Brand Blur

My first job in the mattress industry was with Sealy/Stearns and Foster. Back then they taught us how to leverage the Sealy brand to gain floor space and improve market share. To do this, they armed us with a notebook full of aided and unaided brand awareness reports so that we could show the retailers why it was important for them to carry and advertise our products.

Today, brand awareness can still be important but Tempur-Pedic has taught us that awareness is significantly less important than brand PREFERENCE. It is great that people know who you are, but if they don’t like you, or if there is no emotional connection to your company, awareness has much less impact. The game these days is to get people to fall in love with your company and its products, which will ultimately lead to a sale and if you do it right, a referral.

I bring this up to make a comment about brand blur. I will never forget my first few years in this business where everybody I met slept on a Sealy. At first I thought it was odd that EVERYBODY had a Sealy, then I realized that they were probably just telling me what I wanted to hear. But more than that, I discovered that they really didn’t know anything about their bed other than the product name began with an “S”. We are in a very unique position in this industry because three of the top four brands start with the letter “S” so that doesn’t help anything. On top of that, the research that I have seen says, there is very little difference in the brand that consumers PREFER over another. (Excluding Tempur-Pedic per my comment above.) Isn’t that a problem? Retailers, you are in the same boat. Have you ever had a consumer hit your counter to pay and ask you where they were so that they could make out their check? Do they know your store or do they PREFER your store?

 

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Image courtesy of Somnigel by Leggett and Platt

 

Many of you don’t have brand awareness in a significant way so what I am going to say next is important. I don’t care what business you are in, if people don’t have a clear idea of who you are and understand at the most basic level what you stand for, then you will not realize your full potential with the rsa or the consumer. If you want to be known for gel memory foam like everybody else then go for it, but understand it will be very difficult to differentiate your company as it is a very crowded space. Look at Corsicana. This is a company that is very basic in its approach. No frills, no fancy advertising, they just know who they are and built a business doing what they do better than anyone else. They don’t try to be everything to everybody, they try to be excellent in the “value product” category and it works for them. If you ask 100 industry veterans who Corsicana is as a company, I bet the large majority of them give you a similar answer. Here comes the big gut check for you. If I were to ask your customers or even a group of your own employees that same question, how many would give similar answers?

Brand blur is real and is a problem for all of us even if you don’t have an “S” at the beginning of your name. This doesn’t mean that Serta, Sealy and Simmons aren’t great companies with terrific products; it just means that there is an opportunity for them to further define their place in the market. If you find yourself in no mans land, you could eventually become irrelevant to your audience if you don’t have the big bucks to market your business. Be somebody! Find your niche and unique identity and you will thrive. Awareness is good. Preference gets top line and margin so what is your target?

HOMEWORK: Find 10 people that you work with or that know your company over the next few days and ask them this question. “What do you think my company stands for?” See what they say and let me know if you pass the test!

 

 

 

 

 

How Much Do You Value Your Bed?

Do you think that people in the United States value their mattress? I mean do they REALLY appreciate the bed they sleep on? Remember that this is the place they go to rest and restore themselves, spend time with their significant other  and enjoy those intimate moments etc. How big of a deal is that piece of furniture in their home?

There are about 51.2 million refugees or people that are forcibly displaced from their homes in the world today. These people who are fleeing for their lives, in many cases, grab only the absolute necessities as they travel from town to town looking for a safe place to simply exist. They are not loading up the SUV and hitting the Stop and Shop for fuel and beef jerky on their way out of town. These people carry their life with them, their most valued possessions, to what they hope is a safe place. After seeing these pictures it left me thinking that maybe people take their mattress for granted. I spoke to some relief workers about this and they told me that after any disaster or war, their hope was to get people food, clothing, and something to sleep on to cover the basic necessities of life. Do you see your mattress the same way?

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If you had to flee your home and could only take what you could carry, what would you bring? Do we do a good enough job of valuing not just sleep, but the equipment we use to get it?

I want to thank Karsten Siewart from Alessandra Yarns for sending me these links so that I could share them with you! If you have any ideas for a blog post please pass them along.

Homeless and Happy

I have been working with Watered Gardens here in Joplin for the past several years. Watered Gardens is a homeless shelter that provides a roof and food for people in need, which is not all that uncommon in most communities, but how these guys do it is. When people come to Watered Gardens they meet with one of the staff so that the staff can get to know each person and understand what it is they need help with. The theory here is feeding their belly is one thing. Feeding their soul is a lasting thing. Another difference is that you don’t get a hand out there, you get a hand up which means you work for anything that is given to you. (See my “PS” comment at the end of this blog on why that is sooooooo important!)

 Over a year ago, James Whitford who founded Watered Gardens with his amazing wife Marsha, asked me if I would consider being a mentor to one of the guys staying at the shelter. I reluctantly said that I would, because I had absolutely no idea what to do as a mentor. I met Charles Bowers a week later and we have been friends ever since. We usually just have lunch or breakfast and talk about life.

Every time I see Charles he has a HUGE smile on his face. Here is a guy that is living in a shelter with no job outside of all of the great work he does on behalf of Watered Gardens, and he is one of the happiest guys I know. Why? Because of his faith in God and the realization that his needs are simple, and that as long as he is connected to his faith, everything else will work out. He is grateful for his life every single day.

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Meet Charles. One of my mentors.

I was the emcee for the Watered Gardens fundraising event a few weeks ago where we had over 200 people in attendance. My wife and I were sitting with some friends, Lane and Abby Clevenger who just returned from a trip to Haiti doing some missionary work with their entire family. After the event we all went to dinner and they filled us in on how that trip went. They talked about how many of the people in Haiti were very happy despite not having much of anything material. Again, the reason was simple, these people were happy because they were so grateful for what they did have in their life.

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The Incredible Clevenger Famiy

My point today is to share these stories so that it might inspire you to hit the pause button as you read this. Take a moment to reflect on what you have, and be grateful. If there is some negative stuff going on, bring that to someone and begin to fix it. Just think about it. These people don’t own a home, car, or a closet full of clothes, but they have just about everything they want and need to be happy. What would you give to be that happy? You can be if you want to be.

When I am with Charles, I am pretty sure that I am the one that benefits the most from our time together. When I leave him I am always feeling lifted up and more grateful for the simple and important things in my life. He inspires me in many ways. Not just for what he has overcome, but also for what he is doing with the gifts he was given.

Do you get inspired in a similar way? What keeps you grounded and grateful? Share it with me in the comments section.

From my family to yours, I hope that you all have a terrific holiday and a very happy and grateful Thanksgiving!

PS…

The approach Watered Gardens takes to help people when they help themselves is important. Giving people stuff is the worst possible thing you can do IF they are able to help themselves. Making people dependent on you is NOT compassion and I have seen it first hand working at this shelter. This is not a political comment, just a little taste of reality after working with the people at Watered Gardens over the years. If you don’t believe me, go serve breakfast at your local shelter and see it for yourself first hand.

Something I came across from Robert Lupton’s Toxic Charity talks about “The Five Steps to Dependency”.

First you give somebody something and they are (1) appreciative. You do it again and there begins to be some (2) anticipation for it the next time. Then it grows into an (3) expectation that you continue to do it for them. After that, people get to where they are feeling (4) entitled to what you have been gracious enough to share with them. Finally and sadly, they become (5) dependent. This isn’t good for anyone. Especially the person in need!

Fair Play

Imagine for a minute that you are a retailer and you own 10 sleep shops in your home state. A new guy moves down the road from you and opens a store carrying products that you carry, but these guys are selling them at prices below what you can even buy them for. To compete you start to slash your own prices, and sell more services to compensate for lost revenue, but in the end you have to close your store because you can’t compete anymore. Is that fair? What if you found out that the guy that ran you out of business was ILLEGALLY dumping products below your cost because the Chinese government was propping him up with subsidies? Would that get your blood pressure up a little?

That is pretty much what is going  on with Leggett and Platt as reported by USA Today. Not to be too much of a homer here, but I have to support L&P on this. When I first started working at Leggett and Platt, I watched as we made very tough decisions to shut down factories because of the Chinese imports that were being sold below market prices. That means that we had to let go of thousands of Leggett partners because of illegal trade. I would imagine that many went on unemployment and some families probably lost their homes as a result of people breaking the law.

 Fair Play

I don’t care what political party you are with or even if you like Leggett and Platt, just set all of that aside for a minute. If we don’t protect the American way of life from foreign countries that mean to do us harm, then we are the fools. We all like to bring prices down and offer better and cheaper solutions to the consumer, but at what price?

I hope that nobody in this industry has to face this kind of unfair and illegal competition that threatens your business. And if you do, I hope that the industry supports you doing what you have to do to protect what you have built and the people that helped you build it.

So what do you think, is Leggett and Platt handling this the right way? Share you thoughts in the comments section.

Blind Faith

When I was first approached about leaving Leggett and Platt my initial reaction to that conversation was intrigue, followed by skepticism, followed by excitement. Like any big decision we make we have to consider what is on the table and then we analyze it and ultimately make a decision. In my case I reached out to my family to discuss it (most of them have worked in the mattress industry so that helped), and then I made the call after careful consideration of the risk and reward connected to that kind of move in my life. But on some level it is like running off of a plane with your parachute on yelling GERONIMO.  You can calculate all you want but at the end of the day you just have to BELIEVE it is the right thing.

 Blind Faith

 In the book Blink  by Malcolm Gladwell he talks about how we make decisions using our instincts and trusting that inner voice. There is no doubt in my case, that is exactly how I made my ultimate decision to start something new in my life. Yes I gave heavy consideration to many things as I debated leaving a perfectly good job, in a safe environment, with a very conservative company that would provide a lot of security for my family and me in the years to come. What I left for is totally opposite of that but I knew down deep that it was the right thing to do.

Sometimes you have to allow that instinct to win out over logic. Sometimes you have to trust yourself even when facing uncertainty. Sometimes you just have to have a blind faith that you are equipped to face whatever life throws at you. If you are waiting for someone to give you some assurance that it is all going to be okay, you are going to miss out on that adventure that could take you to exciting new places.

There is a real good chance that I could fail in what is next for me but my heart is telling me to charge ahead with conviction. I know that we are going to face some challenges along the way, but on this issue, I have enough passion for what I am doing to fuel the fire to get me to where I am going. I am blessed with that incredible feeling that there is nothing that can keep us from winning.  So as Roy Williams says in his Monday Morning Memo, get your hopes up or nothing will every happen. “Not a bloody thing.”

Is passion driving you today? Have you ever had that blind faith that helped you break down walls and propel you into something incredible?

 

 

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