As Bedrooms & More enters its 50th year in business, I had a chance to discuss its history and the secrets to its longevity in the Seattle area with Treasurer and COO Blake Garfield.
In their humble beginnings, Blake’s father, Jeff, sold waterbeds. “The cost to get into the waterbed business was so low back then. The expense of the bladder, all the vinyl for the liners and heaters, wasn’t very much,” Blake said. “My dad and some buddies bought them on a credit card, and they initially sold them out of a van!”
Blake described how the competition started selling increasingly inferior products in a race to the bottom in quality. “Waterbeds started getting a bad reputation, but rather than carry cheaper versions of waterbeds, he decided to diversify and began adding the big mattress brands to his showroom. He hoped his customers would compare them side-by-side and end up purchasing a waterbed.
“To characterize how committed my parents were to waterbeds… they had a waterbed crib for all three of their kids and a heated waterbed for our dog in the doghouse, like an outdoor heated waterbed. They were pretty ridiculous about it,” Blake chuckled.
By the mid-’80s, waterbeds were eventually phased out of the showroom as demand for latex beds began to rise. The business morphed into a manufacturer of premium latex beds and a direct-to-consumer business model. Blake walked me through the mattress creation steps. “The components, like the fabrics, are coming from North Carolina, the wool is coming from Minnesota, and the best quality latex in the world comes from Vietnam. The mattresses themselves we’re making here in Seattle.”
I asked Blake how the business navigated in-person product sales through the pandemic. Smiling, he said, “Uh. Carefully?” He explained, “As a company, we’ve navigated a lot of highs and lows, and my parents had to navigate a lot of recessions to get us to where we are. I think part of being a small business requires that you be responsive and adaptive. My dad set that tone.” Blake went on to describe how they made changes as necessary for “by appointment” showroom visits, contactless product pickup, and delivery, and socially distanced setup in their customer’s homes.
While many businesses are dealing with accelerated workforce attrition, Blake acknowledged, “We have a pretty good track record with employee retention. We want to create opportunities for advancement within the company where people can make what they dream of making. Sometimes you are a steppingstone, and you want to give them all the opportunity to build the skills and then go on to that next job.”
Many of Blake’s employees started working in the warehouse and moved into sales after graduating from college. Some asked to switch job positions or even create their own. “An employee might say, ‘Hey, I want to be the one who handles all of our ordering,’ and we say, ‘Great! You’re going to be the one who works with us on sourcing, and then we’ll transition this over to you.’ When somebody has an interest, we are willing to adapt and grow with them—it’s also helped us grow as a business,” Blake added.
As we concluded our discussion, I asked Blake if there was any one thing he wanted people to know about his family’s business. Without pause, he said, “I think it’s important that people recognize what great people my parents are. They are genuinely great human beings. The reason they are successful is they are smart, and they always do the right thing. I’m really proud to have them as parents and have that example set for me so I can try and emulate that and make that who I am too. It made them great employers.”
And it all started by selling waterbeds out of the back of a van.
Check out Bedrooms & More online at: www.bedroomsandmore.com