BedMart Mattress grows, prospers in Northwest
Retail Stars of Bedding
David Perry -- Furniture Today, May 13, 2013
WILSONVILLE, Ore. - Steven Stone opened his first sleep shop more than two decades ago and has grown the business one mattress at a time, he says. An independent spirit and a thoughtful approach to the mattress business are paying big dividends.
Today Stone's mattress empire is thriving. He operates 28 stores in Oregon and Washington under the BedMart Mattress Superstores and America's Mattress banners. And more growth is coming: Stone expects to open six to eight more stores in the next 12 months.
He was honored as a Retail Giant of Bedding last week at Furniture/Today's Bedding Conference in Chandler, Ariz.
It has been a triumphant but hard-fought return to retail for Stone, a home furnishings veteran who grew up in the furniture retail business, took over the family's furniture store at the tender age of 25, and then sold it a few years later.
But as Stone worked as a sales representative in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii, carrying Spring Air, Best Chair, Ashley and England Corsair in his bag, he got to see retail from a new perspective. He saw how great retailers found success in different settings. The lure of retail was strong.
Stone still recalls a long conversation he had with his wife in 1990, when he wanted to return to the retail arena. She was opposed but finally relented, writing a check for $10,000 that put Stone back into retail.
"Needless to say," Steven Stone says today, "when one has few dollars of capital, one needs to conserve as much as possible. I wanted a name for the business which described exactly what we did in as few letters as possible. Thus ‘BedMart' was launched."
He soon supersized his name, coming up with BedMart Mattress Superstores. He operated one store out of "the ugliest 7,000-square-foot building in Portland."
That original $10,000 investment, combined with years of sweat equity, launched the company on its road to success. "We have never added another nickel beyond the original $10,000," Stone said. Then he added: "That isn't to say we've never lost $10,000."
But the company has been on an upward path. In more than two decades the company has grown to more than 100 employees. Over the years, Stone has made some opportunistic acquisitions, tightened his belt when tough times hit, and played offense. A few years ago, with Serta's assistance, he opened nine America's Mattress stores as a second brand in his market.
These days Stone operates under the SleepSmartNW banner. That encompasses his BedMart Mattress Super st ores , the America's Mattress stores, and the company's distribution and warehousing operation, NW Home Delivery Services.
Stone likes to march to the beat of his own drummer.
"I simply don't appreciate factories that tell me how to pay my staff, how much to spend on advertising or what margins are correct," he said. "I don't tell them how to build mattresses and I think retailers need to focus on retail. My goal is to be the best retailer I can be, and I want to do business with companies that want to be the best manufacturers. There is no substitute for honesty and integrity and we are grateful for our long-term relationships."
He is free in his criticism of common industry practices: "My opinion is that we need to respect the technology and quality, which allows us to add value to the customer. Our industry is great at selling volume but generally lousy at selling value.
"Companies who build brands tend to succumb to the quarterly demands of Wall Street. They need more volume and then the death spiral begins to place a focus on price and not the value of technology and quality. As an industry, we simply are determined to repeat the mistakes of the past, as we still sell $399 beds. Heck, we did that in the 1970s. Where is the progress?"
Stone prides himself on taking a different approach, embracing new technologies, display concepts and creative advertising strategies. He notes that he was one of the first retailers in the Northwest to carry Tempur-Pedic.
Customers who visit his stores find polished showrooms that are designed to be warm and inviting. The company focuses on building value in its mattresses rather than concentrating on price.
"We focus on the customers' needs instead of our own needs," Stone said. "We are able to operate at higher average retail tickets with enhanced profitability."
Key mattress vendors include Serta, Tempur-Pedic, Corsicana, Five Star Mattress, Pure LatexBliss and NW Bedding Co.
Stone said he was early to the "non-spring revolution" and says specialty sleep beds probably account for 70% of his floors today.
"Our focus on items not common to other retailers allows us to differentiate our experience from many other competitors," he said. That's the beat of this different drummer.