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. For some time, he had been building a business model and been looking at properties, even though he didn’t have the money to do it. They had an asset they wanted to sell, 7-1/2 acres they had bought when prices were high (and paid cash, so they owned it free and clear). They wanted to build their dream home. In 2007-2008, housing along with everything else, crashed. Now they needed to sell, and no one was buying property. Only foreclosures and short sales were moving. “I knew that if we sold it, I was borrowing on Julie’s dream. And we couldn’t sell it. It was almost worthless at that time. Without a sale, we couldn’t open a store.”
Julie recalls this as a terrible time. “We were in a bad place. A friend we’d worked with in network marketing called and said he had equity in a house. He’d pull it out and we could be partners. Stewart wanted to do it. I kept saying ‘The only ship that doesn’t sail is a partnership.’ I knew in my heart it was the wrong thing to do. We were in such disagreement, we were almost divorced. I knew that the person making this offer was not a good sales person. Stewart would do all the work and we’d reap half the benefit.” But Stewart was desperate. And Julie was working three jobs.
“If there’s a point I’d like to make, it is that God’s providence was in this all the way. I wasn’t listening to God or my wife. She was saying ‘reel yourself in or you will lose me, too.’ On Super Bowl Sunday, I finally agreed with Julie and told our friend I wasn’t going to be his partner. He was devastated and didn’t say anything, but the minute I said it, I felt this huge relief. Julie and I agreed we’d list the property and see what happened. We had paid $360,000 for the property. The first realtor said don’t list it for over $100,000. So we went to a second realtor who said $130,000. I insisted on $150,000. We needed $125,000 to open a store. They also had property in Florida that had been foreclosed. On Monday, on my way to a chiropractor appointment in Granite Falls, our friend called back and told me his attorney would loan us $150,000 and asked what I thought. I was so desperate, but I knew if I agreed, it would be the end. I had to tell him that I valued our friendship and didn’t want to lose it, but we probably would if we were partners. Now I’m really steamed at God for tempting me with this offer. I felt that I was worth more dead than alive because at least Julie would get insurance money. I actually started planning how I could end it with a car accident.
“I arrived at the chiropractor, who is a friend, and talked to him. He encouraged me to hang in there and it would work out. The cell service was bad in that area then, so when I pulled out of his driveway, I suddenly had three messages. The first was that someone wanted to buy our property, all cash, no contingencies. The second was that the property owners for the Everett Mall Way had accepted my offer for the space for a store. The third was Julie checking in on me because she knew how down I was. That’s how we were able to get our first store. And now, within 8-1/2 years, we have five stores.”
Enough trials. Now Stewart and Julie were able to move forward. Julie had come up with their tag line “We help you with the REST of your life.” Stewart heard it and said, “I have the jingle!” They purchased their stock and were ready to open. On the first day, Saturday, before they even opened their doors, their one truck got tagged. Then two gentlemen came into the store and wouldn’t make eye contact with Julie. They were from a company that had sold them mattresses for their new store. They told Stewart, “We’re pulling your product.” It was corporate sabotage. Another mattress chain had pressured the men to do this, so they wouldn’t have a competitor.
Every week for five weeks, they would be vandalized. Death threats were painted on the building. They finally had to install bullet-proof cameras. They got footage of someone cutting the wires of the truck and leaving them on the ground. Stewart called local TV stations and asked if they wanted a story on corporate sabotage. They were there in 30 minutes. As it turned out, it was great PR. Channel 4 still has the story online today. They got a call from a New York station that was doing a big story on corporate sabotage and they asked if they could run it nationwide. Stewart and Julie said yes. Their daughter in Delaware saw her parents on TV. “Up to about 5-6 months ago, we’d still have people come in and tell us they saw it, but didn’t need a mattress then, but do now.”
Stewart and Julie believe in recycling and avoiding landfills if at all possible. They often get good mattresses turned in, so they will give them away to people in need. One day a woman came in who needed a bed for herself and her children and they helped her. A few weeks later, Stewart was in the store alone and a homeless-looking guy comes in and stands in front of him. Stewart asks if he can help him and the man says he owes Stewart an apology. He doesn’t want to go to jail, but he’s the one who cut the wires on the truck. As suspected, he’d been hired by their competitor. And there were others who had been hired as well. He would tell all of them to stop doing this. Why? It was his girlfriend that got the free mattresses. “You gave her free mattresses. No one does that. I feel terrible.” Stewart said he was forgiven and simply asked that he let the people who hired him know that he knows what they did.
Another benefit of the story being on TV was that Don, a man who lived nearby, came in to encourage Julie and Stewart to stick with it. He came in daily to support them. Eventually he worked there for awhile until his wife passed away.
Today, Mattress City is proud to employ 20+ people, and sell mattresses made my Washington Crafts Men and women that are manufactured no more 60 miles from our retail locations. We help in our communities, when and where we can and are single-mindedly focused on our customers, friends and family with the "REST" of their lives.