BY DOROTHY WHITCOMB
It may seem that Rick Robinson is a risk taker. After all, his current job is reigniting the Spring Air brand after the collapse of its corporate ownership structure and the closure of its corporate factories in late spring 2009.
But Robinson wouldn’t describe himself exactly that way.
“I believe in taking educated risks,” he says. “If you believe in what you’re doing, then it’s not really a risk.”
And Robinson believes in Spring Air.
“For 83 years, Spring Air was a local brand leader,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with Spring Air as a brand. It was just the wrong business model at the wrong time.”
Robinson knows of what he speaks
From 2005 through 2006, he was senior vice president of marketing for Consolidated Bedding, the Tampa, Fla.–based entity that eventually rolled up most of the Spring Air licensees to take control of the brand. Prior to that, he served for eight years as president of Nature’s Rest, which was later sold to Spring Air.
Robinson and Ed Bates share a vision for Spring Air’s future. Bates acquired three closed Spring Air factories and purchased Spring Air’s intellectual and personal property, inventory and global rights to the brand in order to relaunch the company.
“We want the company to be locally and consumer–focused,” Robinson says. “Spring Air is not going to be defined by spring units, but by what the consumer wants.”
Robinson, who began selling mattresses to work his way through college, has more than 25 years of industry experience to apply to realizing that vision. He moved to the manufacturing side of the business at 27 when the late Roy Unger, then president of Serta, created one of the industry’s first national sales trainer positions and hired Robinson to fill it. Within five years, Robinson had risen to vice president of national accounts.
His career advancement was not without costs, however. Robinson averaged 200 days annually on the road for more than a decade, a pace that ultimately caught up with his first marriage and with him.
“At 36, I was burned out and resigned from Serta,” he says. “I opened three mattress stores in Atlanta and then learned that I was never meant for retail.” After 18 months, he sold the stores and joined Restonic as vice president of sales and marketing.
Robinson spent three years there and then decided it was time to put his career second and his growing sons first. A move to Miami—“so I could be home for my kids,” he says—took him into consulting and gave him a more predictable lifestyle. It also positioned him for what would become one of the most rewarding parts of his career.
Robinson sees his time leading Nature’s Rest—a job that grew out of a joint venture between two companies he consulted for—as the most exciting for him professionally.
“I became enamored with alternative sleep products and loved growing that company,” he says. In 2000, Nature’s Rest became part of Spring Air and so did Rick Robinson. The relationship continued for another six years until the mergers that gave Consolidated Bedding control of the brand also resulted in Robinson losing his job.
It was the first time since he started working that he was out of a job and it felt terrible. But the feeling didn’t last long. Seven hours after leaving Spring Air, he says, he landed a consulting position with Australian bedding producer A.H. Beard and soon after, he became the company’s chief marketing officer.
It’s what happened next that really puts a smile on Robinson’s face.
“Three years from the day that I exited Spring Air, I came back as president,” he says. “It felt like fate.”
An ongoing struggle — Robinson describes himself as “extremely introverted.” “When I did sales training, I memorized names because it helped me get over my fear of standing in front of a group of people,” he says. “I’m good one on one and in small groups, but I feel lost in large groups of people.”
The value of a team — Robinson says he operates best in a team environment. “The quality and passion of the team I work with now is very satisfying, personally as well as professionally,” he says.
A fresh set of eyes — In 2006, Robinson worked in Australia as chief marketing officer for A.H. Beard. Living outside the United States gave him new perspective. “I wish Americans could see themselves through international eyes,” he says. “We really don’t understand other countries very well and we waste so much.”
Winning words — Do you think of Scrabble as a nice game to play occasionally with the kids? Not Robinson. He plays Scrabble in tournaments and is ranked as a world–class player.
Dreams deferred — “My life has been work, work, work. I would like to travel and actually see the places that I’ve only seen from hotels and airports. I’d also love to be able to play a musical instrument.”
Cherished possession — “I have a picture in my wallet of my kids when they were 4 and 6 years old,” he says. “I love looking at it and would probably go nuts if I lost it.”
|Bio in brief
|Spring Air International
|In 1977, Robinson earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast communication from Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio.
|Robinson and his wife, Catherine, have been married for seven years. He has two adult sons by an earlier marriage.