Two-pronged distribution strategy supplies Ashley stores, independent mattress retailers
Ashley Furniture Industries, the powerhouse home furnishings producer and retailer, continues to grow rapidly. The forecast: More mattress expansion ahead.
The vertically integrated bedding maker — it produces its own springs, pours its own foam and makes its own fiber — is pursuing a two-pronged distribution strategy, selling its Ashley Sleep line in its Ashley store network and selling its SierraSleep line to its growing number of independent dealers.
Together those lines are closing in on the $500 million mark in wholesale bedding shipments. Ashley now is taking aim at joining an ultra-exclusive club: bedding producers generating $1 billion in annual shipments.
Considering Ashley’s growth on both the wholesale side of the home furnishings business (according to the company, it’s the world’s largest manufacturer of home furnishings) and the retail side (it’s one of the nation’s largest home furnishings retailers), Ashley enjoys enormous potential in bedding.
That’s the assessment of Brad Rogers, the mattress industry veteran who leads Ashley’s bedding program. He spent more than 20 years at Serta before joining Ashley in 2014. He’s senior vice president of Ashley’s bedding division.
Rogers says Ashley has been one of the fastest-growing bedding brands for several years in a row, and he points to two major reasons for the company’s success on that front: Ron and Todd Wanek. Ron Wanek, Ashley’s founder and chair, and his son, Todd, the company’s president and chief executive officer, are committed to investing in the bedding category and expect to see major advancement in that segment in the years to come.
The Waneks have demonstrated that commitment with major investments in their domestic bedding facilities, which cover more than 1 million square feet at plants in Mississippi and North Carolina.
That’s how Ashley rolls. The company goes big to produce big volumes and to serve the growing number of retailers lining up to partner with the brand.
Waneks make their mark
The Waneks have written a success story in the home furnishings industry. It’s a Horatio Alger tale of Ron Wanek’s determination and ambition, one that lifted him from a humble background in rural Minnesota, where he didn’t live in a house with indoor plumbing until age 12, to the founder and chair of one of the world’s most powerful furniture makers.
As if that was not enough on his plate, the energetic Wanek also found the time to design the sculptures at Soldiers Walk Memorial Park in Arcadia, Wisconsin, where Ashley is based.
And a larger-than-life statue of Ron Wanek himself gazes out over the lush lawns of the park — a gift from Todd Wanek, Ashley employees, friends, and the city of Arcadia. Ron Wanek has his left hand on a globe, symbolizing the global aspirations he has realized. Ashley has more than 690 acres of manufacturing and distribution facilities worldwide and sells its products in 155 countries.
Todd Wanek has made his mark, too, building Ashley’s manufacturing footprint around the world and overseeing the company’s expanding operations. The fact that he was able to surprise his father with the unveiling of the statue in 2011 also attests to his management skills.
Good sleep at every price point
Ashley’s steady growth in the mattress arena comes as no surprise, according to Rogers. He says Ashley wins in the bedding arena by turning a lot of inventory at key price points, helping retailers boost their gross margin return on investment, a profitability measure that Ashley has always touted. The company once held educational sessions at markets to teach retailers about the importance of the metric. Part of Ashley’s corporate culture holds that “you can’t improve what you can’t measure.”
Ashley focuses on retail bedding price points from $399 to $1,999 for a queen mattress, and Rogers notes that some producers have largely vacated price points below $1,000, a segment that still generates substantial volume.
“Some producers are chasing $2,000 beds,” he says. “Ashley is about driving units through the factory. We can’t forget the customers at $1,000 and under. You show them a $2,000 bed and try to shove it down their throat and you will lose those customers. Everybody deserves a good night’s sleep. And we offer that at every price point.”
Ashley does that through its manufacturing experience (accumulated through decades of running home furnishings factories worldwide) with a global supply chain, and with a laser-focus on producing high-value products at attractive price points that will generate profits for its retailers.
Those factors, combined with the company’s ability to attract savvy business partners, enabled Ashley to rise to international prominence as a home furnishings producer and retailer.
The company also can pivot quickly to adjust its bedding supply chain, Rogers says.
For example, with wood prices on the rise, Ashley has introduced a ready-to-assemble metal foundation, retailing at $199, that requires a fraction of the shipping space of traditional wood foundations. And that, Rogers adds, lets the company’s dealers devote shipping and inventory space to more valuable products, like mattresses.
Ashley offers a full line of sleep products in its Ashley Sleep and SierraSleep lines, including innerspring models, hybrids, and specialty beds with gel memory foam and latex foam.
The company entered the bedding category with its Ashley Sleep line in 2009 and followed several years later with the introduction of its SierraSleep line.
The Ashley retail store network, with more than 1,075 stores globally, carries the Ashley Sleep line.
When introducing the SierraSleep line, Rogers declared: “We’re the new ‘S’ in town.” That was a reference to the large number of bedding brands that start with the letter “S.”
Ashley, of course, starts with an “A.” And that’s the grade the company attempts to earn as it continues to pursue its aggressive bedding goals.