A general rule about mattresses is that they should be replaced every 7-10 years. Most people probably don’t give mattresses a second thought until they’re uncomfortable, not sleeping well, in pain, or have a change in their life (married, divorced, kids). But when they do think about mattresses, it’s a world of confusion. What’s the best mattress for their needs? Beyond the numerous traditional companies, there are now online mattress sellers who ship beds in boxes. It’s extremely competitive. So who do you ask about this and who do you trust?
The answer is Mattress City and here’s why. Stewart and Julie Patey, owners, have an overriding, if you will, obsession: helping people. “We want to make an impact on peoples’ lives financially and in terms of comfort.”
Julie and Stewart were high school sweethearts in Portland, Oregon. “We met in biology and I always say that science brought us together,” laughs Stewart. She was a junior and he was a sophomore; they’ve been together for 42 years and married for 38. “I was the class clown and she really didn’t like me. She’s an introvert and I’m an extrovert, but opposites attract. We were married in 1980, the year Mt. St. Helens erupted. Who knows if there’s a connection there.” They had four daughters and have an eighth grandchild on the way. Their third daughter, Emily, worked as one of their general managers and knows all the ins and outs of the company. She’s cutting back a little for now to gain that work/life balance as she has two daughters of her own. Bottom line, this is a family-owned and run business, one that treats employees like family as well. They currently have five locations: Everett (opened April 2011), Woodinville (October 2011), Lynnwood (2014), Auburn (2016), and Shoreline (August 2017).
Stewart spent 16 years in the supplemental/disability/life insurance industry, cold calling on businesses, starting at age 18. “I loved it.” Eventually, politics and industry changes altered the job and “took all the fun out of it.” He moved into relationship marketing. “I’m a people person, sales is my middle name, I thrive on it, it’s in my DNA.” While selling non-FDA approved supplementals, he learned an important lesson. “It didn’t matter that these were safe, that they made people feel better. People are creatures of habit and they don’t like to change those habits. I decided to change my focus.”
He and Julie entered the communications industry, network marketing with Excel Communications. This was when local phone service was changing. Sprint, MCI and others were charging 30 or 40 cents a minute, Excel was charging .10. “While people wouldn’t pay to improve their health with supplementals, they would switch to a company saving them money on phone service,” recalls Stewart. He did the selling; Julie worked behind the scenes where she is most comfortable and was able to be at home with the kids. “She does things I can’t and don’t want to do. She’s very organized and knows how to help people.” They climbed the ladder, eventually becoming the 31st top money earners in the company out of 2.5 million representatives worldwide. They made a lot of money, were around millionaires, and traveled with the family. “We miss that freedom a lot.” When the company went on the New York Stock Exchange, it was the fastest IPO in history. “They had to stop trading four times in one day. The president of the company became a billionaire overnight. And within four months of reaching that goal, he sold the company and moved away. The company went downhill and in November 2004, it filed for bankruptcy. I suddenly had no job; all I’d ever done was sell.”
They had built up their savings and sustained themselves; over the next few years, Stewart “played around trying to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up.” He met with a friend from Portland who worked for Sleep Country and had a business on eBay. He’d had a really good year financially and Stewart figured it had to do with eBay because who makes money selling mattresses? His friend said “I’m not talking about eBay. In my first year, I worked five days a week at Sleep Country and hit six figures. I just do sales, nothing more.” The company was run by Sunny Kobe Cook who took great care of her sales people. My friend called the hiring manager who called me within 20 minutes. He said ‘From what I hear, I know I want to hire you. When can you start?’ I had to create a resume because I’d never had one, I’d always been self-employed. They had a good product training program.”
Stewart started with Sleep Country in May 2005, and within three weeks of being on the floor, he knew he would open his own store. “It was my cup of tea. When I sold insurance, ultimately someone got a benefit. But someone had to die first. With mattresses, you can put someone on a mattress that works for them and it’s immediate satisfaction. We all need to get good sleep. Better sleep is better health. I have to ask some key questions and I can fit them with the proper mattress. People tell me I changed their life. That makes me feel complete. The man who was my mentor in insurance used to tell me that if you do what you love, you never have to work a day in your life. Selling insurance, I learned how to engage with people and overcome objections. In network marketing, I worked with all kinds of personalities, from entrepreneurs to lazy people who wouldn’t change a thing. All these lessons helped me at Sleep Country. And I still have that mindset of knowing that no one can do what I do. It drives me.”
As he continued to work at Sleep Country, it became clear what he wanted. Selling was great, but he didn’t think he had the opportunity to grow further and he felt that he was thinking bigger. And then there was a CEO change. They started cutting pay, taking things away that had been promised, discouraging people, getting rid of the wrong people (the big earners). Stewart was making more money than the CEO. At a company meeting, Stewart spoke up about these things. His friend sitting next to him said “You’re going to be fired.” It didn’t matter. “This was my training ground and helped me evolve to where we are today. I looked forward to going to work because I got to help customers. I knew I’d be fired or I’d leave. I could see what was right and what was wrong, and I wanted to do things the right way. All along, I’d had this plan in motion. I’d created relationships with the vendors and they knew that eventually I’d have my own store and would help me out.”
Stewart did get fired for speaking out (and making more than the CEO) in early 2009. He called the Tempur-Pedic rep and let him know he needed a job. He was put in touch with Macy’s. Timing is everything. Macy’s corporate was just about to put a hiring freeze in place, so Stewart rushed to Northgate and they hired him on the spot before the freeze. “I learned a lot at Sleep Country, good and bad. I made a list of what worked and what I would want to fix. I did the same at Macy’s. Macy’s was worse because all decisions were made in New York and they didn’t take into consideration what was happening regionally. There was no empowerment.” He left Macy’s, not because of work but because his parents died within four days of each other. They divorced when he was five, so this was just a crazy coincidence. His mother had cancer and his father a massive heart attack.
Without work, Stewart knew what he wanted to do: open his own store.