The Dialogue with Kim Knopf

What does Sleep Outfitters do? People are learning to live longer, more active, more productive lives by eating healthier diets and getting regular exercise. The third part of that healthy equation is sound, restorative sleep. Sleep Outfitters is in business to help people sleep better and, therefore, live better. The one-third of our lives that we spend sleeping directly affects the quality of the two-thirds we spend awake, which is why we say we're "outfitting you for a healthy life."

We sell America's best mattress brands--Tempur-Pedic, Sealy and Stearns & Foster. Tempur-Pedic's ads say they are the most highly recommended bed in America, and I believe it. They've certainly revolutionized the bedding industry. Stearns & Foster is our high-end innerspring line and the oldest mattress manufacturer in the country. It was founded in Cincinnati in 1846. And Sealy? Everybody knows Sealy. It's one of the most recognizable and trusted brand names in the world.
 
How did you get started? After I graduated from the University of Kentucky, I had a job with an insurance company. I would dress up and drive around Lexington in an un-air-conditioned car, and I would wait in offices for people to see me. That wasn't for me, but it taught me something -- that I wanted a job where customers would come to see me.
 
What is your background? The summer after my high school graduation, most of my friends went off for their last big fling before college. I went to work in a grocery store from midnight to 7 or 8 a.m. Then I got a job in a bed and bath store doing everything -- offloading trucks, stocking shelves and waiting on customers. I wasn't even 18 yet, but I learned a lot about all the facets of retail. And I liked it.
 
Who is your mentor? After graduation from UK, I answered an ad for a mattress store manager and met a guy named Bill Brown, who became a mentor and father figure to me. I told him my husband and I were probably going to move back to my husband's hometown in West Virginia, and Bill suggested I open a mattress store there. I opened my first store in South Charleston, W.Va. in 1983.
 
Describe your customers. Research indicates women are more likely than men to make a mattress-buying decision. Still, we see a lot of men in our stores. Regardless, people purchase a new mattress about every eight to 10 years, on average. And it can be a stress-inducing process to walk into a store a be confronted with all these beds and terms like wrapped coils and gel memory foam. In order to help customers make sense of it all, we invite them to take a free sleep assessment to determine which mattress is right for the way that customer sleeps. You know, some of us can get a good night's sleep anyplace, on the floor, outside on the ground even. But others of us need the right mattress and the right environment in order to sleep well. For the latter, our sleep assessment takes a whole lot of stress out of trying to make a decision about a product you purchase once every eight to 10 years.
 
What impacts your business? I'd say the technological and economic environments are the two that most affect our business. Mattress construction has gone high-tech with the myriad of materials used. Today, most beds, even innerspring support mattresses, have comfort layers constructed of gel and memory foam. Adjustable foundations, that allow you to raise and lower the head and foot of the bed to find the most comfortable sleeping positions, come with wireless remote control and massage features, plus smartphone charging USB ports. Now, if the economic environment is such that people cannot afford such features, customers are deprived of the technological advances and our sales suffer.
 
Name three things you wish you knew when you started. 1. In college I majored in inter-disciplinary studies, intending to become a diplomat. I wish I had recognized my love for retail and started my career earlier. 2. When I started, mattresses were just a commodity to be sold. I wish I'd better understood that good sleep is as important and diet and exercise for good health. 3. I always believed that if I wanted something badly enough, I could obtain it. Now, I know it.
 
What do you enjoy about the business? When I opened my first store, I learned to do everything: ordering, sales, bookkeeping, taxes, payroll, deliveries--all of it. Today, we have 160 stores, and I am still very much hands-on in all facets of the business. The technology advances, we have more people now, the enterprise is bigger, but I still love the daily management challenges and opportunities to learn.
 
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