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David Perry

Industry reacts to Sherman's exit from Serta

HIGH POINT - The mattress industry has lost an iconic leader with Bob Sherman's departure from Serta, bedding executives said.
     The leaders described Sherman as a unique individual whose contributions will be difficult for any other industry figure to match.
     Among his accomplishments: Engineering a stunning growth surge at Serta that unseated Sealy as the industry's domestic sales leader. A key driver of that growth has been the iComfort line of gel memory foam beds, a game-changing, innovative line that quickly became one of the most successful launches in bedding history.
     Gary Fazio, who has known Sherman for 32 years, summed up Sherman's industry contributions in this way: "His influence on Serta and on the industry is something we will remember for a long time."
     Fazio, CEO of Simmons, worked with Sherman in recent years when Serta and Simmons shared common ownership. Fazio was named CEO of Serta Simmons Holdings, the parent of those two top bedding brands, at the time of Sherman's departure.
     "I really think Bob was a great leader of that organization," said Don Wright, chairman of Wright Global Graphics. "He had a way of making everyone around him perform at a very high level. I always appreciated and respected his opinion on any subject. He was a mattress man, which is getting rare these days."
     "Bob has been a true leader in the industry for many years and his contributions have been both numerous and meaningful," said Rick Anderson, a senior executive with Tempur Sealy International, speaking on behalf of the company. "We wish him well in his future endeavors."
     Said Dave Roberts, president of King Koil: "Frank Sinatra sang a song that was earmarked for Bob, ‘My Way.' As a competitor I despised some of the tactics that were employed by Serta under Bob's leadership, but as an impartial observer admired his results. While one may argue with the style and approach he took, no one can argue the effectiveness."
     Added Kevin Toman, president of Englander: "Bob has led Serta to the No. 1 mattress company. That will be a hard act to follow. I believe the financial position of both Serta and Simmons is creating a series of major cutbacks in merchandising programs and the urgency for consolidation of costs to improve margin. My sense tells me, knowing the personalities involved, that one was more cooperative than the other on implementation of margin improvement."
     "No one can deny that Bob Sherman did an outstanding job in making Serta one of the most recognized brands in the sleep products industry, eclipsing Sealy as the number one brand in 2012," said Frank Hood, CEO of Kingsdown.
     Noting Fazio's role as CEO of Serta Simmons Holdings, Hood continued: "This move continues the consolidation for a company and an industry. For many retailers, consolidation represents a variety of problems and challenges. We believe that this move creates an opportunity for independent brands like Kingsdown to help these retailers differentiate their product mix."
     "I've always held Bob in high regard," said Rick Robinson, president of Spring Air. "In many ways he was more of a visionary than he was given credit for in our industry. Back in the early 1990s at Serta, I remember how he supported me in trying to persuade the company to sell what was then an extremely controversial distribution channel, Sam's Wholesale Club. He told me to find a way and not to give up. I did, and the rest is history."
     "Bob Sherman deserves a lot of credit for the creation of iComfort, which was the most successful product introduction ever for this industry," said Earl Kluft, CEO of E.S. Kluft & Co. "While Tempur- Pedic clearly gets credit for laying the groundwork by creating the memory foam category and establishing credible luxury price points, it was Bob who successfully brought the category to the mass market price points. Prior to iComfort there were a bunch of ‘wannabe' memory foam mattresses but only iComfort successfully came out with clever branding and marketing in conjunction with 50%- off the Tempur-Pedic prices. Without the branding and marketing this would have never happened. "With Bob's departure, what was once a three-horse race among the major manufacturers becomes just a two horse race as the very healthy competition between Serta and Simmons no longer exists. This opens the door even further for Aireloom as a credible alternative in the over $2,000 luxury bedding category."
     Sherman's abrupt departure was announced by Serta Simmons Holdings, which offered effusive praise for his achievements. It noted that Sherman's bedding career has spanned 45 years, "from delivering mattresses in his home state of Minnesota at the age of 16 to leading the top ranked U.S. mattress brand."
     The company gave no reason for the departures of Sherman, Serta's president, and his wife, Barbara Bradford, who was senior vice president of marketing and merchandising at Serta, and was "an icon in the industry herself," officials said.
     Sherman was not available for comment.

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