F. Mark Hubbard makes mattress buying fun
Like singer Pharrell Williams, the owner of Mattress Gallery in Lafayette, Louisiana, is a happy guy, and his ‘cruise director’ approach to bedding is downright contagious—business has more than tripled in the past five years
BY DOROTHY WHITCOMB
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK HUBBARD
There are people who would giggle at the thought of using the words “mattress” and “fun” in the same sentence. Not F. Mark Hubbard, owner and operator of Mattress Gallery in Lafayette, Louisiana. Hubbard is dead serious—in a fun kind of way—about creating an environment at his store where customers and staff can enjoy the whole process of buying a bed.
“It’s fun to sell mattresses because it’s so rewarding,” he says. “It’s not a flamboyant product, but we feel its effects in all aspects of our lives.”
Hubbard, aka “La Big Dog,” doesn’t spend much time on the sales floor himself these days, but he makes sure that what happens there is, well, fun for those who do.
“I’m like a cruise director,” he explains. “I make sure that (my staff) and the customers are having fun. If you’re spending $4,000 (on a bed), you want to feel good about giving someone your hard-earned money.”
Hubbard, who began his professional career as a jet pilot for oil companies, has been selling mattresses for 31 years. His introduction to the industry came when he bought a small furniture store that included Sealy mattresses among its product offerings.
“I quickly learned that the bedding part was really interesting,” he says. “The mattresses always sold, and I never ended up with dogs.”
Hubbard became “passionate about the importance of sleep,” he says, and set out to learn all that he could about “the thing that people spent the least amount of money on and the most amount of time with.”
Twenty years ago, he closed the furniture store and moved back to Lafayette, his hometown, to concentrate on selling bedding. When he launched Mattress Gallery, it was with an eye toward creating a chain of stores throughout southern Louisiana. He also had some very specific ideas about the buttoned-up, down-to-business image he thought such a chain should project.
After opening two additional stores and considering a third, Hubbard began to rethink his plan and the image that he wanted to project. “We began having all of the typical chain store problems with developing staff and taking care of customers,” he explains. “I learned that more didn’t mean better.”
As each lease expired, Hubbard let the other stores go. “Making money is important, but you have to enjoy life, too,” he says. “If I had continued opening stores, I would have made myself crazy.”
Then there was one
With all of his energy and financial resources focused on one store, Hubbard has been able to create an environment that draws customers to the store and keeps them coming back. “People are demanding better service and will go where they can get it,” he says.
“When you have one store, you can watch all of the details and make sure that every customer can be taken care of well. We pay attention to absolutely everything. The store is extremely clean and flawless. Our truck is the same way. We’re able to take good care of what we have because we don’t have 10 of everything.”
If that just seems like common sense, what Hubbard learned next was something of an epiphany. “It wasn’t long before I was making more money from one store than from all of the others combined and my lifestyle improved dramatically,” he says.
“We don’t have to borrow money any more or service debt,” he explains, “and we own everything.”
With his time freed up, Hubbard can handle his own accounting tasks and pay all of the store’s bills himself, keeping in touch on a daily basis with Mattress Gallery’s growth and profitability. External threats also are more manageable.
“It’s easier to react to slowdowns in the economy if you only have one store,” he explains. “If you have a slow month, it’s not the end of the world.”
When both Mattress Firm and Rooms To Go came to town last year, having one store turned out to be a huge blessing. While two local chains folded, Mattress Gallery was able to hold its own.
“I concentrate my energy on my own store and don’t really pay attention to these other guys,” Hubbard says. “I can’t do anything about them, so I don’t worry about them. We just do what we can do to the very best of our ability.”
Four on the floor
That’s a message that has been heard loud and clear by Hubbard’s staff. Mattress Gallery has four employees. Only Hubbard and the store’s general manager, Al Credeur, work full time. Among the three others, one works solely in sales, the other delivery, and the third splits his time between the two.
“We try to hire people who are outgoing and know how to interact with other people,” Credeur says. “We give them guidelines to go by and they have to know their facts, but then we encourage them to approach customers in a way that works for them—as long as it works.”
If there is a selling mantra at Mattress Gallery it’s: “People buy from people.” “Our customers are more than just a number on a ticket,” Credeur says. “We treat them individually. What makes it fun for me is actually getting to know them.”
That process starts the minute a customer walks in the door. “Although we do go through all of the sleep mechanics and try to give them as much information as possible,” Credeur says, “we also try to make (the process) personal. If a customer comes in asking for the best bed in the store, the response is always: ‘It’s the one that fits you.’”
Credeur is fond of analogies. He’ll tell a customer that if a shoe doesn’t fit, it doesn’t matter how much it cost. He also compares beds with suspension systems on cars. You don’t put a truck body on a light suspension or vice versa, he explains. Customers get the picture.
A quick glance around also lets customers know that the 3,500-square-foot store is a place where they can comfortably spend some time. The sales floor, which only features about 35 models at any one time, is laid out logically with innerspring mattresses to the left and specialty beds on the right. Each bed is cross-merchandised with nightstands and lamps. Walls are adorned with paintings and Hubbard’s prize-winning photography, and signage is kept to a minimum.
By the front desk, a children’s corner features a Lego table. An iPad, loaded with children’s games, is mounted to the wall at kid-height.
“The less time parents spend watching their children, the more time they can spend focusing on themselves,” Credeur says. “That little Lego table has sold many, many thousands of dollars worth of beds over the years.”
Bread and butter
Mattress Gallery, which is located in an affluent area of Lafayette, focuses exclusively on Sealy, Stearns & Foster and Tempur-Pedic mattresses. It offers mattresses from Corsicana to its commercial customers.
“Tempur-Pedic and Stearns & Foster are our bread and butter,” Credeur says, adding that the store’s average ticket price is about $2,000.
Mattress Gallery fills its median price-point slots with eight Sealy and Sealy Posturepedic models. The queen size opens at $699 and tops off at $1,499.
Stearns & Foster models start at $1,599 for the innerspring Signature collection and run to $4,000 for the Lux Estate innerspring and hybrid models.
Adding Tempur-Pedic to the lineup has helped keep the average ticket high, Hubbard says. Prices start at $2,000 for the Tempur-Cloud Primo model and end at $12,500 for the GrandBed. Since customers add adjustable bases to their Tempur-Pedic purchases about 40% of the time, average tickets get bumped up even higher, Credeur says.
Sales of accessories and furniture, including bed linens, pillows, Nest home fragrances, and Wesley Allen iron beds and occasional furniture also boost the store’s bottom line. “More than 90% of the time, we add $300 to $500 to the ticket when someone buys a king-size bed,” Credeur says.
Mattress Gallery backs up all sales with white-glove service. All deliveries are free and scheduled within a one-hour window. “If the guys aren’t going to be there within five minutes of that time, they’re required to call the customer to let her know,” Hubbard says.
“The guys will move beds from one room to another, take off old bedding, set up the new bedding, and go through all the steps on (adjustable beds),” he adds. “We don’t rush, and all customers are treated with the utmost courtesy and respect no matter what price they paid for the bed. All of this creates positive word-of-mouth, which helps with future sales.”
Hubbard’s attention to detail and commitment to creating a rewarding buying experience for his customers seem to be working. “The calls and letters that I get now are all compliments, and it’s not uncommon for the guys to get $100 tips,” he says.
And what will the future bring? More of the same he hopes.
“I live life to the fullest now and enjoy everything that I do,” he says. “I just want to continue to operate efficiently, effectively and do everything that I can to make the experience of shopping for a mattress easy and fun.”
Dorothy Whitcomb is an Easton, Maryland-based freelance journalist and editor whose work has appeared in a wide range of business and general interest publications. For 25 years, her primary focus has been the home furnishings industry. She writes about businesses, trends, products and design, specializing in profiles of companies and industry leaders.