell premium sleep sets, a key category for the retailer. The store features Kingsdown beds from $499 to $5,999, carries latex beds by Posh+Lavish from $2,000 to $4,000 and offers Beautyrest Black beds from $2,000 to $4,000.
The retailer also does well with a good-better-best lineup of adjustable bases from $999 to $1,499. The adjustable bed base attachment rate for primary bedroom sales runs about 40%, a strong figure.
“We let them pick out the adjustable bed base first,” says Maurice Johnson, manager of the Wilmington store. “They can put any of our mattresses on the base. Then we leave them alone and let them try mattresses.”
Serta, Pure Latex Bliss and Jamison Bedding round out the mattress lineup. Malouf and Kingsdown supply adjustable bases. Otis Bedding produces the futons, and SIS and DreamFit provide futon covers and sheets.
Furniture suppliers include Vaughan-Bassett, Homelegance, Liberty Furniture, Anchor Furniture, Hillsdale Furniture and New Energy Kids.
The Wilmington store, located in a 14,000-square-foot building, includes about 8,000 square feet of showroom space filled with about 60 mattresses and the company’s furniture offerings.
The Southport store, with about 1,600 square feet of showroom space, features a curated selection of bestselling models and, despite its much smaller footprint, generates strong sales. On a recent Tuesday, not normally a robust day for mattress sales, Joel had already made six sales by early afternoon.
From capital to coast
Fred’s Beds has a long history in North Carolina.
Frank Stansbury opened the first Fred’s Beds in 1985 on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, not far from the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, where he flexed his selling skills at the flea market there with waterbeds and satin sheets. He was a natural, and launching his own sleep shop was a logical step in his bedding evolution.
Eventually, he opened three Fred’s Beds stores in Raleigh. The company also expanded its reach through franchised locations across the state.
But then two mattress giants — Mattress Firm and Sleepy’s — ran up against one another in Raleigh. The result: “Raleigh was overrun with mattress stores,” Lisa says. Fred’s Beds exited the Raleigh market several years ago.
Lisa grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and began working for Fred’s Beds as a teenager. “I received a baptism by fire,” she recalls. “My dad put me in the business and said, ‘Handle it.’ ” She did.
Frank Stansbury opened the first Fred’s Beds in Wilmington, a tourist-friendly city on the North Carolina coast, in 1996. The retailer’s current Wilmington store, which opened in 2007, is on U.S. Highway 17 North, a major coastal artery. That store opened in 2007. The Southport store, about 40 miles away, began business in 2017.
After working with Fred’s Beds stores across the state, Lisa calls the current two-store lineup “very manageable.”
She moved to the coast in 2002, spending more than a dozen years on Topsail Island. She recalls with sadness the year that six stop lights were installed between the island and her Wilmington store, slowing her work commute considerably. Now she lives in Wilmington, in a home about half a mile from the Intracoastal Waterway. Her parents live a short distance from the beach.
The North Carolina coast offers fertile ground for bedding sales.
“There are a lot of rental companies in the Wilmington area and many people have second homes here,” Lisa says. “The population is growing, and it’s a strong market for bedding. You have a new group of people coming in every week all summer long.”
That’s part of the recipe for success at Fred’s Beds. Just ask Fred … er, Frank.