Industry veteran and the founder and former owner of high-end mattress maker E.S. Kluft & Co., Earl Kluft, died June 24 in Los Angeles after a second battle with cancer. He was 70.
Kluft was a highly successful businessman who, in the first phase of his career, took a plant owned by his father and uncle, Deluxe Bedding in Commerce, California, and built it into a West Coast mattress manufacturing powerhouse operating as Spring Air California.
In a 2011 BedTimes profile, Kluft said he started working at Deluxe at 14, but “even before (that) I remember my dad taking me down to that little original factory and just hanging out. I found it fascinating. I loved going there and I loved to help.”
Kluft turned the little factory into Spring Air’s largest licensee and it remained so for more than 25 years. He played a key role in developing products for the mattress licensing group, growing its reputation and business, and also took a turn as the group’s chair.
During a Spring Air corporate roll-up in 2003, Kluft sold his plant and the Chattam & Wells luxury brand, which he had developed, to the newly formed Spring Air Partners. One year later, he founded a new company, the eponymous E.S. Kluft & Co., a mattress manufacturer specializing in premium bedding, producing under the Kluft and newly purchased Aireloom brand names.
A holder of multiple patents related to bed manufacture, Kluft relished his role as an industry innovator and inventor. He also took premium U.S.-made bedding to new heights, and his Kluft Palais Royale bed, priced at $33,000 in king, made headlines in 2010.
E.S. Kluft & Co., which was based in Rancho Cucamonga, California, added a second manufacturing facility in Denver, Pennsylvania, in 2011. Then, in 2015, Kluft sold his company to Spain’s The Flex Group and soon thereafter departed the company.
According to Stefan Hoffman, vice president of sales with Global Textile Alliance, who had Kluft as a customer for more than 15 years while with former employer BekaertDeslee, “Earl was so passionate about luxury mattresses, and so exacting in everything he did. He was involved in every detail of the construction and design of his beds and he absolutely loved fabrics.
“We had a wonderful working relationship. He was so successful—he was larger than life—(but) he wanted me to be successful, too, always praising me to management and helping me advance (in my career). I really enjoyed working with him and we remained close after he left the industry.”
Richard Fleck, president of mattress maker Paramount Sleep who began his career as a bedding buyer with major West Coast department store chains, was an early and devoted customer of Spring Air California. He first worked with Kluft in 1989.
“Earl had an understanding of manufacturing, merchandising and marketing, all together, that was just incredible,” Fleck said. “And his attention to detail and to quality were second to none.
“You don’t have many plant owners who understand merchandising the way Earl did. He had bedding in his blood. And he was fearless in his approach, always wanting to try new things. I learned a lot during that time—he helped me (develop) my passion for merchandising.
“He also understood all of the dynamics, the comfort support structures, that go into building a great mattress. And his tailoring was always impeccable. He defined luxury bedding in the United States. (Before Earl) beds were basic. He designed products that were best in class and ahead of their time. There is a huge void in his passing.”
Kluft and his wife Pam were longtime supporters of the City of Hope cancer research and treatment center in Duarte, California. In 2011, the organization’s National Home Furnishings Industry chapter presented Kluft with a lifetime achievement award. The couple also regularly donated to summer day camps for underprivileged children and organizations that support Israel.
In addition to his wife, immediate survivors include his children Alex, Julie and Michelle, and one grandson.