Bedding Industries of America prepares for the future, strengthening its leadership, and focusing on strong partnerships, consumer brand recognition and expansion opportunities.
While many executives were busy saving their businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, Stuart Carlitz was working on a different kind of project — laying the groundwork for what he calls “The Dream Team.”
The CEO of Bedding Industries of America has a lot to manage: His North Brunswick, New Jersey-based business is one of the world’s largest mattress licensing and manufacturing groups, touting eight brands and seven patents within its vast network of manufacturing facilities around the globe.
During 2020, Carlitz realized he needed a rock-solid leadership structure to ensure BIA’s future success, especially given today’s uncertain times when the bedding industry is rife with challenges. Think rising inflation, declining housing starts, ongoing supply chain issues and navigating online sales.
So Carlitz rallied the troops.
“We brought in my two sons and Steve Sciortino to each head up one of our divisions and take on key leadership roles at the corporate level,” he says.
Phil Carlitz is chief revenue officer of BIA corporate and is also running the newly acquired BIA Midwest, servicing 14 states in the middle of the United States. Jared Carlitz is chief operating officer of BIA and runs the BIA West division in Rialto, California. And Steve Sciortino is chief financial officer and leads operations at BIA East, the flagship manufacturing facility in North Brunswick.
“These three gentlemen are multitalented, with much more dimension than just mattress industry experience,” Carlitz says. “They come from different backgrounds and were each already successful in their careers. Sciortino was a partner at his accounting firm, Jared was a senior director of M&A strategy and operations at management consulting firm EY-Parthenon, and Philip was a consultant at PE-focused LEK Consulting.”
Jared and Phil Carlitz get their ambitious spirit from their father. Carlitz started out stocking inventory at a Serta factory in Pennsauken, New Jersey, when he was a teenager. After graduating from Rutgers University, he opened a chain of mattress stores. Then he went to work for Miller’s Furniture Industries Inc. in Delaware.
After about five years, he decided to put together all his mattress experience, and he ended up in wholesale at Lemoyne Sleeper Co. as a sales manager. In the early ’80s, Carlitz became a sales representative for Therapedic Sleep Products of New Jersey, later opening his own factory in the Philadelphia area before taking the helm of Therapedic Sleep Products in 1994.
Carlitz later formed the Mattress Development Corp. and acquired Eclipse Mattress Co. in 1999 and Eastman House in 2005. Years later he would forge partnerships or start multiple brands, including Harvest Green Mattress, Ernest Hemingway, Millbrook Beds and Natural Dreams, among others.
Not surprisingly, both of Carlitz’s sons also grew up in the mattress business and spent years working inside the factory during their school vacations. “But then they went out into the real world and gained a lot of skills that they’re now able to bring back into Bedding Industries of America,” Carlitz says, proudly.
Meanwhile, Sciortino had worked as Carlitz’s accountant for
10 years. “When I was looking for the right person to fit with Jared and Phil, it came to me one day that Steve would be the perfect individual with his finance talent and his accounting skills,” Carlitz recalls. He promoted Sciortino to CFO in January 2021.
At the same time the leadership was evolving and moving into place, so was the infrastructure.
“We had started to gain traction all over the country with our licensees, and there was a weak spot on the West Coast where I really needed the right factory,” Carlitz says. “I interviewed several factories, and finally, a friend of mine in the industry said, ‘Stu, you’ve got the talent, you’ve got the model, just open up.’ And it was during Covid in October 2021 that we opened BIA West.”
Carlitz makes it sound easy, but Sciortino recalls the challenges, which is why he savors his promotion to the Dream Team — he loves a good challenge.
“When Stu and I first started talking about the opportunity, it wasn’t just New Jersey, it was expansion opportunities, it was the West Coast factory,” Sciortino says. “We went step by step from searching for sites, finding the proper sites, finding all the staffing, hiring the entire team, and this was happening during the Covid period. … So, it was the challenge of it; it was the opportunity to work with Stu, someone who I had been working with for a long period of time and really respect.”
Sciortino says he also liked the idea of being able to work with both Phil and Jared, the latter of whom was considering joining BIA from a stint at EY-Parthenon.
“We have assembled a truly world-class team of industry veterans, and it is a privilege for me personally to work alongside my family, Steve and the rest of our talented senior leadership,” Jared Carlitz says.
Today the 90,000-square-foot BIA West facility manufactures mattresses under the company’s Eclipse, Eastman House, Millbrook and Natural Dreams brands, as well as others from BIA’s portfolio.
“BIA has grown to be among our industry’s leading manufacturers, and it has been exciting to see the massive impact we’ve had since expanding to the West Coast only 18 months ago,” Jared Carlitz says. “The market is responding extremely well to our unique product line and differentiated value proposition.”
In late 2021, a BIA licensee in Chicago, Illinois Sleep Products Inc., expressed interest in selling to BIA.
“Right away I started thinking about Phil, who was working for a private equity consulting firm at the time and always loved the business,” Carlitz recalls. “He came on in November 2021 when we were in discussions to acquire Illinois Sleep, and he was able to use a lot of his expertise — what he learned about mergers and acquisitions in college and in business school — to close that transaction and take over running the business.”
In January 2022, BIA acquired Illinois Sleep, a licensee of BIA brands for nearly seven years. Edward Ciolkosz and his wife, Susan, first formed the company in 1986. Ciolkosz and some family members remain active in the business and continue to oversee day-to-day operations of the 240,000-square-foot showroom, office, manufacturing and distribution complex.
Since the acquisition, BIA has expanded on a new health-focused brand started at Illinois Sleep, Harvest Green Mattress. The Chicago plant has also increased production of BIA’s existing collections, including Eastman House, Eclipse, Ernest Hemingway, Natural Dreams and EmBrace Sleep, among others.
And now the BIA Midwest operation comes under Phil Carlitz’ purview — a perfect fit, according to his father.
“When Phil was 10, he set up a business called Beds by Phil selling to friends and family,” Carlitz says laughing. “He always had a passion for the business, as did Jared. And with their diverse skill sets and the selection of Steve Sciortino, I had put together what is, in my estimation, the greatest dream team in the business.”
Built on partnerships
Now that Carlitz has amassed three “powerful factories” on the West Coast, East Coast and in the Midwest, as well as a licensing network which he considers his “partners,” he’s focused on maintaining just that — strong partnerships that he says he built his business on.
“Some of them have expressed interest in us acquiring them, and more will be revealed as far as who they are,” he says. “But you’ve got some people in the business who are approaching retirement and beginning to think about succession planning. … And now the owners want to make sure that the heritage of their company is protected and continues on.”
Thankfully for Carlitz, his sons were interested in coming on board BIA.
“A lot of people who go to elite institutions for undergrad and get MBAs, they end up in professional services,” says Phil Carlitz. “So, they do consulting gigs, and they do investment banking gigs in the financial services realm. But I grew up selling mattresses.
“I was always really attracted to selling products that help people, and sleep is so crucial to health,” he continues. “Having that kind of mindset and growing up in the industry, it made it an easy and fun transition. … And we have a lot of fun together as a family, too. That’s really what it’s about.”
Both sons and Sciortino will help Carlitz move forward, as more consolidations happen within the bedding industry and more companies come to BIA interested in selling. Carlitz says he feels BIA is an attractive buyer because it has a reputation for taking care of employees.
“They know what we did with acquiring Illinois Sleep and how the same people are there now including the family,” Carlitz says. “Ed’s two daughters and son-in-law are integral parts of the company. They retained an equity interest, as well, so they are truly our partners.”
Carlitz arranged a similar ownership structure at BIA West. “I believe in partnerships. Our factory in California, which we started from scratch, has two key managers who also have an ownership interest,” he says. “Mike Moore is on the admin and sales side, and Mike Mulligan is in manufacturing. We made them minority partners in the business, and it couldn’t have worked out better.”
Besides pursuing additional expansion and acquisition opportunities, Carlitz is focusing on brand recognition — specifically, consumer brand recognition — for BIA’s three major brands: Eclipse, Eastman House and Ernest Hemingway.
“I’d like to see more investment in the brand names so that the consumer recognition continues and grows,” he adds. “We will be doing more consumer advertising, embracing the internet and getting our name in front of consumers more so they’re driving business into the stores.”
Another important area: private label. Carlitz says it’s important for dealers to focus on carrying private label or proprietary product. “Because of the internet dynamic, there’s a lot of cross-shopping,” he says. “So, for a dealer to have their own brand made by BIA, it adds a lot of legitimacy in product, so we have been doing a lot of private-label design.”
Sciortino foresees staying on the path toward increased expansion. “We have a lot of major initiatives in the hopper right now with major accounts, national accounts,” he says. “Seeing those through from beginning to end is always very gratifying. So I would say there’s no endpoint on the horizon. As long as we’re all having fun and enjoying what we’re doing, we’ll just keep rockin’ and rollin’.”
Now that the Dream Team is assembled — what does that mean for Carlitz?
“Well, I’ve been living in Florida,” he says laughing. “But we’re on Zoom calls and we’re in constant contact. There’s a few things I’ve held on to. I love the marketing and the product design development. We’ve had a lot of people come in and compliment a couple of beds that I made last year that are taking off. … I put the fabrics together, the construction, the trim, the tape edge, and I selected every component. … Now it’s nice seeing it at market having success.”
Carlitz also still orders fabric every week for New Jersey. “Fabric ticking is a big expense,” he says, “and if it gets out of whack, you could have a lot of excess inventory that is very costly. … Plus, I’m keeping a finger on the pulse of what designs are working, what the consumer is buying, and that helps me with the marketing efforts for the company as a whole.”
Still, he’s promised his sons and Sciortino that he’s “stepping back and not second guessing everything they do,” Carlitz says. “They each are running their own country, so to speak, and I’m there to support them and we’ll grow together.”
More Than a Decade of Thinking Green
About 15 years ago, Bedding Industries of America started the BIA Recycling and Sustainability Program and began by outfitting the roof on its North Brunswick, New Jersey-based headquarters with solar panels.
“Sustainability touches our manufacturing; it also touches the way we operate our businesses. So, it’s product and it’s operations,” says BIA CEO Stuart Carlitz. “We were really involved with sustainability long before it became a popular or hot topic.”
He says he was attracted to the topic by the idea of bringing energy costs down and helping the environment through using less energy.
“We have recycling initiatives throughout the factories,” says Steve Sciortino, BIA chief financial officer. “Most all our waste gets recycled, and we have various components that we recycle. The metal, the lumber, the foam scrap, it all gets recycled.”
What was even more compelling for Carlitz was learning about all the trash ending up in landfills and the toll it was taking on the environment. “We started planting trees a year ago with Evertreen,” he says. Evertreen.com is the only platform worldwide enabling users to plant real trees online and track them via satellite, according to its website.
Product-wise, BIA achieved Greenguard Gold certification for its Natural Dreams mattresses. The company’s portfolio also includes the handcrafted, sustainable Millbrook line and its Harvest Green mattress program — all of which were driven by consumer demand.
“First there was the chemically sensitive consumer who wanted an all-natural product for health reasons,” Carlitz says. “Then there were consumers who were so interested in recycling that it led us to develop products that would be appealing to them.”
Now the company is in the process of achieving its Global Organic Textile Standard certification of products at all three factories in North Brunswick; Rialto, California; and Chicago.