BY GARY JAMES
Brothers build garage-based manufacturing startup into a multifaceted factory direct in the West, Custom Comfort Mattress
Mel Trudell’s passion for making quality mattresses started early in life.
In 1987, at age 24, he and his brother Marty, one year older, began making mattresses in their garage. Two years later, the brothers sublet a warehouse in Santa Ana, California, to keep up with growing demand. The brothers got the idea for their enterprise while working at a local mattress maker and distributor in Anaheim, California. As two of 10 children, the brothers started working together as teenagers, cutting trees and making bunk beds to help with their family’s finances. “Everyone in our family was expected to pitch in,” Mel Trudell says.
The bedding company the brothers worked for handled several major brands and made its own line. “One day, the owner announced that he was getting rid of all the cotton padding in his products and putting in egg-crate foam,” Trudell recalls. “He claimed that the change would improve his beds but, in fact, it was only making them cheaper. They were easier and faster to make but they wouldn’t sleep as well or last as long. That’s when we decided to go out on our own and make beds the right way.”
After studying the market, the Trudell brothers realized many manufacturers had stopped making beds the way they had in the past. “There was a reason our parents’ and grandparents’ beds would last so long,” he says. “They were made with quality materials by skilled craftsmen.”
With the encouragement from the late George Peck, a longtime industry insider who knew the brothers, the Trudells saved several thousand dollars and acquired a used sewing machine. The machine originally had been bought by an upholsterer that aspired to expand into mattress manufacturing.
“They weren’t able to make a go of it and all this machinery was sitting there gathering dust,” Trudell says. “We bought our first machine for pennies on the dollar, and as soon as we saved some money, we bought more. George knew where all the best old machines were from his years on the road working for various manufacturers.”
The first bed the Trudells made was for their aunt. It was a bright pink, ultra-soft mattress that featured the same puffy stretch fabric on the border as it did on the panels. “We only had enough money for one batch of fabric, so we used what we had,” Trudell says.
The brothers continued to make beds for friends and neighbors and, in 1992, incorporated their company as Custom Comfort Mattress, now based in Orange, California. “We built our business one bed at a time through word-of-mouth referrals and things just grew from there,” says Trudell, who serves as the company’s chief executive officer.
A tradition of craftsmanship
Today, Custom Comfort Mattress has a 40,000-square-foot production facility in Orange, nine factory-direct retail stores throughout the Los Angeles area and a growing network of independent stores in the West and Southwest that sell its mattresses. The company produces mattresses, box springs and foundations, and pillows for the company stores, as well as private-label mattresses for other retailers.
Known for its high-quality construction and personal service, Custom Comfort continues to make mattresses the old-fashioned way. All its beds are handcrafted using organic materials and natural fibers, such as cotton and wool. The company’s line includes a range of constructions and price points, from traditional innerspring models to premium Talalay latex designs.
“We build everything from start to finish, using techniques that date back decades,” Trudell says. “We also use U.S. materials wherever we can. Each of our beds is a piece of genuine American craftsmanship.”
Custom Comfort sources its cotton from California, springs from Missouri and Talalay latex from Connecticut. When possible, it buys mattress ticking and other fabrics from U.S. mills. Except for a few adjustable bed models from Bloomfield Hills, New Jersey-based Reverie, all the products sold in Custom Comfort stores are made at its own factory.
Premium mattresses feature comfort layers of cotton or latex rather than polyurethane, with interior tufting and other upscale touches. All but a few models are two sided.
“A two-sided bed will last longer. You want the padding on the top and the bottom, so the mattress can be flipped and rotated for more even wear and a longer life,” Trudell says.
At one point early on, the company outsourced its quilting to a local sewer, but couldn’t get the consistency it needed. “One week, a roll of quilted fabric would weigh 65 pounds and the next week that same roll might be only 40 pounds,” Trudell says. “After that experience, we decided it was best if we produced everything ourselves.”
Custom Comfort’s line starts at $500 for a queen-size Refresh innerspring set and—except for the Martyn Lawrence Bullard licensed line (see story to the left)—tops out around $8,000 for a Legacy set featuring zoned tufting, Joma wool and premium steel springs. Its average ticket is $4,000 to $4,500 retail.
“We offer about 30 different models. We focus on building a quality mattress at a good value. Our methods are very similar to those used 40 to 50 years ago,” says Jeremy Solis, director of operations and one of three company co-owners, along with Mel and another Trudell brother, Gary, corporate sales director. Co-founder Marty Trudell has retired.
Custom Comfort has 28 people working in its factory. The company moved to its current site, which is about 20,000 square feet smaller than its previous facility in Anaheim Hills, California, after a sales slowdown caused by the Great Recession.
“We have a very skilled workforce,” Trudell says. “They really know how to handcraft and tailor a mattress. We expect them to be efficient with their time but we always put quality first. Our customers recognize that quality is our priority and that’s why they keep coming back and referring their family and friends.”
When Custom Comfort expanded into a warehouse in 1989, it also opened its first company-owned store to generate more business and eliminate middleman price markups for customers. A second store followed in 1992. The company chose lower cost industrial sites, buying properties when possible. In the early years, when its factory space was limited, it often used a portion of its stores for production. Half-finished mattresses were trucked from site to site, where different stages of production would be conducted until the bed was completed.
“We did that out of pure necessity,” Trudell says. “As we grew in those early years, we ran out of space to do all our quilting, cutting and sewing, and assembly all in one area, so we used unused space in some of our stores. When we finally got everything under one roof, our efficiencies went way up.”
Today, most of Custom Comfort’s stores remain in those same industrial spaces, but the interiors have been updated with a hip, modern vibe. Stores typically run from 3,500 square feet to 5,000 square feet, with about 30 models on the floor.
Retail sales associates take a relaxed, no-pressure, consultative approach, using cutaways and other visual aids to show customers key features that set Custom Comfort’s products apart from the competition. The company puts a premium on sales training, recognizing the key role the RSA plays in educating the consumer. It also works hard to avoid surprises and includes the cost of a frame, same-day delivery and removal of an old mattress in bed set prices.
“Our philosophy is no games, no gimmicks,” Trudell says. “None of our salespeople are on commission, so they take the time to educate shoppers about our products. We also avoid ‘today-only’ deals that create stress for the consumer.”
And if shoppers need more information after visiting a store, they are invited to tour the company’s factory to see for themselves how products are made.
“Our sales associates do a very good job of showing the consumer why our products are different,” Trudell says. “We recognize that consumers can buy a Kia or a Mercedes and both cars will get them where they need to go. But when a salesperson takes the time to explain to them the added value they get for their money—whether they are buying a car or a mattress—the price point often becomes less important.”
Custom Comfort’s sales representatives take the same approach when working with the company’s wholesale customers. The company serves a growing base of retailers from Texas to California, and this segment of the business is experiencing the fastest growth.
“Our wholesale business is up 100% versus a year ago,” Trudell says. “We see big growth there. Retailers are tired of retailing the same $1,000 to $1,500 beds that everybody else has. It’s very difficult to make money when you’re all competing for the same thin margin.”
Custom Comfort provides retailers exclusive distribution rights on its products so that markets are protected. It also offers custom options, such as embroidered logos and special covers, that enable stores to create their own proprietary lines.
One size fits all?
The company backs its products with a 365-night comfort guarantee, providing a powerful counter to the 100-night guarantees promised by many boxed-bed competitors.
Trudell sees the one-size-fits-all nature of many boxed products as an opportunity for his company—and for his retail customers. “One size definitely does not fit all,” Trudell says. “If one person is 250 pounds and has back problems and his wife is 120 pounds and a light sleeper, their needs are going to be quite different than the young athlete next door who can sleep on anything.”
To serve the growing segment of customers who like the simplicity of buying beds online, Custom Comfort is developing a line of boxed beds with higher quality and more choice than Trudell says is available currently. The line will be marketed separately from the Custom Comfort brand, available through independent retailers and perhaps a new website.
“We would run this apart from Custom Comfort, since that brand has its own clearly defined identity and reputation,” Trudell says. “But we see a lot of potential in a boxed-bed line marketed through our retail partners. They are asking us for higher-quality products that can help them compete with the e-commerce specialists.”
Partnership with designer targets luxury market
Introduced in late 2016, Custom Comfort Mattress’ licensed luxury bedding line created in collaboration with interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard is slowly but steadily gaining fans.
“It’s a work in progress, but sales are growing every month,” says Mel Trudell, co-owner and chief executive officer of the Orange, California-based factory-direct manufacturer and retailer. “This new line has opened the door for a different type of clientele. We expect more sales as awareness grows.”
The three models in the Martyn Lawrence Bullard line are priced from $15,000 to $20,000 for a queen set. The models include upscale features, such as Talalay latex, premium coils, insulator padding, cotton batting, steel grid edge supports and 100% organic cotton sateen fabric. The collection is available in a full range of standard sizes, as well as 7-foot-by-7-foot and 8-foot-by-8-foot versions and custom sizes.
The collaboration resulted after Bullard’s design team installed several Custom Comfort mattresses in a series of high-profile projects. The designer was impressed by the company’s commitment to superior service and its mission to deliver the finest quality sleep.
“The team at Custom Comfort Mattress offers a unique concierge-style service that my clientele can truly appreciate,” Bullard says. “Paired with superior quality and impeccable attention to detail, this collaboration made perfect sense.”
While the Bullard line represents the top end of Custom Comfort’s offerings, this isn’t the first time the company has ventured into the luxury market. Known for its craftsmanship, Custom Comfort counts a number of Hollywood stars and professional athletes among its longtime customers.
“We can make any bed to any shape and size,” Trudell says. “If you can dream it, we can build it.”