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Mattress Mattress: setting themselves apart

Western Canada’s largest independent mattress chain is looking to expand after experiencing a pandemic boom, by infusing lessons learned during the tragedy with its disciplined approach to both operating the business and interacting with the customer.

September 1, 2022  |  By Katherine Kocur

By Michael J. Knell
© Windsor Bay Communications Inc. Republished here with permission.

Since it now appears the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, Mattress Mattress is looking to grow, melding the lessons learned during the recent tragedy with the disciplined approach the regional mattress and bedding specialist has employed to drive its success since its founding back in 1994.

The family-owned and operated retailer recently opened its 17th store in Red Deer – its second on the city where it got its start and a replacement for the unit it closed back in 2015. Eric Buchfink, Mattress Mattress (MM) founder, majority shareholder and chief executive, told Home Goods Online the company plans to open its 18th store in early 2023 in the Calgary neighborhood called Buffalo Run – right next to Costco.

In chatting with Buchfink, it becomes obvious almost immediately here is a man who thinks about his business and whose surrounded himself with a more than capable senior management team which includes his sister, Lori Fecho, her son Matt (who, by the way, was HGO’s first National Retail Salesperson of the Year in 2017) and his son, Eric. Lori – who originally drafted the retailer’s well-known Beducation program – is MM’s vice president of human resources and Eric’s right hand. Matt is vice president of sales and marketing while Eric is vice president of operations and the company’s import division.

In a wide-ranging exchange with the writer, Buchfink detailed what sets Mattress Mattress apart from its competitors – it’s a combination of how they operate the business, how they manage relationships with their employees and how they interact with the customer. Everything they do is designed to improve efficiencies and, ultimately, make money.

Indeed, MM has documented almost aspect of its business, covering topics such as wide ranging as Appearance is Everything; 21 Ways to Sleep Better; How to Buy Radio and TV; Sales Rep Visits (governing visits from each vendor’s sales representatives) to Buying Criteria and Corporate Expectations.

Operating the business

Several things stand out about how Mattress Mattress operates. The first is its database, which was originally created by Eric’s brother Richard back in 1998 – before computers became common tools used by furniture and mattress retailers.

“It was then completely rewritten in 2005 and has been continuously updated by the software writer ever since,” Eric Buchfink said, adding the writer – who he describes as a “true software genius” and a minor shareholder – holds an important position where he is responsible for maintaining the database used by Alberta Health Services.

“Our database is totally tailored to our business,” he says, noting it creates “tons of reports, has a built-in re-order system and tracks inventory sales.”

“I’m also the guy that brought floor sample discounts to the mattress industry,” Buchfink claims. “No one ever asked before. Most recently, we’ve been able to take the normal 20% twice a year to 40% to 50% off all floor samples once a year from Canadian suppliers. We find that by using our disposable protectors on our mattresses, they stay fresh and clean for a year – and at 50% off, they clear quickly. And suppliers will often give us a new floor sample at another 50% off anytime the need to be refreshed sooner.”

While Mattress Mattress is loyal to its suppliers, they also demand a lot from them in addition to discounts on floor samples.

The retailer is a shareholder in Mega Group, the co-operatively owned buying and marketing group based in Saskatoon. “Although that gives us rebates and co-op funds that we’d be hard pressed to get on own, we’ve also been able to carve out some additional perks on our own,” he says, “such as contributions to our annual Christmas Party and golf tournament as well as additional co-op advertising funds and contributions to our website – and more.”

Eric Buchfink has strong opinions about vendor sales representatives.

“I take exception to reps that never visit, and when they do they do nothing more than socialize,” he says. “They’re paid to look after us, and we make our reps work for us.”

Every one of MM store managers is required to complete a report when a sales rep visits the store. The report is based on a checklist covering everything the rep is required to review during his visit. It runs from checking the condition of the floor samples, the state of point-of-purchase material, a review of outstanding customer service/warranty claims, back orders and sales/product knowledge training.

“A report card is then shared with their supplier if reps are failing,” Buchfink said, recalling. “A good friend of mine complained our reports got him fired. As I told him, ‘You got yourself fired. You were never seen in some of our stores more than three times a year. And when you did visit you never looked after customer issues, POP material, spec sheet updates, and more. You were more interested in talking about the hockey game the night before, having a coffee and leaving. We have a report we need you to adhere to – and you didn’t’.”

MM expects a vendor’s sale rep to visit each store ten times each year – which allows for bad weather in the winter and summer vacations, Buchfink noted.

The retailer also strongly believes in measuring performance – both its own and that of its competitors. Therefore, every MM location is visited by a mystery shopper every year – more frequently if needed. It is both a measure of the individual team member and the store itself.

“We’ve been shopping our people for years – at least once a year and more often for those who are underperforming – and it’s always unannounced, which forces our people to constantly be at their very best,” Buchfink says.

The biggest impact the pandemic had on how Mattress Mattress operates is the retailer’s adoption of Zoom – the U.S. based video conferencing service. It has proved a major cost saver and efficiency enhancer for the 17-unit chain.

“We used to hold an annual manager’s meeting,” Buchfink says. “We would bring everyone into Airdrie (where their head office is located) for a day. It cost most of them two days with flights or driving. We now hold a quarterly Zoom meeting. Instead of a full drawn-out day we can cover things in three or four hours – and our cost goes from thousands to a few hundred dollars for time spent, no airfares, no hotel rooms, no expensive dinners and our managers are happier as they don’t lose time away from their stores and families.”

Zoom also changed how MM’s head office works. The senior management team meets via the service every Monday morning for two hours at most, working off an agenda drafted the prior week. “We’re all much happier now. We’re also better informed, the issues are dealt with,” he notes.

COVID-19 also force the company to take a long, hard look at their team’s work-life balance. In the post-pandemic retail environment, MM has a smaller team, generally working fewer hours without losing sales and damaging profitability.

“Outside of two very high-profile locations where we have five associates working, all our other locations now close weekdays at 7pm,” Buchfink says. “It gives our people more time with their families. The average work week is 34 hours and we found we can run our stores with three or four better associates instead of four or five with the odd weak associate that we kept because we needed coverage. It’s a win for our people and our sales and almost a return to the 70’s when we only opened one night a week and were closed on Sundays.”

Interacting with the customer

As with almost every other aspect of their business, Mattress Mattress has documented the customer relationship from beginning to end.

The start is best represented by an MM document called Appearance is Everything. It covers everything from the appearance of the store – including the parking lot, sidewalks, windows, showroom floor, washroom and sales counter.

It also covers how team members are expected to dress for work. While it doesn’t demand a return to the 1970s and 1980s – when stiff collars and ties were required for men and dresses with hems to the knees for women – MM’s standard stresses clean and pressed with an emphasis on the team member presenting him or herself to the customer as a professional.

Buchfink and his team have also developed what they call the Vow to Wow Sales Manual, which governs how team members interact with the customer. A big part of their approach isn’t to sell a mattress, but rather to provide the customer with the information she needs to make a good decision. For example, each customer is given something called 21 Ways to Sleep Better – providing tips and advice on how to ready the bedroom for sleep and suggestions on what to do, and not do, before going to bed.

This is all part of the company’s Beducation program, which ends with Mattress Mattress’ own internal ‘no turn down’ financing.

“I’m also a big believer in giving customers that leave without buying something to take away,” Eric Buchfink, says citing Sears Roebuck as his inspiration. “In 1925 they produced their first catalogue and every customer that entered as Sears store back then left with one. Our current four-page handout costs less than seven cents and is given to every customer that leaves, along with a business card and price guarantee card.

“We give out about 25,000 a year,” he continues, adding, “New ones when we start to run out are always updated. The new one for 2023 will include a few pages that talk about adjustable beds. I’m guessing the cost will go to about 10 cents each.”

What’s more, every customer who buys gets a thank you e-mail, with three attachments – including 21 Ways to Sleep Better, mattress warranty information and an in-store experience survey. “If the customer completes the survey, the associate gets a $10 Tim Hortons card,” Buchfink says. “We generally get 50-plus of the survey back each month.”

MM also measures performance by asking customers to provide feedback. “We measure advertising by way of a counter survey with all customers that buy,” he explains. “Our associates can’t complete an invoice without getting the customer to tell us what most influenced their coming in to buy. Our database scores the results and we get a report titled WBYI (What Brought You In) Results.”

A recent WBYI report revealed a third of Mattress Mattress customers were repeat ones while 22% stopped in after driving by the store and another 22% found the retailer on the Internet.

Looking to the future

Next on Buchfink’s agenda for Mattress Mattress’s growth is a new store in Calgary, number 18, which is expected to open in early 2023 right next to the Costco Canada warehouse store in that city’s Buffalo Run neighbourhood.

He is also very excited about the retailer’s business moving forward. “The future looks bright,” he exclaims, adding, “Our management team is more than capable of growing the company.

“We just came off our two 2 biggest years ever,” he continues. “COVID-19 drove in business and Mattress Mattress’s increases beat all the industry numbers being published, and profits literally exploded.”

Currently, MM is concentrated in Alberta where homes and accommodations are affordable. “That greatly increases disposable income. The same holds true in Saskatchewan, where homes have dropped in value since 2017,” Buchfink points out, noting while he predicted the collapse of oil prices back in 2014, he now predicts it never going down like that again.

“With the move to electric cars and other types of fuel options such as hydrogen, I believe the oil producing countries need to capture high prices and profits, and to put these to work by investing in businesses that are going to replace some of the need for fossil fuels.”

He’s also of the view with everyone having been cooped up for two past years because of lockdowns, brick-and-mortar stores are going to have some solid years ahead.

“Just look at Leon’s recent numbers,” he says. “Despite an uptick in sales in the first quarter of 2022, they reported as major drop in e-commerce sales. Most of us love to socialize and brick-and-mortar experiences lend themselves to that – you can’t really do that online.”

Buchfink also believes the current upswing in inflation isn’t going to hurt us in the long term. “Government needs it to increase their tax base to pay for some of their COVID spending. Inflation also drives up wages, which increases disposable income,” he says. “As well, our industry never really faced supply issues like most others. All in all, I feel good about our industry.”

To that end, he’s looking not only grow his network of corporate stores, he wants to expand his licensee network and is looking for independent retailers to join the Mattress Mattress banner throughout Alberta and British Columbia as well as Ontario and Quebec.

Michael J. Knell is the publisher and editor of Home Goods Online and all three of its platforms. This story first appeared in the Summer 2022 edition of the HGO Merchandiser.  All Mega Group members are entitled to receive HGO This Week newsletter. Click here to subscribe.