Furniture world’s ’94 winners and losers, The furniture industry had a number

The furniture industry had a number of events that happened in 1994 that made some companies look good, and some look bad. Dial-A-Mattress' Pres Napoleon Barragan ended up pleading guilty to a tax evasion charge and is now doing time. Fashion Bed Group's co-founder John Elting stepped down to pursue other business opportunities. In early Jan 1994 City Mattress, a Buffalo, New York-based mattress chain store which provided queen size futon mattresses as well as other bedding products, filed for Chapter 11 protection. Additional ups and downs in the furniture industry are discussed.

In the wide world of sports, athletes experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The same could be said of players in the furniture world. Following is a retrospective of 1994, you can read more information at Mattress makers: wake up to marketing

Furniture world's '94 winners and losers

It was a year of outstanding events: From industry leader, Sealy dropping time on mattress warranties to Napoleon Barragan, founder and president of Dial-A-Mattress, doing time, after pleading guilty to tax evasion and paying a $1 million fine.

Last year it was also filled with its share of executive changes: Jeff Holmes traded case goods for bedding when he took the helm at Spring Air while industry veterans John Elting, president and chief executive of Fashion Bed Group (who co-founded the firm in 1979 as Berkshire Furniture) and Don Pellegrini of Spring Air said goodbye to their respective companies.

Elting, a self-described entrepreneur, left the Chicago-based Fashion Bed Group to pursue other business opportunities. Pellegrini joined Spring Air in 1967 as national marketing director and served as president since 1981.

In his first year, the tireless Holmes signed a new advertising agency, (Chicago-based Arian, Lowe, Travis & Gusick), organized a persuasive new marketing campaign for his company's queen size futon mattress with a health-and-fitness spin and, in an effort to continue building a large national account base, partnered with Dial-A-Mattress to produce the retailer's private-label Dial-A-Pedic collection, including queen size futon mattresses.

At Simmons, under the leadership of chairman and chief executive Zenon Nie, a new advertising agency was also signed in Atlanta-based Tucker Wayne/Luckie & Co. The company also beefed up its Quality Assurance Program. Says Nie "This new system allows us to inspect 50 to 60 sets, with a 1 percent margin of error, in the same time our competition checks five to 10." Simmons introduced an 800-number for consumers to be advertised in magazines, reader service cards and special promotions.

While Sealy led the industry in the reduction of mattress warranties, the company also had a significant occasion last year when it re-launched Stearns & Foster mattresses, marking a return to its roots as a luxury product. (The line was "trying to be all things to all people" asserts chairman and chief executive John Beggs).

Serta, while still being busy on the research front, unveiled its Serta Comfort Sensor last October at the International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N.C. with vice president of operations Al Klancnik leading the development. The Serta Comfort Sensor measures the body's response to various sleep surfaces. Last year marked Serta's largest national advertising campaign in its history about queen size futon mattresses as well as other products.

Sleep shops saw booms and busts in 1994. Some, such as Sleepy's (which boasts 67 locations and a new 135,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Bethpage, N.Y.) and Mattress Discounters continue to succeed. The latter has more than 125 locations and is continuing its aggressive national expansion plan.

Others were not so fortunate. Hillside Bedding, an 11-unit chain based in New York, last January planned a national direct-marketing effort similar to that of Dial-A-Mattress. Now, it's history. And just over a year ago, as 1994 dawned, Buffalo, N.Y.-based City Mattress, a 12-unit sleep shop, filed for Chapter 11 protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of New York. Chairman and chief executive Jeff Schiller attributed the company's cash flow problems to "a downturn in the economy."

The year also brought some celebrity spokespeople to the bedding industry: Bemco named gymnast Shannon Miller to promote its bedding last November while Eastman House last January signed NBA star, of Chicago Bulls fame, John Paxon.

Another star who became part of the furniture scene was singer/actress Cher, who launched her mail-order catalog, Sanctuary, last fall and surprised many when she shopped the October High Point furniture market for gothic goodies. "I like things that that look like they have been around for a long time," Cher said of the items she chose for the 48-page "coffee table book." Related page:

One firm that's been around for a long time is Brown Jordan, one of the LADD companies. Last year, it unveiled its In Home Collection of seven metal beds at October's High Point furniture market to generally favorable reviews. Even metal bed vendors acknowledged the line-- which includes classic finishes in the Latte and Tuscany designs-- as a serious competitor.

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