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…
After buying its own factory in 2018, the family-owned sleep chain based in Joplin, Missouri, focuses on opening new stores — and helping others
Photography by Drew Kimble with 12 Eighty-One Photography
The idea to open a chain of mattress stores came to Brian Croft at church.
It was 2009 and he and his wife, Della Croft, had been invited by an acquaintance to attend a New Year’s church service. Turns out the acquaintance was the pastor, who preached a sermon asking congregants to reflect on the past week: “If they were your last seven days on Earth, would you be proud? Would you have fulfilled your purpose?” If not, he asked, “What should you do differently?”
“I leaned over to Della and said, ‘I want to open a mattress store,’ ” Brian Croft recalls. If profitable, it would give him the chance to fulfill a longtime dream of funding charities in honor of his late brother.
And so they did.
Just over a year later, in March 2010, the couple opened the first Joplimo Mattress store in Joplin, Missouri. Since then, they’ve grown the business as Brian Croft envisioned while sitting in church that day. The small regional chain — with 10 stores in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and, soon, Oklahoma — manufactures its own mattresses using high-quality components and traditional techniques to provide its customers a good night’s sleep for years to come. And, yes, a portion of profits goes to local charities.
“Mattresses became the medium — the way for us to fulfill our purpose in life,” says Della Croft, who serves as vice president of marketing for Joplimo Mattress and its manufacturing arm, Croft Bedding Co. Brian Croft is president of both entities. “It’s amazing to me. Sometimes I think, ‘Mattresses?’ But this is where our talents lie and we are maximizing our talents in service to others.”
Mattress Sales Support a Deeper Mission
Joplimo Mattress’ dragonfly logo — and the retailer’s charitable mission — are tributes to Brian Croft’s brother, Jeffrey Croft, who struggled with bipolar disorder before dying by suicide as a teenager.
“My brother passed away because there was no bed available at any facility that could help him,” says Brian Croft, who founded and serves as president of the Joplimo Mattress retail chain and its manufacturing arm, Croft Bedding Co, both in Joplin, Missouri. “I thought that one day, if I were successful, I wanted to make an impact by helping organizations that help others. I carried that dream with me for a long time.”
The retailer now donates regularly to local organizations that specialize in mental health and well-being.
As Della Croft, vice president of marketing for Joplimo Mattress and Croft Bedding, recently wrote in the retailer’s blog: “Joplimo Mattress was built on the mission to impact others, to be agents of change for those facing overwhelming challenges in life. This is the story behind the dragonfly in our logo.”
Growing a chain
The idea to open a mattress retailing and manufacturing operation may have been inspired by a church sermon, but it did not come out of nowhere. The Crofts met in 2006 when he worked for Mattress Giant and she was with Leggett & Platt Inc. (When Brian Croft moved to Missouri so the couple could be together, he, too, went to work for L&P.)
Despite their experience in the industry, the process of getting their first store up and running wasn’t easy. “I found some real estate I liked, signed a lease and took out a small loan from my 401(k) — and realized very quickly what I was trying to do was nearly impossible,” Brian Croft recalls.
Still, the Crofts got the Joplin store up and running and, a little over a year later, were in the process of opening a second location in Springfield, Missouri, when an EF-5 tornado struck Joplin on May 22, 2011. The retailer’s manufacturing partner at the time worked with the Crofts, extending generous payment terms so they could get the Springfield store finished and operational while they rebuilt the Joplin store. Despite being the second business in the heavily damaged commercial area to reopen, the rebuilding process took Joplimo Mattress a full year.
After those challenging initial two years, Joplimo Mattress set a pace of launching, on average, one or two new stores each year, taking a short break in 2018 when, instead of new retail locations, the company invested in opening its own factory. (See story on page 12.) This year, the company has resumed its retail expansion with plans to open two to four new stores annually, some through acquisition, Brian Croft says. Metro areas, such as Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oklahoma, are particularly attractive to the retailer.
“We like spots with high foot traffic and great visibility in a primary retail corridor,” he says. Like many other mattress retailers, Joplimo Mattress stores benefit when located near home improvement centers, but Brian Croft says some less obvious businesses also have proved to be fortuitous neighbors.
“In Joplin, we’re next door to a Domino’s,” he says. “People will order a pizza and while they wait, they’ll stop in a browse. We get spontaneous purchases from people who haven’t done much research and weren’t necessarily even in the market for a mattress. In Springfield, we’re next to one of the busiest Dollar Trees. Husbands will be sitting in the car, waiting for their wives, come in and look around, and commit to a purchase. Foot traffic is so important.”
Joplimo Mattress stores are roughly 4,000 square feet, and the Crofts aim for a consistent showroom design from store to store. “If you work in one store and go visit another two hours away, you’ll see the same beds, in the same layout,” Brian Croft says. “I don’t want anyone to tell me another store has a competitive advantage.”
“It’s all about the mattresses”
The retailer favors a spare, neutral aesthetic, from its elegant website to its simply styled brick-and-mortar locations. Store walls are a pale, dove gray that complements charcoal-hued carpet tiles. Display shelving is made of suspended wire and clear acrylic to showcase sleep accessories, and in-store marketing materials are limited to branded bolsters and foot protectors. The décor minimizes distractions and keeps the focus on the bedding.
“There’s nothing ‘in your face’ or pushing sales,” Della Croft says. “It’s all about the mattresses.”
Joplimo Mattress carries four bedding collections in a good-better-better-best lineup, each delineated by color and aimed at a different type of consumer. Refresh mattresses, designated by blue point-of-purchase materials, are designed for shoppers looking for a good value and are retailed priced from $399 to $1,299 in queen size. The retailer offers two “better” collections. Restore (indicated by pale green POP) is geared toward a category of shoppers Della Croft calls “pain resolvers” — people with sleep apnea, back pain and other health issues who are seeking physical “renewal and restoration.” Live (with black POP) targets consumers ready to treat themselves and invest in a higher quality mattress. Joplimo Mattress’ top collection is Foreverbed. Designated by purple POP, the group is designed for consumers who place a premium on luxurious stress relief and relaxation, she says. Foreverbed prices range from $2,500 to $8,500 in queen size, and a split-king mattress with adjustable base can run $15,000.
Mattresses are displayed by collection. Color coding and aspirational messages help shoppers understand the differences between the four groups:
“Our purpose in opening our stores was to help others live life to the fullest,” Della Croft says. “Yes, it’s about sleep and the mattress, but it’s also about helping people wake up ready to enjoy life.”
Joplimo Mattress used to carry a promotional line (once sourced through other manufacturers and later produced at its own factory) but is phasing that out “to get back to a more simplified shopping experience,” Brian Croft says. The change will take the number of mattresses on the showroom floor from about 35 to about 28.
Since the beginning, the company’s best-selling mattresses have been from its Foreverbed collection. Brian Croft says his experience in the bedding industry taught him that mattress quilting layers are where most body impressions reside, so, using his degree in mechanical engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology, he designed a mattress line without them. “This wasn’t revolutionary. Vispring and Hastens have done this for quite a long time,” he says. “Our design does, however, stand alone among domestically made mattresses.”
“What sets Foreverbed apart from other nonquilted hand-tufted mattresses is the use of several layers of NanoCoils and graphite latex versus an abundance of layers that will compress over time,” Brian Croft adds. “We have found that most customers want genuine quality versus having to repeat the purchase every eight to 10 years.”
The retailer carries sleep accessories — adjustable bases, headboards, protectors, sheets and pillows — from Malouf, as well as bed frames from Knickerbocker. It has high attachment rates on most categories, including about 70% for pillows and protectors, and 50% for sheets. Accessories typically are sold as part of a package and the retailer gives its retail sales associates authority to bundle accessories in ways that will help close a sale. What’s important, Brian Croft says, is that customers leave the store with a sleep ensemble that works well for them. “You can’t offer customers proper alignment if you’re not selling pillows. If they put the wrong sheets on their new mattress, it can ruin the feel,” he says. “So, we encourage RSAs to sell accessories. They can do that by selling them on top of the mattress sale or they can throw them in as part of the mattress sale, as long as accessories are going out with mattress orders.”
Joplimo Mattress originally carried adjustable bases from L&P and is adding some L&P models again to its lineup. Stores carry a basic head-up model and then a good-better-best assortment, averaging a 35% attachment rate, with some locations reaching as high as 60%. Power bases are priced from $699 to $3,200, and all tags show mattresses priced with a flat base and also an adjustable base. Sixty-month financing through a national bank helps overcome shoppers’ price objections, Brian Croft says.
The retail chain doesn’t sell boxed mattresses but Brian Croft is considering purchasing a roll-packing machine for the Croft Bedding factory. Compact boxed beds would help the retail side of the operation by allowing it to shave square footage from storage areas and even downsize delivery trucks, he says.
But don’t expect Joplimo Mattress to promote boxed beds for click-and-collect or cash-and-carry sales, Della Croft says. “A boxed bed doesn’t fit with our goal of selling proper alignment,” she says. “We don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all mattress. That goes against how we sell. The one-size-fits-all concept is like filler food, a TV dinner that’s not nutritious. At Joplimo Mattress, we want to fuel your sleep and give you a mattress that will sustain you.”
The qualifying process and sales presentation complement the store’s aesthetic — they, too, are all about the mattresses. “We don’t do a lot of small talk about the weather,” Brian Croft says. “We introduce ourselves, ask if they’ve been in the store before and then ask a few basic qualifying questions. The first one is usually, ‘How did you sleep last night?’ ”
After a brief explanation of the Joplimo Mattress business model and overview of the four mattress lines, RSAs help shoppers choose a pillow and then rest-test on Foreverbed models.
“While they’re lying down, the customer will focus on comfort and we’ll focus on making sure their body alignment looks great,” Della Croft says. After shoppers have chosen a mattress, RSAs will offer a couple of other pillow options to tweak their on-bed alignment until it’s just right.
“I’m a firm believer that 75% of the time they are in the store, customers should be lying on beds,” Brian Croft says. “If they aren’t, they usually don’t buy.”
An ongoing promotion that offers a free kid’s bed or guest room bed with the purchase of a premium mattress helps move consumers into better mattresses and bigger sizes. “More often than not, if they come in for a kid’s bed and we can get them fitted with a pillow and trying mattresses, they’ll buy a premium bed for themselves and we’ll throw in the kid’s bed,” Brian Croft says.
The retailer doesn’t wait to hear if customers are happy with their purchase. RSAs call the day after delivery to see how customers slept on their new mattress — and repeat the check-in two weeks and two months later. “We want to make sure the mattress has the right fit and feel, and not be surprised by an unhappy customer,” he says.
Setting and achieving goals
The company employs 25 people on the retail side of the business, including area managers, store managers and RSAs, and 14 people in the Croft Bedding factory. RSAs earn a base salary and commission, plus bonuses based on their store’s profits.
The company has extended its two-week training program to two months, pairing new hires with a store manager for orientation and education, and then having them shadow a top RSA to hone their selling skills. Training continues as part of daily conference calls, weekly store visits and quarterly company meetings — all led by Brian Croft, though he does plan to start bringing in people with expertise in other fields to offer new perspectives, too.
Once up to speed, RSAs are expected to set — and meet — regular goals. Brian Croft picks an area for improvement, that everyone will focus on for a few weeks, with each person setting an individual goal. It is then his mission to help team members meet their goals. To illustrate, he offers the example of an RSA who was struggling to sell adjustables. Something about the category intimidated the RSA, so he set a manageable personal goal: selling one power base that week. Brian Croft prefers each store to display adjustable bases in the flat position until a shopper is ready to try one, but to help this RSA, he suggested articulating a base as a reminder. “And then we put a giant ‘A’ in duct tape on the floor and told him, when you get to the ‘A’ show the base,” he says. The RSA didn’t meet his goal the first week, but did gain confidence, first selling bigger, more expensive mattresses than he typically did. “And eventually he sold an adjustable base,” Brian Croft says. “He needed to overcome his fear.”
“One of the things I admire about Brian is that he’s skilled at balancing shifts and making minor adjustments,” Della Croft says. “He keeps his focus first on people — our people and the customers. Second is his commitment to the product and how it performs, and third is a focus on our processes, making sure we have the right processes in place to make our people succeed and our products the best.”
Well-honed marketing messages
With its stores in many of the same commercial areas, Mattress Firm is a key competitor for Joplimo Mattress. “I think it is everyone’s No. 1 competitor,” Brian Croft says. Other competitors include Ashley HomeStore and Sleep Number. The retailer lets those other mattress sellers spend their ad dollars trying to get consumers into the market to buy a mattress and targets its own advertising — primarily digital marketing and social media outreach — to people already looking for a new bed set. “We don’t spend any money on customers who haven’t thought about a mattress before. Someone else can do that,” Della Croft says with a laugh.
The retailer also relies on public relations or “earned media,” promoting Joplimo Mattress’ charitable efforts and community involvement. For the opening of each new store, the retailer partners with the local chamber of commerce, drawing media attention with a ribbon cutting and grand opening.
Digital marketing and social media messages are tied to the retailer’s mission and the factors that differentiate it from its competitors. “We talk about how our customers are getting a fresh bed that’s made to order in our factory. We talk about how by shopping with us, they are partnering with a sleep specialist who can help them find the right bed for their needs and that will fit their spinal alignment,” Della Croft says. “We know it’s difficult to choose a mattress and we’re skilled in helping customers do so.”
Joplimo Mattress also promotes the fact that because the retailer makes its own beds, it can adjust the comfort of a mattress. In reality, only a tiny percentage of customers ever request modifications, but it is a strong selling point that gives shoppers confidence in their purchase, Della Croft says.
“Our goal is for the customer to never have to exercise that option. We want them to be happy from the start. Frequent mattress replacement helps the industry but not the customer,” she says. “It goes back to why Brian started the company. We believe mattresses should last a long time. They aren’t a throwaway item, so we build beds for life.”
Crofts Take Full Control of Manufacturing
During his time in both the retail and supplier sides of the mattress industry, Brian Croft says he saw some mattress manufacturers skimping on components and taking manufacturing shortcuts. It made him determined to control the quality of the beds sold in his Joplimo Mattress stores.
Initially, friends in the industry cautioned against opening a retail chain that didn’t carry at least one well-known mattress brand. “But making our own bedding allowed us to tell a story and compete on something other than price,” he says.
For nearly a decade, Joplimo Mattress, which is based in Joplin, Missouri, contracted with a manufacturer to produce mattresses to the retailer’s specifications, a relationship that worked well until the manufacturer made some operational changes. In July 2018, Brian Croft; his wife, Della Croft; and their business partner Josh Wilson opened a new factory under the banner of Croft Bedding Co.
The factory, also in Joplin, makes mattresses for the Joplimo Mattress chain and also wholesales to other retailers seeking the type of quality bedding Brian Croft favors.
“When we started, I said I wanted to build beds with integrity, with high-quality components,” he says. “I wanted to build beds the right way, the way manufacturers used to.”
Julie A. Palm is chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has 25 years of experience as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines and as a publications director. She is a past editor in chief of both Sleep Savvy and BedTimes magazines. She can be reached at [email protected]