For nearly three decades, Roger Cunningham, owner of The Bed Store, has dominated the mattress market in and around Knoxville, Tennessee. He’s done so by keeping his business strategy simple and remaining committed to doing the little things right. That starts with a rather enviable showroom that features no more than 32 mattresses. It rolls through the company culture at The Bed Store. And it shows up in unique gestures like leaving mints on their customers’ pillows during a delivery.
Roger recently appeared on the Independent Thinking Podcast and shared some of his secrets to such sustained success in an industry that’s been ripe for disruption. Here’s a portion of our conversation.
IT: Tell us a little bit about The Bed Store. When someone walks into one of your locations in the Knoxville, TN, area today, what kind of experience are they greeted with?
Roger: Well, we have a phrase here. It’s, “We’re as simple as our name.” B-E-D, even the owner can spell it. So, we just keep everything really simple. One of our slogans is, “Three beds.” So, we get everything down to three beds, which is our TuckFit formulation, except no bears, so it’s not the Goldilocks story.
What’s your retail background and what led you to now being CEO and owner of The Bed Store?
My entry into this profession was waterbeds out of South Florida up against the mighty Keith and Kevin Koenig — Waterbed City at the time. But we were in West Palm Beach and they were down in the Fort Lauderdale, Pompano area, and so I had some really good people to learn from.
I just fell in love with the bedding industry and then just made the transition over. We opened up 21 waterbed stores here in Knoxville. As I saw that business dying, I consulted for a little while. I got into design and just a bunch of things. But then I married the girl of my dreams 29 years ago and decided I needed to stay home. And we lived in Knoxville, so I opened The Bed Store.
What was it about this industry that stole your heart?
What fascinated me, the waterbed days were just really fascinating. The traditional bedding guys had, pardon the pun, fallen asleep while the waterbed guys were like the cowboys. It was a new frontier, and it was a lot of fun. But at the end of the day with me, what resonated with my calling in life is to help other people, was to sincerely see customers coming back saying, “This helped me.” And that shocked me because I had always thought a bed’s, a bed’s, a bed, and that changed my views of that.
Your love for the industry shows through in your commitment to “the little things” that you do — things like free pillow promotions and leaving mints on customers pillows during a delivery. Tell us about that. Where does the inspiration for that come from?
My grandmother was in the hospitality business in South Florida and I remember her customers saying they would drive out of their way to stay with Pearl, because she would make cookies for them, bring milk by to them — the little things. And I remember as a kid how much that impressed me.
And then my wife, she is a hopeless romantic. And just the little details that she puts into play, and she’s been that way 29 years. I’ve seen that little things matter. And so, we tell our guys, if you’ll take care of that and if you’ll be customer centric, the rest will take care of itself.
How has that mentality of taking care of the little things has really permeated throughout The Bed Store and into company culture?
We tell people every day, you can buy a mattress anywhere. You can bring it in from anywhere and just sit at home. To differentiate, we present ourselves as a high touch company, and we think that gives us a competitive advantage. But we have to back that up. We’ve always said, when you’re ready, we’ll even “T.U.C.K. you in.” And T.U.C.K. is Thoughtful, Understanding, Compassionate and Kind. And so doing those little things, following the T.U.C.K. model, we think that that’s the secret sauce.
Dive a little deeper into T.U.C.K. for us. What’s the meaning behind the acronym?
It starts with being Thoughtful — we have to project that and be sincere. Authenticity is the measuring rod of a company and brand. So we’re thoughtful of the customer, and we make it about them. Then it’s Understanding that they have problems, they have issues, they have wishes and desires. We need to draw those out and understand those. Compassion, I don’t know if anybody’s noticed, but it’s rough out there right now. So, when they’re in our home, we just want them to know we are compassionate. We feel. We’re empathetic. And then kindness. Kindness and compassion — I used to say those are same thing, but I don’t think they are. Kindness is paying it forward regardless of what we’re getting back, we can act in a kind way. Even if that means helping the customer get across the street to check out our competitor.
This commitment to T.U.C.K. has evolved into a powerful, data-driven tool for The Bed Store. Explain the TuckFit system and how it works?
We’re a simple company, but behind that simplicity there’s a lot of complex stuff going on.On the TuckFit Formula now, I think it’s been out seven or eight years, we’re 97% accurate with that formula.
The way it works, the customer fills out a survey on our website, eight or nine questions, and it’s kind of fun. The way the questions are asked about how many biscuits you eat, how important price is and so on. But there’s an algorithm behind that, and that algorithm is plugged into our 200,000-plus customer base and feedback from that. Then we correlate the responses with the 32 beds in our lineup and present the customer with the three best beds for them based on their responses.
It gives you real life information focused on you, which is our brand, right? You can then print out the results, bring it in, and now you have the power. You’re not walking into a used car salesman. You’re coming in and telling him what you’re looking for. It works. It’s very simple.
To have the kind of sustained success you’ve had with The Bed Store, nearly three decades, innovation and evolution are necessary, and TuckFit is an example of that. How much else has changed with The Bed Store since you first opened?
Well, I mean, I think we get credit for innovating, but I wouldn’t use that strong a word. We adjust. If you’re listening to the consumer, somebody is out there right now re-tweaking, somebody really genius is figuring out the next bed in an envelope. Stuff is happening and the customer is going to be exposed to that. What we try to do, we’re not trendy, we try to wait and see. We try to be ahead of the market in our thinking, but we wait and see what’s going to get traction. And that’s really how we approach everything.