Owned by a father-and-daughter team, this 50-plus-year-old manufacturer-retailer in Holly Hill, Florida, translates a relaxed
approach and solid craftsmanship into sales growth
Rick and Chelsea Carter, the father-daughter owners of Fox Mattress in Holly Hill, Florida, don’t take themselves — or the mattress business — too seriously.
“We try to keep things light,” Chelsea Carter says. “A lot of people dread mattress buying. We try to make the experience enjoyable.”
The Carters’ amiable, laidback attitude fits the coastal community outside Daytona Beach where the manufacturer-retailer operates. It also reflects a confidence that comes from years of experience and a deep knowledge of mattress making and selling: You don’t need to sweat the small stuff when you know what you’re doing.
“Mattress building is pretty darn easy,” Rick Carter says. “The key is the quality of the components you use. If you use the best parts, you’re set.”
Fox Mattress, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018, has made a name for itself by building quality two-sided mattresses, including custom beds for boats, recreational vehicles and other specialty uses. The company, with just one location, draws customers from hundreds of miles away and ships products all along the East Coast.
“We are fortunate to have good word-of-mouth,” Rick Carter says. “Even the chain mattress stores recommend us to their customers.”
All in the family
The Carter family has a long history in the bedding business. Rick Carter’s uncle, Tom Mundy, was a mattress manufacturer, and his late father, Bill, owned Carter’s Bedding. After Bill Carter’s death, Carter’s Bedding was bought by Fox Furniture, a retailer owned by Rex Fox. The merged manufacturer-retailer dropped the furniture products to focus on mattresses, and Rick Carter took over the company about 15 years ago.
Chelsea Carter, who joined the company full time six years ago, got an early start in the business, recalling that she sold her first bed at age 8 or 9.
“I like to be in the retail setting and enjoy working with people,” she says. “I have a degree in social work and worked with elderly populations, but I feel like I do more social work now than when I was working in a nursing home. I always wanted to help people and now I help people get a better night’s sleep.”
It’s what’s on the inside that matters
Fox Mattress operates a 15,000-square-foot manufacturing plant adjacent to its retail space, turning out 50 to 60 mattresses a week. Customers are welcome to visit the production side to watch beds being made, although many choose instead to watch a recording of the process on an in-store TV, Chelsea Carter says. Whether shoppers visit the factory or not, Fox Mattress’ retail sales associates give them a thorough education in mattress components and constructions while they test beds.
The factory employs five workers full time, supplemented by “a couple of great delivery guys who moonlight in the factory if we need them,” says Rick Carter, who also still builds beds. “I don’t build as many as I used to but I like to putter around a bit. My most enjoyable years were when I was in the factory the most.”
The company’s two-sided mattresses — a product abandoned years ago by the large mattress manufacturers — are a big draw for its customers. “Having a flippable mattress is like having two beds in one,” Chelsea Carter says. “That’s why people will travel hundreds of miles for them. Our double-sided pillow-tops have become popular because people like pillow-tops but don’t like that they can’t flip them.”
Fox Mattress uses high-quality, heavy-duty innersprings and high-
density foams in its beds, but also experiments with newer components, including gel foams. “Foam suppliers are always telling me, ‘No one uses those densities anymore,’ ” Rick Carter says. “But I believe in the tried-and-true. Just because the industry creates something new doesn’t mean it’s better, but if there’s merit in something new, we’ll build with it.”
Fox Mattress makes a wide variety of bedding, from innerspring to all-foam to hybrid models, incorporating everything from microcoils and spring-on-spring constructions to latex, with all of its components coming from U.S. suppliers, Chelsea Carter notes.
Given its location in hot, humid Florida, the company constructs all of its beds with good airflow in mind. “We focus on designs that keep people cool through the night,” Rick Carter says. “Things like open-cell foams and reticulated foams really help with the airflow. We try to build temperature-regulation all through the mattress.”
Foxes and a family bed
The Carters like to have an eye-catcher that greets customers when they enter the store. For years, it was a round bed, which also showcased the company’s ability to make custom mattresses. The Carters recently switched that out for an equally dramatic 120-inch-by-80-inch family bed — a type favored by people who want to be able to have their kids — or pets — all pile into bed together and still be comfortable. The mattress sits atop two adjustable queen-size bases.
Images of the store’s fox mascot dot some walls and hand-painted ceiling tiles surprise shoppers as they rest-test, but otherwise décor is kept to a minimum so the focus is on the mattresses.
As the business has grown, its footprint has, too, and the retail space now includes three connected showrooms, with roughly 50 models displayed in a total of 9,000 square feet. The main showroom is devoted to king-size models and high-end bedding. Branching off is a showroom displaying value-priced, midrange bedding (with price points from $199 to $1,500 in queen size) and another showroom is stocked with specialty and hybrid mattresses.
Fox Mattress’ average ticket is just over $1,000, having inched up in recent years. Its top mattress, which incorporates latex, wool and a coil-on-coil construction, retails for $4,000, and is one of the few single-sided mattresses the company produces.
All displayed mattress sets are made in the adjacent factory, except for some promotional products, currently supplied by Corsicana Mattress Co. Fox Mattress also carries boxed beds from The Bed Boss, a category the Carters don’t expect to produce themselves anytime soon. “I won’t say ‘never’ to anything because we don’t want to be like the dinosaur — we always adapt,” Rick Carter says. “But it’s not something I’m looking to do.”
The company, which started selling sleep accessories about five years ago, carries an assortment of pillows and protectors from The Bed Boss and Talalay Global. About 20% of its mattresses are sold along with adjustable bases. Fox Mattress carries six versions, starting with a promotional, head-up model and stepping up to full-featured power bases. Suppliers include Leggett & Platt Inc. and Southerland Inc. As other retailers have told Sleep Savvy, Fox Mattress says intense competition in the category has driven down profits on adjustables, but unlike other retailers, “we try to service everything we sell, so if you buy an electric bed from me and you have a problem, we’re going to deal with it,” Rick Carter says. “It’s great for our older customers. Other retailers would say to them, ‘Call the 800 number.’ ”
Where factory and showroom meet
When showing mattresses to shoppers, Fox Mattress’ RSAs focus on the importance of sleep and explain how the company’s bedding components and constructions will help customers rest easier.
“I tell everybody, ‘We want to get you into REM sleep and keep you there, and we use the right combination of materials so you’re not tossing and turning all night,’ ” Rick Carter says. “We try to bring the factory into the showroom with cubes and foam samples to get customers to understand the inside of the bed.”
“If I can’t get you to understand what your money is being spent on, why would you spend it?” he continues. “Everything feels pretty good when it’s new. I try to explain to customers why our mattresses will still be comfortable five, 10, 15 years down the road.”
Rest-testing typically starts on firm, plush and super-plush models, but RSAs have leeway to choose which mattresses customers will try first. “We’re here to help you,” Chelsea Carter says. “And everyone who works here is free to put their spin on how to do that. We let everyone’s personality shine.”
At least for now, Fox Mattress doesn’t sell its products online, although the retailer is happy to take orders over the phone. “We prefer to talk to people, and Chelsea usually handles that now. In a phone call, she can ask all the right questions to understand who you are and what you need,” Rick Carter says.
Chelsea Carter adds: “Our online reputation is great, and people call us from all over to buy beds sight unseen because they trust us and our reputation. We prefer to personalize the experience instead of listing all the beds on our website.”
The retail staff includes the Carters, plus three other RSAs and a long-time staff member who still works occasionally, with salespeople paid salary rather than commission.
“I’m not a big commission guy,” Rick Carter says. “I’ve tried it a few times over the years, but I found salespeople tended to embellish to try to get the sale and that’s not how I like to do business. But we do profit-sharing, so everybody — in the factory and in the store — gets a piece of the success.”
On both sides of the business, Fox Mattress has long-tenured employees, and the staff roster includes a few husband-and-wife teams, including Chelsea and her husband, Joe Contreras, who works in the factory.
“Chelsea is my newest hire,” Rick Carter says. “People come to work here and they don’t tend to leave. That’s good. That’s flattering.”
When hiring, the company looks for personal traits — kindness, honesty, a sense of humor — over a specific skill set. “I just like to hire nice people,” Rick Carter says. “You can teach a lot of things, but you can’t teach nice.” Yet, he adds, there is one talent on a resume that can help cinch a job for an RSA: “If I find someone who was a great debater in college, I know they’ll be a great salesperson.”
Chelsea Carter serves as retail manager but has taken on more duties related to the factory, including ordering materials, as her dad steps back a bit from the business.
“She’s doing more and I’m doing less,” Rick Carter says with a laugh. “She’s morphing into my old role of having a hand in everything, so I can afford to take a week off here and there. The cool part is Chelsea really understands the business. We’re here to make a living, take care of our customers and take care of our employees. It’s a simple concept but not a lot of people grasp that. We’ve all known people who go into business and are out of business in six months. But Chelsea instinctively understands.”
Reaching out and giving back
The company’s marketing focuses on brand building, although it does run promotion-focused ads during big mattress sales periods like Presidents Day weekend.
“We’re not afraid to put our name out there,” Rick Carter says. That means a mix of newspaper, magazine, TV, radio and web-based advertising, including social media. It also means the occasional appearance by Rick Carter, or more often these days, Chelsea’s husband, dressed up in a fox costume to garner extra attention.
Contributions to local charities help Fox Mattress raise its profile while giving back to the community. The company typically participates in one big project a year, rotating its assistance to different nonprofits. “If we can, we try to donate beds,” Rick Carter says. “It’s more fun because everybody can get involved, from the cutters to the seamstress. They’ll all sign the law tags. They like taking pride in their contribution.”
No. 1 for 29 years running
Although it draws shoppers from hours away and along the East Coast, Fox Mattress’ core customer base resides within a 50-mile radius of Holly Hill, and skews older, with the majority of shoppers age 50-plus, Chelsea Carter says.
“We have a ton of repeat and referral business,” Rick Carter says. “But we also do business with people burned by mass-produced stuff. They’ll come in and say, ‘I bought this brand and loved it for six months or a year and now it’s awful.’ People get burned, they start doing research and then they end up here.”
From its manufacturing side, Fox Mattress builds mattresses for RV companies and individual boat owners, and has earned a good reputation among NASCAR drivers, musicians and professional basketball players, who come to the company seeking custom mattress sizes and constructions for both their homes and touring buses or RVs.
“It’s great for the factory,” Rick Carter says. “They love when they get a chance to build some really different types of products.”
Fox Mattress’ loyal customers have earned the company a No. 1 ranking as the Best Mattress and Best Factory Direct Store for 29 years in an annual reader survey done by the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
“That’s been pretty cool for us,” Rick Carter says. “It recognizes us for who we are. We’re a mom-and-pop operation. I can build and design a product the way I think it should be, and I want that bed to be worth more than what we sell it for. We’re in charge of ourselves, not the bean counters, and that makes it better for our customers.”
Operations Continue in a Pandemic
Like many mattress retailers across the United States, Fox Mattress in Holly Hill, Florida, was closed for several weeks in the spring because of stay-at-home orders sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. It reopened in May.
During the shutdown, Fox Mattress took orders phased or by appointment, a practice it continued into Florida’s first phase of reopening. Even before temporarily closing, Fox Mattress had wrapped in easily sanitized vinyl the component samples and buns that retail sales associates use to explain mattress constructions to shoppers. As it was reopening, it instituted other new practices. In addition to maintaining social distancing between staff and customers and sanitizing the retail showroom multiple times a day, Fox Mattress began offering complimentary face masks for customers. It instituted new safety protocols for mattress delivery, with delivery team members donning masks, gloves and booties upon customer request.
On the manufacturing side, the company created a new mattress sanitizing process that is completed before each mattress is sealed and delivered to the customer.
As the pandemic grew in the United States and it became clear that the business was likely to be ordered closed for a time, Rick Carter, who co-owns the business with his daughter, Chelsea Carter, felt Fox Mattress was as well-positioned for a temporary shutdown as it could be. The Carters own the building that houses the factory and showroom, and they source materials from a variety of suppliers to ensure reliable delivery of components, keeping a large inventory of materials on hand, Rick Carter told Sleep Savvy.
“We’ll be OK for a while,” he says. “If they say, ‘Shut it down,’ we’ll shut it down. We don’t mind doing our part.” Early in the pandemic, Fox Mattress thought briefly about using its factory to produce personal protective equipment for health care and other essential workers but decided it would be more effective for one of its employees, a seamstress, to work part-time for another local manufacturer that had switched its production to mask making.
“We’re all just trying to do what we can,” Rick Carter says.
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.
Photography by DON HOWARD PHOTOGRAPHY