BY DOROTHY WHITCOMB
Remember Rumplestiltskin, the fairy-tale character who spun gold out of straw? When it comes to creating something valuable from seemingly nothing and making it look like magic, he and Michael Fux have a great deal in common. (Though BedTimes acknowledges the similarities end there: For one thing, Fux is a far more charitable guy than the imp from the children’s story.)
A rough start
|Location||West Long Branch, N.J.|
|Title||Chairman and chief executive officer|
|Family||Fux has five grown children and 12 grandchildren.|
Fux and his family immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1958. He was 15 years old and the family was poor.
“My parents, my brother and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in a seven-story walkup in Newark, N.J., Fux says. “We had Salvation Army furniture. I had one pair of shoes.”
Determined to help change his circumstances, within a year, Fux launched his first business, parlaying an obsession with cars and a knack for scrounging around into a tire and battery store.
“I found a two-car garage for rent and got tire breakers for free from a company that had gone to automatic ones,î Fux says. He offered to take used tires and batteries off the hands of bigger outfits. He recharged batteries or scrapped them for lead; tires were recapped or sold as used.”
“I learned how to do these things by talking to people and asking questions,” he says. It’s an approach that has served him well throughout his career.”
It would be decades before he would find his way into the bedding industry, but by the time Fux was 20, he had bought and sold several small ventures.
To learn more about business, he took a job selling automotive supplies at Sears, ultimately becoming a manager. He then honed his management skills at a series of other department stores, including Bamberger’s and Sanger-Harris. By the time he was 30, Fux was a vice president at the Hecht Co. in Washington, D.C., and looking for another challenge.
“I’d see all these vendors with their fancy cars and wonder what I was doing wrong,” Fux says. “I was restless and wanted to try something new, so I became a manufacturer’s rep.”
First big success–and defeat
Every twist and turn in Fux’s early career brought him into contact with new industries and spawned fresh ideas. A stint as a sales manager for a Japanese wholesale linen company introduced him to the textile industry and he made the most of it.
“I decided that I wanted to go into business for myself and came up with the idea for the ësnuggle bag,” Fux says.
Fux bought fabric closeouts, developed a marketing program and started a trend of zippered blankets that envelope the entire body.
“It really took off,” he says. “We had $72 million in sales by the end of the first year. It lasted for three years and then went down the tubes and into bankruptcy.”
It was Fux’s first real business failure and he learned an important lesson from it. Giving up was not an option: You have to move on.
“You can get anywhere you want if you’re focused,” he says. “You can get banged up, hit on the head, face defeats, but if you’re focused you can get there.”
The bankruptcy drove Fux back into retail. While working as a carpet buyer at the Broadway Department Store in Los Angeles, he created the industry’s first deferred billing plan.
“Everyone thought I was crazy, but I convinced suppliers and my manager to offer six months deferred billing on carpeting. I paid the interest,” he says. “There was a huge response to the first ad. We had lines around the block.”
His next move should surprise no one. Taking what he had learned as a buyer, Fux founded MFA Marketing and began importing rugs and other products himself.
“I started importing colorized dhurries, shower curtains and placemats from India. I placed a huge order on 10-day terms, giving them half,” he says. “I made half a million dollars profit on that first order, which went right back into the business. It was a great business and I made a killing.”
In 1985, just as Fux was once again enjoying prosperity, his sister-in-law called with a proposal. At the time, she worked for BioClinic, a producer of polyurethane foam egg crate mattresses for the hospital sector. Company executives wanted to enter the consumer market and were looking for someone to help them. Fux signed on for the job.
“At the end of the second year, we were in all of the major big box stores and had almost $80 million in business,” he says.
Fux rode that wave for 10 years.
“When the company was sold and the product cheapened, I decided I didn’t want to stay,” he says.
It was time for Fux to enter the bedding industry–and to once again begin the process of spinning gold out of straw. In 1996, using the knowledge he had gained at BioClinic, he founded Sleep Innovations and began producing visco-elastic foam toppers, mattresses and pillows.
Fux knew he could create a great product, but also knew that it had to stand out among a sea of choices.
“The product had to be good, but the packaging had to be great,” he says. Fux came up with innovative boxed packaging for pillows and toppers and, for mattresses, he created a brightly colored box on wheels with a handle for easy maneuvering. In 2005, Fux sold Sleep Innovations for a handsome profit.
“I started the business with $3,000 and we had close to $300 million in sales when we sold it,” he says. “Creating something from nothing like that was what really gave me great pleasure.”
Fux sat out his five-year noncompete agreement and then decided to re-enter the mattress industry. In 2011, he founded Comfort Revolution, which produces mattresses, toppers and pillows made of memory foam and the company’s own Hydraluxe gel technology. Comfort Revolution is located in West Long Branch, N.J., not all that far from Newark, where Fux got his start.
“Everyone advised me not to do it, but I didn’t see anything new out there,” he says. “Besides, I’m stubborn. I had my vision and I wanted to live it.”
Fux is banking on the fact that the formula that made Sleep Innovations successful–a great product and even greater packaging–will propel Comfort Revolution’s success, too. Brightly colored gel layers make the products a standout on shelves and Fux has created a mattress caddy that, he says, “can be wheeled home, wheeled into the bedroom and then reused at home for storage.” A similar caddy for toppers is in the works.
In 2012, Fux sold a minority interest in his business to Sealy and on April 1 will begin producing foam mattresses for the mattress major’s Posturepedic, Stearns & Foster and Bassett brands.
“This opens all sorts of doors for us and will allow us to go international,” he says. “The sky’s the limit as long as we keep making innovative products.”
International sales are one thing, but international production is another. Last fall, Comfort Revolution opened a 432,650-square-foot manufacturing and distribution facility in Belmont, Miss. The plant is expected to create 200 jobs over the next three years, a fact that pleases Fux.
“We’re producing very little in China now and hope to produce everything in the United States in the future,” he says.
Fux just smiles at people who ask him if he’ll ever slow down.
“I’m 69 going on 20,” he says. “When you love what you do, it’s all very easy.”
A true car guy
Michael Fux is a self-described “car freak.”
“Growing up, I bought clunkers because I couldn’t afford anything else. I promised myself that one day, when I could, I’d get them all.”
And he nearly has. Fux owns 129 vehicles, including 25 Ferraris, 12 Porches, 11 Aston Martins and six Rolls-Royces. His Ferrari FXX is one of only 30 in the world.
When not displayed at charity events–where they draw huge crowds–the cars are housed in a 30,000-square-foot garage at Horse Power Farm, Fux’s home in Milford, N.J. Eventually, the cars will be part of a museum with admission proceeds going to the Miami Children’s Hospital in Florida.
Fux has made philanthropy a key part of his life.
“I’ve never forgotten where I came from or how hard it was to get to where I am today,” he says. “I decided long ago that when I became wealthy, I would help others who weren’t as lucky.”
Much of Fux’s philanthropic attention is focused on children who are underprivileged and ill. For example, since 2004, the Michael Fux Foundation has brightened the lives of sick kids at the Miami Children’s Hospital by donating gifts at Christmas to as many as 400 families. Fux also has funded missions for Operation Smile, an organization that has provided more than 200,000 surgeries for children with cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities.
“It’s about more than giving money,” he says. “I want to be involved and see what’s happening firsthand. It can be heartbreaking, but it also brings tremendous joy.”
A man not content to stay in one arena when it comes to business, Fux also enjoys variety when it comes to his charitable giving. Other groups he supports include the Children’s Cancer Caring Center, Ronald McDonald House, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Florida law enforcement officers injured in the line of duty.