Now the mattress maker is ready to more loudly promote its innovative components and competitive brands
Two years after moving into a larger production facility in Sumner, Washington, Sound Sleep Products has worked hard to surmount the inevitable challenges that come with this type of major change. Now, having completed the transition, the company is turning its energies to other priorities on its to-do list, such as devising creative new ways to help retailers generate more store traffic and sales.
“Our move required complex problem-solving on everything from staffing and space utilization to machinery and production flow,” says John Larsen, Sound Sleep owner and chief executive officer. “It took a lot of energy to get things to the point where we’re firing on all cylinders, but that time has come.”
When Sound Sleep relocated in late 2017, it closed its former 45,000-square-foot plant in Tacoma, Washington, and moved those operations to a 120,000-square-foot facility in Sumner. The new plant is equipped with the latest technology and features, including 27 loading docks and a 20,000-square-foot area dedicated to inbound and outbound shipping. The plant’s location adjoins a freeway on-ramp with easy access to the I-5 corridor.
“The new plant design enabled us to dramatically increase our production and logistical capabilities, maintaining our consistent commitment to safe and efficient operation,” Larsen says.
The site also houses Sound Sleep’s corporate headquarters, as well as a product showroom for use during retailer visits.
“This showroom was designed with our independent retailers in mind,” Larsen says. “They need the same things larger chains need — quality products, great service, marketing materials and direction. It’s not just product. We must support them in every phase of the business.”
The new facility represents a “substantial investment in Sound Sleep’s future,” he adds. “It also stands as a statement of our faith and success in manufacturing in the USA and the Pacific Northwest.”
At a glance
From furniture to sleep
Sound Sleep Products traces its roots to Case Littell, a full-line furniture store in Seattle where Larsen began working in 1984. Soon after joining the company, Larsen became its manager and, since then-owner Bill Close’s primary interest was his real estate business, Larsen negotiated a buyout agreement that led to him becoming sole owner in 1994.
Case Littell had been distributing mattresses in the Seattle area since the mid-1920s. Recognizing an opportunity to expand this side of the business, Larsen bought the company’s first quilting machine and started producing box springs and mattresses in a 7,000-square-foot facility in Tukwila, Washington. He also changed the company’s name to Sound Sleep Products.
During the next 10 years, the company expanded the Tukwila plant to about 21,000 square feet. By 2005, Sound Sleep had outgrown that site and moved into the larger Tacoma location. Larsen eventually phased out the retail side of the business.
“We thought about keeping our store active and possibly adding more locations, but over time, we came to realize that mattress manufacturing was our best opportunity,” Larsen says. “Our mission was to provide local retailers with the best products at the best price we could to help them compete with the big-name brands that were being sold by the department stores and other large retailers.”
As it grew, Sound Sleep entered into several licensing agreements to complement its own lines, expanding its price points, as well as its model assortment. Its first partner was Bemco. After that arrangement ended, Sound Sleep signed on with Lady Americana — a relationship that continues to this day.
Over the years, Sound Sleep has expanded its product mix with several other high-profile licenses. In 2014, it added the Paramount Sleep license for its market.
“The Paramount alliance offered us the opportunity to continue our growth and expand our customer base to retailers we weren’t currently serving,” Larsen says. Sound Sleep is not currently licensed by Paramount “but maintains a respect and friendship with the organization and its principles,” Larsen says.
Growing stable of popular brands
In 2015, Sound Sleep acquired Oregon Rug & Mattress Co., Restonic’s longtime licensee in the Northwest. A Restonic licensee since 2000, the company has been in operation since 1932. The company now operates as Oregon Mattress Acquisition, a sister company to Sound Sleep producing branded Restonic models, as well as its own Oregon Mattress line out of a 45,000-square-foot facility in Newberg, Oregon.
In January of this year, Sound Sleep took another big step by signing a licensing agreement with Eclipse International. Under the deal, Sound Sleep produces, markets and distributes the Eastman House and Eclipse brands in six states — Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon and Washington, as well as the panhandle region of northern Idaho.
“Our agreement with Eclipse positions us for rapid growth, and our dealer base is very excited about putting these brands on their sales floors,” Larsen says. “Eclipse’s success across multiple brands puts it in a unique position, and the company is poised to respond to the rapidly changing bedding marketplace.”
To maintain a competitive edge, in 2007, Larsen also acquired Pacific Components, a box-spring supplier. The division now produces coils, cuts and pours foam and gel, and fabricates foundations, providing Sound Sleep with vertical integration to improve efficiencies, control quality and reduce costs. Pacific Components originally operated out of its own 20,000-square-foot facility in Tacoma, but all its production now takes place in Sound Sleep’s flagship plant in Sumner.
Throughout its operation, Sound Sleep works hard to reduce waste by deploying smart technologies and repurposing materials. The company recycles post-production materials to create its Eco-Pad layering material, and makes rebond foam — used as a support base for firm mattresses — from its foam scrap. These and other measures result in a manufacturing operation that, Larsen says, is “95% efficient” in eliminating waste.
Larsen says he has long been a “big believer” in the benefits of lean manufacturing, a set of business practices focused on identifying and eliminating waste: As waste is reduced, costs drop, while quality and productivity improve. Although Larsen says achieving the goals of the lean philosophy is a never-ending process, Sound Sleep’s progress is evident in metrics such as employee productivity, delivery times, material usage and — most importantly — customer satisfaction.
“The two most important things to us at Sound Sleep are our customers and our employees,” Larsen says. “Our goal is to offer our customers the best quality, the best value and the best service available in the marketplace. For our employees, we want to provide a safe, enjoyable work environment that allows them to meet their personal goals. Operating in a lean manner is a key part of both of those goals.”
With today’s low unemployment rates, finding skilled workers can be a tough challenge. For many years, Larsen says, Sound Sleep tapped two groups that were prime candidates for its workforce: ex-offenders transitioning back to community life through work-release programs and, in the early years of the company, immigrants fleeing trouble spots in Southeast Asia and Bosnia.
“When we had our Pacific Components in Tacoma, we had some real success stories with work-release hires,” Larsen says. “They worked hard, and we were excited that we could help give them a new path forward as they finished up their sentences.”
In Sound Sleep’s new location, however, hiring ex-offenders is not practical because the plant is much farther away from the correctional center the company had been working with and work-release program participants would need transportation to and from Sumner.
For different reasons, the pool of local immigrant labor also has shrunk. Longtime workers who joined the company soon after arriving in the United States have retired and their children have grown up to become lawyers and doctors, Larsen says.
“It’s hard to get qualified people in the door these days,” Larsen says. “We have a very talented, loyal team, but when openings occur, it’s difficult to find a good replacement.”
To ensure he has the workers he needs, Larsen offers a pay scale higher than the industry average, and he has long provided health insurance to employees as part of their benefit packages.
“Having the right people in place is critical to us,” Larsen says. “We’re doing everything we can to attract and retain top-notch workers. And we’re always looking for ways to maximize efficiencies through new equipment and systems.”
“Make our customers smile”
In its headquarters office, Sound Sleep also employs a lean approach. It operates with a team of just eight managers and support staff. The group includes Ross Bloomquist, project manager; Tracy Dedeaux, production manager; Raymee Delaney, controller and chief financial officer; and Karen Vallecillo, operations supervisor. Larsen’s wife, Sudie Larsen, handles customer service.
Many of Sound Sleep’s managers — such as Bloomquist, who worked as a plant manager for Serta and Simmons — came to the company with many years of industry experience. “We haven’t lost anybody to a competitor, but a number of our execs have chosen to retire with us,” Larsen says. That group includes Hal Patton, who joined Sound Sleep in 2015 after a long career with Northwest Bedding, where he served as chief marketing officer. Two other recently retired executives with long careers in the industry are Peter Horton, former product engineer; and Tom Anderson, former director of marketing and special projects.
With all its hires, Sound Sleep has one key criteria, Larsen says: “Make our customers smile. Do whatever it takes, but make sure they are happy with our company — and our products.”
That philosophy is a cornerstone of Sound Sleep’s success. “We work closely with our retailers to give them what they need to satisfy their consumers,” Larsen says. “It’s 100% a partnership. We never dictate to them; we only listen.”
As a result, Sound Sleep has forged long-running relationships with most of the top retailers in its region. In addition to its licensed lines of national brands, the company also produces a wide range of its own designs marketed under the Sound Sleep and Oregon Mattress brands.
Long known for unique technologies developed in-house, Sound Sleep made a splash in 2012 with the introduction of its Advanced Gel Technology mattress brand. AGT was one of the first lines in the marketplace to feature a medical-grade pure gel poured into the memory foam for cooling rather than pieces of gel suspended in the foam. Larsen says the success of AGT can be attributed to its unique airflow and support system, which provided retailers with a product clearly differentiated from other beds on the market. One model, the Miranda Gel Tech boxed bed, was honored by Better Homes & Gardens magazine as a top pick in 2017.
In 2015, Sound Sleep was granted a patent for STA-Fresh, a breathable foam comfort layer for mattresses. Originally designed for the company’s AGT beds, STA-Fresh is used across a broad array of Sound Sleep models. The technology consists of two interlocking pieces of foam engineered in a way that creates a bellows action, directing warm moist air out of and cool dry air into the mattress’s comfort layers.
The company also holds a patent on its engineered Contour Correct foam core with Support Right cylinders. “Most specialty foam mattresses have a simple slab of polyurethane foam as the support system,” Larsen says. “The Contour Correct core is engineered to provide anatomically correct support.”
While Sound Sleep has phased out its AGT line in favor of newer technologies available from its suppliers, the company continues to use proprietary cutting technology to produce foam surfaces, Larsen says.
Getting the message out
Marketed with the slogan “To Live the Life You Love, Start With Sound Sleep,” the company offers a full range of memory foam, innerspring and hybrid mattress designs. The most popular retail price points fall in the $599 to $699 range for queen sizes. Sound Sleep’s products include a number of boxed bed models, which the company has offered for many years as a less expensive way to ship product to its retailers in Alaska and Hawaii.
“We were ahead of the crowd on this trend but didn’t know it at the time,” Larsen says.
The Oregon Mattress brand is positioned as a step-up product, with prices starting at $999 retail for queen sizes. Pocketed coil and latex designs play a bigger role, with an all-natural tufted model featuring side stitching topping out at $5,000.
“Our products generally tend to be underpriced relative to their quality,” Larsen says. “We haven’t invested heavily in marketing, so consumers don’t always recognize the value they’re getting with our beds. We’re doing things with contour cutting and engineered foam that you don’t typically see at our price points.”
The company’s plan “is to show the consumer how much more quality and features they get at any given price point with our products,” Larsen adds.
To better educate consumers about its mattresses, Sound Sleep plans to devote more time and staff energy to marketing. The company hopes that by building brand awareness, it will set the stage for an expansion of its higher end offerings, particularly beds made with natural materials, such as wool and latex, where market demand is growing.
“We plan to put more information and tools in the hands of retail sales associates so they can inform consumers about the great value our products represent,” Larsen says. “We need to do a better job with our in-store displays, website marketing and social media to support the RSAs.”
At the same time, Larsen hopes RSAs will take a more active role in spreading the word. “When they have downtime, we’d like to see them sharing more photos and insights about our lines on social media,” he says.
“We need to work together to get consumers excited about our beds,” Larsen adds. “We think we have a good story to share about our unique, high-quality, very reasonably priced products that are made right here in the United States.”
Going forward, Larsen and his team also will work more closely with retailers to more fully integrate the online and in-store selling experiences. In the coming year, the company will roll out new features on its website designed to drive in-store traffic. At the same time, Larsen expects retailers will beef up their own online presences.
“At the end of the day, today’s consumers want to be able to shop and buy online, but they also like having an opportunity to test beds in a store environment,” Larsen says. “We need to work with our retailers to make this process as seamless as possible so that consumers can find and buy our products from a local store.