Kirk Forsyth, General Manager of Gardner Mattress, gives us an update on mattress manufacturing since COVID, and looks back on other difficult times that the company has weathered.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher and I’m here today with Kirk Forsyth, General Manager at Gardner Mattress, which has been making high quality custom made mattresses since 1933. Welcome Kirk.
Kirk Forsyth: Thanks, John.
John: Sure. So Kirk, we are here today to talk about a Gardner Mattress COVID update and see where things stand now that we’re still in the midst of a Coronavirus pandemic and have been for quite a while now. We’re in the late fall, almost the winter now, of 2020. So I spoke with Gardner Sisk back in July about how COVID had affected the business at Gardner Mattress, but maybe you can give me your thoughts on how Gardner Mattress has handled the Coronavirus pandemic since it started back in March.
Kirk: Sure, sure. Yeah. It was quite an experience early on where we had a full shutdown. We did keep two of us in the office just to figure out administratively how are we going to handle these things, financial challenges, furloughing people, “when are we going to be able to start manufacturing”? Our showrooms were closed, so how are we going to maintain an active business and keep people employed and keep the business going? So we had a few weeks of real uncertainty there, obviously, just like everybody else.
Kirk: We still had plenty of orders in the pipeline when the shutdown happened. Really, there was three of us – it was myself, our office manager, Ellen, and our foreman, Ed, we’ve all been here quite a long time. So while trying to figure these things out, Ed decided to keep coming to the factory and just keep making things that were in the pipeline, just in case. Initially, all we were doing was staging things for pickup for people, if they really needed something. Or if, potentially, say, there was a bunch of orders where people were moving into a new home and hadn’t moved in yet, so there were vacant spaces, so we had our delivery guys come back, too, and fulfill those orders by bringing them into an unoccupied space. And then, from there, we decided to start doing some drop offs, so we were doing a curbside drop off to homes, either staging stuff in the garage for somebody, or if it was a small enough piece, maybe dropping it at the front door, that kind of thing.
And so, as those things progressed, we just slowly brought people back, a little at a time. So our manufacturing facility, which normally has five or six people, was really just one person for a long time, and then gradually became two and three, where everyone’s very spaced out. We have some state-of-the-art air filtration systems in there, which is nice. We’ve always had them in there anyways, working with natural fibers, creating dust, and such.
So we had a lot of things in place to really… We had a good start on things, but boy, it was very touch and go, because for three months, all of our showrooms were closed, but we were still getting — we’re thankful for all the people out there who supported us during this whole thing — still getting a lot of phone calls, a lot of emails where people were spending, obviously, a lot more time at home. Maybe some people who were maybe, say, outside sales reps who spent a lot of time normally on the road. Now they’re at their home seven days a week and sleeping in, on maybe a mattress that was worn out. So we did get a lot of interest in our products. In fact, we had probably the busiest August we’ve ever had in the history of the business, which is pretty amazing.
Fall Mattress Sales During COVID
Kirk: Some very trying times, some interesting challenges. We still have some supply chain issues, or challenges, there, too, but nothing that anybody else isn’t seeing out there. But overall, I think, we fared very, very well. And still working on spacing and not at necessarily a full crew yet, but doing the best we can. And we hope the volume of business continues as it’s been for the last couple of months. Because normally, we’ve had some slowdowns in October that we didn’t see this year. They really maintained strong volume throughout the fall.
John: Yeah. Do you think that maybe some of those people that perhaps put off buying a new mattress back in the spring, now that it’s fall, they’re back on it again and that’s why you’re continuing to see a certain amount of volume now in the fall?
Kirk: I would think so. And I think too, we’re back into an uncertain stage in the progression of the situation we’re in. And so, I think, people are saying, “Gee, I may be home again for a lot longer.” Maybe that might make some of these decisions to get a new mattress a little easier. I think, too, where people aren’t going out as much, they’re not traveling as much, maybe some of that stimulus money people were actually, from what I’ve read overall with the economy, people are actually, for the first time in decades, saving money right now, which is pretty amazing. I think many people are putting money into things in the home, or home space types of goods, whether it be outdoor space, indoor space, furniture, a lot of mattresses, obviously. I think a lot of those projects are taking center stage in their lives, as opposed to things like traveling. Right now, I don’t think anybody’s necessarily, even in the long term basis, even considering planning that kind of a purchase.
COVID Spending Habits
John: Right. So like you said where people are normally planning on vacations and going away with their families, they’re saying, “Hey, let’s figure out a way to be able to stay outdoors on our patio for longer this fall and maybe get a heater for the patio and furniture for the patio”, or something like that, or a fire pit. Those types of things.
John: And then also, like you said, if you normally were on the road a lot, maybe for work or things like that, now you’re home, you’re sleeping in your bed every single night, it’s putting more wear and tear on that. You’re noticing, “Hey, I’ve been putting this mattress replacement off for way too long. So I have to take care of this now. And I have the money, because I didn’t go on that trip back in the spring.
Kirk: Yes. Right. Or even going out to eat. It’s amazing, I don’t think we realize how much we spend on, say, just a casual family dinner, three, four times a month that we’re maybe not doing now. That type of savings, if you did a budget and figured out how much that actually costs you when you think about it. Well, a $2,000 mattress. That sounds expensive. Well, if you, say, for two months didn’t go out to dinner and have that bottle of wine, or whatever it is, or however many mouths you have to feed when you go out to a restaurant, that might be that mattress. You know what I mean?
Kirk: So then all of a sudden that type of a purchase doesn’t seem as daunting or as big an expense. And the payback for a purchase like that lasts much, much longer than… A nice meal out is great, but boy, the next day, do you remember? Is it that memorable?
Kirk: Does it do much for the health of your lifestyle? Do you know what I mean?
Kirk: A good night’s sleep and a comfortable night’s sleep, if you get 8 or 10 years out of a great mattress, well, that’s terrific, what it does for your health and your life and your attitude and everything is a lot better than, say, some of the other things that maybe we indulge in.
John: Right. Yeah. I have four kids at home and if my wife and I take my four kids and we go out to a movie, it’s easily a hundred dollars just to go to a movie.
Kirk: Yeah, sure, just to go to a movie.
John: You do that a couple of times a month and there’s $200 a month that you’re spending just on some entertainment like that.
John: We’re not doing that anymore, so that’s money saved.
Kirk: Not that I want to take any money away from these industries. We hope they all come back strong again.
Looking Forward to Winter
John: Sure. Any prospects, as we’re looking forward into the winter, of anything changing or anything like that in terms of how Gardner Mattress is handling your business given the Coronavirus situation?
Kirk: No major changes. Just trying to maintain all the good practices in distancing and masking up. And in our showroom, we have disposable sheets that we have for people to come in and lay on these mattresses, so that when you come in, we bring the sheet around all the products you want to try. And then once you’re done trying these things, we dispose of them. And so, I think, we’re going to continue to do those types of things.
All our protocols are solid and how we’re doing things is going to be the same. Hopefully, we don’t have to shut down again, but if that challenge comes up again, then that’s what we do. It’s really beyond our pay grade to make some of these decisions. And we hope that, we know that, the people who are making them aren’t making them lightly and they know that the impact on small businesses, especially, is massive. And so, hopefully, we can continue going. Just like, maybe, some of the other businesses that are really struggling, hopefully they can maintain and keep going, too.
Gardner Mattress – A History of Weathering Challenges
John: Right. Gardner Mattress has been around since 1933. You’re coming up on a hundred years.
John: I’m sure that you guys have weathered a lot of different things over the years. Obviously, you made it through World War II.
John: Any other things like that, and the histories of the company, that you’ve heard about where you’ve made it through some of these difficult situations?
Kirk: Yeah. Forged in fire really, right? Like 1933, that was the Great Depression, so we started there. But I would say that some of our bigger challenges — early 90s, we had a large fire. The back of the building burned off. Literally, at the time, that was our entire showroom.
Kirk: That was our entire manufacturing facility. On the same property, we still had some warehouse space. But most of our raw materials we used to store it in old tractor trailers, 52 foot trailers, all around. We had six of them on property at one time where we stored a lot of our raw materials.
Kirk: So those aren’t exactly good manufacturing spaces. So what we did was we turned an uninsulated, unheated, old warehouse space into our office, our manufacturing space, everything. So everything was going in there while we were rebuilding the building. As soon as that happened, obviously, cashflow changes and some vendors decided they were going to support us, because of the long relationships we had with them, and some didn’t. And, luckily, the big ones that really matter did. “Chronicle”, right after that, actually, had done a special on us. They did, I think, it was about an hour long, nearly an entire show, on our facility and our products.
Kirk: And so, luckily, after that, the phone was ringing off the hook and it really kick-started… It got us back on our feet and it really saved us. So yeah, that one almost got us. That wasn’t the only fire we’ve had here. We’ve had probably two or three other ones, but they were much smaller.
Kirk: That was a biggie. That was a big one.
John: Yeah. So, well, here’s hoping that with this Coronavirus, that things get over soon and we figure out a way out of it and Gardner Mattress will make it to your hundredth anniversary and many, many years after that. So thanks again for speaking with me today, Kirk.
Kirk: Of course. Thank you.
John: And for more information about Gardner Mattress, you can visit the website at gardnermattress.com or call 1-800-564-2736.