Mattress maker won’t take bed business lying down
Mel Jones has literally built his business from the ground up.
The Ohio native moved to Florida in 1984 and purchased Clearwater Mattress, a custom-made mattress manufacturing company, and spent more than a year bringing it up to his standards.
In 1986 the entire business burned to the ground.
But while his business crumbled, his aspirations to succeed did not, and Jones used money from selling his house, loans and the insurance on the business to start over again. Jones says the insurance only covered one-third of the loss, which he estimates to have been in excess of $500,000.
By finding the money needed to rebuild and being able to purchase used equipment, the company made its first mattress and queen size futon mattress again within 90 days, Jones says. Other mattress manufacturers apply the strategy of lowering the cost by cutting the time of warranties.
Since that time, Jones' business has grown considerably.
Originally housed in a 7,000-square-foot building on Hercules Avenue in Clearwater, his main showroom and the manufacturing operation are now located on 25,000 square feet in Largo off Ulmerton Road. He also has six other showroom locations, with another opening in Clearwater this month. In addition, the company has gone from three to 40 employees and sales of less than $100,000 in 1984 to more than $3.5 million this year.
In contrast, when Jones bought the business for $26,000 from its previous owner, Joe Alfonso, it was making $8,000 in sales per month. The business was started by Mr. and Mrs. John W. Hinds in 1931 in Clearwater and was sold in the 1960s to Alfonso when John Hinds died.
What accounted for the turnaround?
If you ask Jones, he will tell you it was just a matter of employing basic business principles such as the ones he used to successfully run a battery distributorship in Ohio for eight years before moving here.
Jones says he believes in hands-on management and having good, hardworking people who take pride in their work as employees. In fact, a sign in Jones' factory reads: "If you're not proud of it, don't ship it."
In addition, Jones says he believes in advertising and promotion and reinvesting the business' profit back into the business instead of taking a high salary.
"I put it (profit) back into the business in updated equipment, trucks, people and advertising," he says. Jones also keeps inventory tight by making sure materials in the factory are turned over in one week.
Finally, giving customers a quality product and being service-oriented helps immeasurably, he contends.
"We get a lot of referral business," Jones says and estimates referrals count for 30% of his business. Every customer is sent a personal letter from Jones along with a survey card in order to rate the product and the service received.
Jones' bedding and futon mattress products are handcrafted and made to order, and his sales people at the showrooms are trained to fit the bed to the customer. A customer's order goes from the showroom to the factory. The bed is made and delivered one to three days from the day the order is placed. The company is currently making about 75 to 100 sets of queen size futon mattresses and bedding products a day, Jones says.
Jones says his company's niche in the marketplace is that there is no middleman involved and everything is factory direct to the customer.
"You are not paying for a major brand name and advertising," Jones says and adds that while not offering a brand name can hurt, once people see the difference in quality between his bedding and queen futon mattress products and those of the name brands, it is an easy sell.
One of Jones' competitors, though, says Jones does not offer the variety he does.
Joe Wessling, controller for World Wide Bedding Inc. in Largo, says he could not comment on his competitor, but adds that in addition to making their own bedding, his stores sell the brand names Sealy and Simmons.
"We give customers a greater selection," Wessling says.
However, Jones says his beds cost 30% to 40% less than major brands. His prices range from $78 for a basic twin set to $799 for a top-of-the-line queen size futon mattress set.
As for the future, Jones says when he is satisfied with operations in Pinellas County, he will venture forth into Hillsborough County, but he does not see that happening this year or next.
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