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A chat with Laurie Tokarz about women in the industry, her new ISPA role and more

A chat with Laurie Tokarz about women in the industry, her new ISPA role and more

Laure Tokarz is a woman of many titles — CEO of Restonic, an advisory board member of WithIt, and now, chair of the International Sleep Products Association and Mattress Recycling Council. 

Her passion for the industry is nearly unmatched, and with her stepping into a new role at ISPA, we sat down with the busy executive to hear her thoughts and goals for her next two years in the seat. We also touch on a few pertinent subjects, like women’s roles in the home furnishings industry, her journey in the industry and what she’s learned. 

Beginning her home furnishings career right out of college, Tokarz started at a department store that she says had a great executive training program. 

“We were able to get well-rounded training in terms of merchandising, financing the books, and marketing and training in the stores,” she says. “It was almost like a mini MBA program, but specifically for merchandising. I then started in upholstery as an assistant buyer, and my first real buying position was in mattresses, of all things. It was during the Sealy wars, and business was booming.”

When that store closed, she worked in sales at Serta until she landed at Restonic, where she has been since 2000. In terms of growth, Restonic was much smaller that Serta — and still is — which let Tokarz be a big fish in a small pond and bring in more marketing, merchandising and sales. This strategy helped her climb up to the head of two East Coast factories, then to chief sales officer and now president.

While stories like Tokarz’s are inspiring, unfortunately, our industry still has a lot of work to do when it comes to the diversification of sex in the workplace. Women have come a long way, as Tokarz notes, but there’s still a long way to go. 

Her induction as ISPA chair makes her the third woman to hold this position. Coincidentally, the first woman to serve as ISPA chair was GiGi Giersch, also from Restonic, in 1995. But more importantly, the ISPA board is male-centric, a fact Tokarz herself was first to point out.

“I’m so happy to see that we have really made an impact and that it is not an oddity to see women in the bedding world anymore,” she says. “But there is still much work to be done — just look at the ISPA board. What is happening, however, is that women are able to network much more now. So not only are we more prevalent in the industry today, but we are getting more and more executive roles.”

A business’ makeup should reflect what your customer looks like, she adds, which is reason alone to have more females. But the diversity of the industry and showing younger generations that there are so many different parts of this industry, from operations to merchandising, and this is critical to the future of our industry. 

ISPA announced last week that it will have a new president, Alison Keane, to replace Ryan Trainer, who is retiring. Adding another woman to the industry, Tokarz notes that it’s a woman’s qualifications that get them the job, and Keane is uniquely qualified. 

“Alison is so qualified for this role and she brings a lot of experience in terms of the regulatory work that we do, as well as sustainability,” Tokarz says. “We are so fortunate that we can be very front and forward having a female lead.”

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In her new role as chair, Tokarz wants to celebrate what ISPA does for the industry. Many know of the work the organization does, but few understand the depths of it. 

“It’s important that the industry has a better awareness of what we do, but it also gives you more pride of membership. A small example is New York state amending a recycling bill that ISPA believes is not in the best interest of the industry. We’re working very closely with our New York assembly person to try and get the bill modified so that it can emulate the bills that we have in other states like California, Connecticut and Massachusetts.”

The Mattress Recycling Council, founded by Trainer, is another unique division of the organization as it promotes sustainability in our industry by raising awareness about designing sustainable beds. 

Tokarz is excited about the next two years and says she is fully committed to supporting ISPA’s vital work. 

“I look forward to leveraging my skills and experience to elevate and grow our industry,” she adds. 

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