Co-CEO of Avocado Green Brands Vy Nguyen built mattress powerhouse with sweat equity
Vy Nguyen’s success in the mattress industry followed a long and winding path, one that started during a civil war in Vietnam, led to a crowded United Nations refugee camp, and then brought him and his family to the United States, where a new life beckoned.
Nguyen built a furniture business started by his father into Brentwood Home, a mattress maker and retailer based on the West Coast. But his journey also took him through Hoboken, New Jersey, where another mattress brand, Avocado, was on the rise.
In 2018, Brentwood Home merged with Avocado Green Mattress. Avocado Green Brands, a holding company based in Los Angeles, owns the two e-commerce brands and ranks among a handful of the largest mattress e-tailers in the industry. It also holds the coveted No. 1 ranking on Consumer Reports’ list of top innerspring mattresses. Oh, and it holds the No. 4 position on that closely watched list, as well.
Vy (pronounced Ve) Nguyen and Jeff D’Andrea, one of the founders of Avocado, are co-chief executive officers of Avocado Green Brands.
As Nguyen looks back on the rise of his mattress business, he says sweat equity — and not private equity — was a key to his success. He says he focused on making money while other online retailers were more interested in making headlines.
“We never raised growth equity investments,” Nguyen says. “We’ve built from what we’ve been able to do, on the cash flow we could generate. We’ve taken a different path. We’ve grown organically from what the business gave us. This was not one of those, ‘Let’s go raise $300 million and splash it around and spend it on Facebook ventures.”
“Today we are seeing the companies that did that and came out of nowhere and made a big splash, those companies are now trying to figure out how to actually make money,” he continues. “From day one we have always operated so we can make money. We didn’t have the big funding cash that would sustain us.”
AT A GLANCE
Avocado Green Brands, which owns Brentwood Home and Avocado Green Mattress
Natural and organic mattresses, sleep accessories and home furnishings
Vietnamese immigrant Le Nguyen entered the home furnishings business in 1981, opened a mattress factory in 1987 and sold that business to his son, Vy Nguyen, in 2010, when it was established as a vertically integrated company under the Brentwood Home banner. Avocado was founded in 2016 and merged with Brentwood Home in 2018.
Vy Nguyen and Avocado founders Mark Abrials, Dan D’Andrea, Jeff D’Andrea and Jay Decker
It was not an easy or quick path to success. The Nguyen family company clawed its way to growth, one mattress at a time, plowing profits back into the business. Vy Nguyen jumped into the online mattress arena almost two decades ago, beginning a digital master class that would help vault his company to prominence.
Along the way Brentwood Home mastered the art of making mattresses, and selling them, too, a challenging left brain/right brain combination of skills. Today, Avocado Green Brands makes all of its mattresses and controls much of its supply chain, with its own latex and wool factories in India, giving it an edge in the ultra-competitive online bedding arena, where many e-tailers are marketing companies selling mattresses and components made by others.
Avocado has almost 1 million square feet of production space on the West Coast, having moved recently into new facilities in Fullerton, California, the fifth time it has moved to larger quarters since 2010.
Avocado has four stores and plans to open more later this year and next year. The stores don’t look like traditional mattress stores, which is one reason customers like them, Nguyen says. And, after steadily building capacity to keep up with growing demand, the company is ready to expand its retail footprint with brick-and-mortar partners.
It’s been quite a ride for Nguyen. “My family has lived the American dream,” he says.
Coming to America
Avocado flashes East Coast and West Coast vibes. The company says its beds are “designed in Hoboken” and “handmade in sunny California.”
The West Coast roots were established by the Nguyen family, which settled in Los Angeles after fleeing Vietnam in a boat in the middle of the night in 1978. Vy Nguyen’s father, Le Nguyen, a U.S.-trained helicopter pilot fighting with the South Vietnamese forces, was shot down in 1975 in the last year of the war and spent the next three years in a prisoner of war camp.
“After a civil war, it’s difficult to create a good living, especially if you are on the losing side,” Vy Nguyen says. “My family took the risk to leave, not knowing the language and not having a support staff in the United States. That was their only path to providing a better life for our family.”
Mission accomplished. Nguyen’s parents sent all seven of their children to college, and all have successful careers today. Two of his siblings work with him in the business.
Le Nguyen began his home furnishings career on the retail side of the business, selling promotional goods with one of his sponsors in the United States. Over time, he acquired some small furniture shops and, in 1987, he opened his first mattress factory to supply his stores.
Vy Nguyen, who had been around the mattress business for years and who had a job with Atlas Springs while still in college, began selling mattresses online in 2005, when that was a largely untested concept. He started selling on eBay and later moved to Amazon. “We quickly realized that if you don’t build a brand, nothing is sustainable,” he says. After the Great Recession hit a few years later, he doubled down on the mattress business, buying his father’s factory and merging the online and manufacturing businesses into a vertically integrated company under the Brentwood Home banner.
“Detail and quality matter”
From the beginning, the family’s company touted a health-oriented California ethos, emphasizing natural materials and a commitment to quality. The merger with Avocado in 2018 took that natural, healthy living focus to a higher level, Nguyen says.
That was part of a consumer revolution that Brentwood and Avocado have tapped into with their brands. Consumers want to know about the components in their mattresses and how they are made. And many want products that are sourced with sustainable materials and processes, Nguyen says. And that gives Avocado an edge in an industry that has hurt itself by not always being transparent about its products and how they are made, he adds.
The industry also has damaged itself by chipping away at quality to increase profits. Producers take out a little bit here and a little bit there and, over time, they are not making the same product, he says. “We refuse to do that,” Nguyen says. “We want to make our products better” — not cheaper.
He learned that lesson from another West Coast bedding producer, the late mattress veteran Earl Kluft. Nguyen met with Kluft, who died in 2018, in his final years.
“Earl showed me that attention to detail and quality matter a lot,” Nguyen says. “Earl’s passion about staying committed to quality resonated with me. He taught me that you have to have a commitment to quality, and that if you have to charge a certain price for a product, you need to charge that price.”
He believes that an unwavering commitment to quality is one reason his company’s Avocado Green Mattress now stands as the highest-ranked model on Consumer Reports’ list of top innerspring mattresses, and a sister model, the Avocado Green Mattress pillow-top, ranks No. 4 on that list, an impressive showing for the Avocado brand — one unmatched by the legacy mattress brands and other direct-to-consumer competitors further down Consumer Reports’ mattress rankings.
Those rankings carry considerable credibility with consumers, Nguyen says. Consumer Reports, he asserts, is “one of the last unbiased review sites.”
Avocado Green Brands employs hundreds in the United States and hundreds more in India at its latex plant there and in the Himalayas at its wool factory there. This is a farm-to-factory-to-home mattress line.
Nguyen has known the Avocado team since that brand launched in 2016.
“We made their products from day one,” he says. “We got to know the founding group, and we really got along well with them. Then we started to talk to them about merging the companies.”
As he looks back at his career, Nguyen says it has been a series of adventures.
“With all adventures, you never know where they end and when they start, you just move forward,” he says. “The last five to 10 years in the mattress industry have been interesting. There has been real disruption and change in the business. Quite frankly, that intersection where disruption, technology and innovation all come to an industry, that’s where change happens, and opportunities are met when people are there to take advantage of them.”
People like Vy Nguyen.
Friends Founded Avocado to Meet Need for Natural Mattresses
Four friends got together in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 2016 to address what they saw as an unmet need in the mattress industry.
They had been looking for a natural mattress they could afford. What they found instead was “a bunch of greenwashing and a lack of transparency that is still rampant in the mattress industry,” the company says today.
The friends — Mark Abrials, Dan D’Andrea, Jeff D’Andrea and Jay Decker — were spurred to action. They invested $40,000 to create a new mattress, one they called Avocado because that was the favorite food of one of their kids and because of the fresh, natural associations the name conjures up.
The founders quickly realized they had whipped up a winning recipe for success. Sales grew rapidly each year, propelling the company to a strong position in the dynamic direct-to-consumer marketplace, one that now has more than 100 entrants.
Avocado’s founders brought a complementary set of skills to their new mattress venture, and those skills have given the brand an edge in the market, they say. Jeff D’Andrea had extensive experience in technology and software, while Decker had a strong background in software engineering and Abrials had experience in advertising and the media.
The founders remain active in the business.
Jeff D’Andrea is co-chief executive officer of Avocado Green Brands, Avocado’s owner. That company was created in 2018 after Avocado merged with Brentwood Home, a West Coast-based bedding maker and retailer.
Decker leads the customer experience team and directs green partnerships and environmental campaigns. “Jay is driven by mission and vision,” the company says, “and believes our success hinges on remarkable customer experiences. (He’s right, of course.) With an extensive background in software engineering, Jay also directs our technology initiatives, maximizing our agility and efficiency. If we can’t find an off-the-shelf technology solution that suits our needs, Jay will help build it.”
Abrials, who manages Avocado’s identity and communicates its product story across platforms and to the media, “combines his advocacy for sustainability with his extensive advertising agency and media experience to help bring Avocado to life,” according to the company.
And Dan D’Andrea continues to bring his administrative skills to support the Avocado team.
The company says its products are made in Los Angeles from nontoxic materials. The mattresses incorporate Global Organic Latex Standard-certified latex sustainably harvested from rubber trees on organic plantations and facilities owned by the company in India; Global Organic Textile Standard certified wool from a herding collective jointly owned by the company in India; and GOTS-certified cotton.
Avocado Green Mattress is Standard 100 certified by Oeko-Tex to ensure no harmful substances are present. And it is one of only three mattress brands in the world to earn the Made Safe certification from the Nontoxic Certified organization, officials say.
The mattresses also are Greenguard Gold Certified, meaning they meet the world’s most rigorous emissions standards for chemical exposure and pollutants, according to the company.
In addition, Avocado says it is the only mattress brand to achieve net positive carbon emissions across the entirety of its operations thanks to its partnership with Climate Neutral.
Avocado donates 1% of its revenues to 1% for the Planet, and also supports a number of nonprofits, including Leave No Trace, which protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to protect wildlife, water and public trails and to minimize their impact on the natural world.
Avocado has a partnership with actress and businesswoman Gwyneth Paltrow and her Goop lifestyle brand.
“We applied incredibly luxurious, ethically sourced GOTS-certified organic materials to a need that’s as essential as food, air and water: sleep,” Paltrow says on the Avocado website. “Rest assured, the Goop X Avocado bed is the trip to the moon.”