What I Learned From Mattress Mack

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40 years of retail visits revealed that the journey to excellence is ongoing.

Suddenly, I was in charge of the mattress department at Gallery Furniture.

Mattress Retail Wisdom Unveiled. That’s why Sleep Savvy is such an important publication for the mattress industry. Addressing an audience of retailers, it features the voices of leading retailers, and it focuses on helping retailers improve their businesses. This is a masterclass in mattress retailing.

But first, let’s set the scene. I was in Texas, visiting the legendary “Mattress Mack” — Jim McIngvale — at his sprawling store in Richmond, which he calls “the most beautiful furniture store in the world.” He had shown a group of bedding executives around the store, which features an aquarium larger than some home furnishings stores, and other Texas-sized offerings designed to delight his customers. And then, in a quiet moment, McIngvale asked me a question: What would I do if I led his mattress department?

The question caught me off guard. McIngvale, arguably the best mattress promoter in the country, wanted my thoughts on his mattress department. That was a nice compliment. Yes, I’ve been around quite a few mattress departments in my years in the industry. But what could I possibly teach a consummate mattress professional like Mattress Mack?

I didn’t have any quick fixes to share, but McIngvale had another question: Which mattress retailers impress me?

As I think back to that exchange, what impresses me is that a great leader like McIngvale was still in learning mode. The master was not resting on his laurels, however well deserved they might be. And that’s a key message that I want to leave with you in my final column for Sleep Savvy. The journey to retail excellence in the mattress industry is an ongoing one. Products change. Consumers change. Retail concepts change. Embrace all of those changes and play the long game. Every day offers a chance to get better.

In my 40 years in the home furnishings industry, I never lost sight of the fact that retailers are our gateway to consumers. Producers and suppliers have thoughts about what consumers want, and they may even be very well-informed thoughts, but it’s the retailers who are dealing directly with consumers. They know firsthand what consumers want and how they want to be treated.

That’s why Sleep Savvy is such an important publication for the mattress industry. Addressing an audience of retailers, it features the voices of leading retailers, and it focuses on helping retailers improve their businesses. This is a masterclass in mattress retailing.

It’s been my pleasure in these past few years to take you on several Retail Road Trips, each of which offered its own lessons.

At Furnitureland South, just outside High Point, North Carolina, and at Green Front Furniture in Farmville, Virginia, I saw how massive furniture stores put a special focus on mattresses with stand-out bedding departments. At Fred’s Beds on the coast, I saw how a husband-and-wife team work together to meet their customers’ needs. At Sweet Dreams Mattress & Furniture near Charlotte, North Carolina, I saw another impressive husband-and-wife team in action, building their Dream Team of dedicated employees. Also in Charlotte, I saw how two energetic home furnishings executives are winning with the dynamic leadership they bring to Broad River Retail.

All of those retailers share some common traits, notably the successful cultures they have instilled in their businesses. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” as the saying goes, and I’ve seen that axiom play out at retailers around the country.

Another shared characteristic of great mattress retailers is their commitment to selling better sleep. Here’s how Mattress Mack puts it: “The most important material possession you own is a great mattress, because that’s how you recharge your battery every night.”

That’s what separates mattress retailers from other home furnishings retailers, and that’s why our industry plays a unique role in improving lives. A good mattress is at the core of a healthy life. Better sleep means better lives for our customers. The people in mattress retailing are engaged in a noble profession. I’m proud that I’ve been able to shine a spotlight on their vital work.

Thanks for supporting me over these many years as I’ve shared their stories with you. Now it’s on to the great adventure of retirement.