Business Spotlight: Firm Foundation
Former Leggett & Platt sales manager designs mattresses for his own bedding enterprise
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 9:56 AM
Joplimo Mattress LLC owner Brian Croft balances bedding design and sales.
Joplimo Mattress owner Brian Croft is leaning on his experience working for Leggett & Platt Inc. in Carthage, and 80 percent of his company's mattress components are made by his former employer.
His passion for drafting is in use every day, as his company designs, produces and sells 35 to 40 mattress products annually, all built in northwest Springfield at 85-year-old manufacturer McKinney Bedding Co. At the same time, he is using lessons from years in sales to build a four-store mattress retailer with an eye on expansion.
As a mechanical engineering student at the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology, Croft fell into a part-time sales job while shopping for a mattress. At the same time, his diverse engineering internships were revealing the lonely realities of his chosen profession.
“With design jobs, you mostly sit in a cubicle all day long, and don’t have a lot of interaction” he says. “If you were an extrovert, and you were into design, there really weren’t many jobs out there, at least not that I could find.”
The outgoing side of Croft’s personality prevailed, and engineering took a temporary backseat. Following several years working at regional mattress chains in the Northeast, he took a position with Carthage-based Leggett & Platt Inc. (NYSE: LEG), a 130-year-old bedding components manufacturer recognized in the Standard & Poor’s index. Six years of sales management in the company’s adjustable bed division gave him insight to the $3.5 billion annual consumer bedding industry.
In 2009, with $5,000 pulled from his 401(k), Croft left the corporate world to form Joplimo Mattress LLC. The 20-employee company’s name draws on the heritage of the southwestern-most corner of Missouri, where old-timers with a typical Ozarks drawl melded the location into one word – Joplimo.
The business chugged along, until May 22, 2011, when the tornado that ravaged much of Joplin also leveled the company’s store at 1720 Range Line Road.
The next year was spent rebuilding and expanding. The company entered the Springfield market with a retail shop at 1922 E. Independence Road, and reopened its Joplin doors on the same site in April 2012. Last year’s sales exceeded company projections, Croft says, noting the Independence store posted 50 percent sales gains, and with the Joplin store coming back online, revenues increased by more than 200 percent in 2012. He declined to disclose revenues.
Croft says an expected bump in volumes at the Joplin store has been slow to materialize, as the rebuilding and refurnishing of hundreds of tornado-effected homes has lagged. But he also notes the sales patterns indicate an expansion of territory to previously untapped areas.
“We have new ZIP codes shopping in the area that never shopped here before, at least with us,” he says. “Our old supporting customer base is gone, essentially wiped out, but we’re finding that a new, different group is stepping up to backfill the gaps.”
Joplimo Mattress has started 2013 by opening two stores in February – in Springfield, 301 E. Battlefield Road, and Springdale, Ark. Croft projects same-store sales increases of 12 percent and revenues to double this year.
“The majority of our customers – 65 to 70 percent – are dealing with pain,” he says. “Typically, it’s back pain, sometimes it’s just aging, but it could be anything. For those people, mattresses are not a luxury item. It’s definitely a need, not a want. Nobody wants to be buying a mattress because they can’t sleep.”
Many of Joplimo’s customers are part of the estimated 47 million sleep-deprived Americans, whose poor sleep quality puts them at risk for memory problems, weight issues and cardiovascular conditions, according to the International Sleep Products Association.
Springfield resident Janice Meeks had endured the painful effects of fibromyalgia for 15 years, trying numerous other mattresses before purchasing a $2,200 Joplimo bed set. Since that time, the 59-year-old homemaker’s quantity and quality of sleep is noticeably improved.
“The staff at their stores is really what makes the difference,” Meeks says. “Instead of just saying ‘this mattress is on sale’, or ‘this is a firm mattress, and over here is a soft one’ – which are things that I can find out by myself – they are extremely well-educated and take the time to educate you on the what and why of your options.”
‘The Swearingen bed’
Croft’s current schedule is an estimated 60-40 split between product design and business oversight of the four Joplimo Mattress retail locations. While he personally designs every mattress sold, he also employs an “all-in” product development model that ensures everyone – from sales to management to factory line staff – is involved and engaged in the company’s products.
Jared Swearingen, store manager for Joplimo’s Battlefield Road store, attests to the power of both product and process. Following a weightlifting accident in 2002, he battled back from a year of neck-down paralysis to make a full recovery but still carried lingering physical effects. When Swearingen came to work at Joplimo Mattress, Croft tapped him to help develop a custom mattress to alleviate his sleep difficulties. The resulting mattress was so effective for Swearingen that it was put into production, and sales have taken off.
“We put it on the floor with the idea that it could really help a lot of people with physical discomfort,” he says, “not that it would necessarily be a ‘go-to’ bed in our sales line. But we found that the adaptability that we built into it for me was also a fit for nearly everyone who tried it.”
Dubbed by Croft as “the Swearingen bed,” it is now a top seller, with more than 200 units sold. The company sells 40 mattress models across its four lines – Refresh, Restore, Live and Foreverbed – ranging from $139 for a basic twin mattress to $5,000 for a king set.
Next on the drawing board is expansion into Columbia and Tulsa, Okla., Croft says. “Our goal at Joplimo Mattress is to become a regional leader,” he says.