Regardless of the economy, opening a new independent mattress store is an impressive feat for anyone. But all of these store owners share one thing, and that’s a deep interest in helping people.
That’s the case for Derrick Pratt, who opened All American Mattress in Crossville, Tennessee, in June of this year. He says his hardworking, passionate mother inspired him to be the entrepreneur he is today — and she actually worked at the company before Pratt bought it.
The company was previously owned by Ken and Linda Zine, who recently retired and closed down the company. Pratt took the name and did his own thing, building the brand on a strong customer-focused philosophy that the Zines had instilled in the name.
But one experience in particular set him on the path to mattress sales.
On the other side of the spectrum from mattresses, about eight years ago Pratt worked in car sales, and he says he didn’t feel good about what he was doing when he went home each day. He wanted something meaningful and authentic.
That’s when he made the switch to mattresses, starting with building beds at Brothers Bedding in Knoxville, Tennessee, which was a local manufacturer and a retailer that had been there for over 80 years.
“Marty’s the kind of person you just don’t find anymore,” Pratt says. “Eventually I worked my way up to a sales job, but things were so slow I thought about quitting. I stuck it out, and it became one of the best decisions of my life as I rose to the top of the sales team within about a year.”
That led Pratt to seek out more opportunities within the company that he eventually took on, like handling warranties, which he says taught him a lot about fitting the customer correctly and taking your time with that process. He also worked his way up to general manager, where he says he learned a lot from the philosophy of the store.
“We really started with the ‘why?’ — why are the customers here?” Pratt explains. “We had meetings to talk about fitting the customer and learned that the most important thing is listening to the customer; they’ll tell you what’s going on with their bodies and things of that nature. But we need to listen. We’re so quick to just put them into a bed we want to sell them. But if you set yourself up for success and the customer for success it gives you a purpose.”
On the manufacturing side, he learned a lot about materials and was even able to experiment with designing and creating them.
Pratt took all of this and bought All American Mattress to fulfill his purpose of helping people get a better night’s sleep.
“From my experience at Brothers I felt like I had everything I needed to do to start my own company,” Pratt says.” A lot of people told me not to do it during this economy, but I believe it’s one of the best times to do something. A lot of people take their foot off the pedal when it comes to marketing or expansion when times are tough. But there’s a great opportunity if you seize it, and have a purpose and an ideology.”
With that, Pratt says his store is hyper-focused on a few different materials that resonate with his customers, like latex. He also feels that less is more when it comes to mattress models, as you can get the right feel with a couple of the right partners.
“Partnerships, to me, are the most important aspect of this,” he explains. “Once a customer does business with me, it’s a partnership. When people come in my store, they know I stand for something. I have a couple of materials that I think work the best. I show them that I want to offer them the best materials and the best sleep I could possibly offer. And I think people are longing for good service.”
As the name of the store notes, all of the products sold inside are made in America, which he says is a great marketing tool. He has a lot of local partnerships and says he’s investing into his local market and the economy, but also investing in America.
“That really resonates with the part of the country I’m in,” he says. “There’s a mass influx of people moving to places like Tennessee, Florida and Texas — I call it the Great Migration — and a lot of them are retirees and baby boomers. They want good quality and they want good service. I had a gentleman come here the other day who told me you just don’t find people like me anymore, and that’s really what the foundation of this company is built upon.”
Pratt shouted out one brand in particular, which he said is the reason he’s in this industry: Posh+Lavish. He even dropped Tempur-Pedic because of them.
“I understand why volume is key for manufacturers; however, a lot of these companies now are going to every single retailer in the city, then it’s also online and in big-box stores and it becomes a race to the bottom on pricing. The whole service aspect of it kind of gets muddied in the water. Their philosophy is finding the right partners in each city, and that means a lot to me.”
Dutch Craft, another local brand, is his other mainstay in the store, along with Bed Tech adjustable bases, and Pratt prides his store on its less-is-more philosophy.
“I can sell anybody a great sleep system, but I don’t have everything underneath the sun to do it,” Pratt says. When people walk in here, they have an expectation that the price may or may not be based on what they’ve seen online, and there are thousands of companies now that do this. If you go online, how do you choose a difference between all the options? They get confused very easily, so what I tell people when they walk in the door is that I am focused on providing both of you a great night’s sleep. I tell them I am not going to show them a price because we don’t want it to dictate what they think of the mattress.”
Pratt says being a new business owner was the hardest part of this experience because he’s already so passionate about bedding that after getting past the landlord contracts and legal aspects he was ready to go. He wants to give a shout-out to Justin Trumbo at Bed Tech for helping him negotiate the lease, come up with a merchandising plan and much more.
Once the store was up and running, he knew he needed to build his communal base, so he says he’s been volunteering within the community because “trust is earned, not bought.”
“You can spend tons of money on marketing but if you don’t resonate with the community it doesn’t matter,” he explains. “I’ve worked with the Disabled American Veterans, the volunteer fire department that we help raise money for throughout the year. People see me at these events and that’s really why I wanted to do this — to be an asset to my community in several different ways and earn it.
“I think a lot of retailers can learn from community involvement. They all preach it, but are you out flipping pancakes at 5 a.m.? I’m 32 years old, so people can be skeptical when I try to sell them a $10,000 mattress. So while the process is very important, being trusted is even more important.”
Pratt says he hopes to eventually open another location in time, but right now he’s focusing on building his business, listening to the customer, and earning trust through authenticity, passion and perseverance.