fbp
180: The Positive Impact of HR on Company Culture at Sweet Dreams Mattress & Furniture

Written by Rob Stott

August 15, 2023

The brother-sister team of Greg Law and Kathryn Gaus, owner and HR business manager at Sweet Dreams Mattress & Furniture respectively, have truly bought in to the importance of serving their employees like they serve their customers. Their commitment to HR has resulted in a strong company culture and, in turn, the creation of what’s truly a Dream Team.


 

Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking podcast and always a great opportunity when we get to chat with a member. The Sweet Dreams team, all stars in their own right. I said it before we started, Andrew has been on and we’ve done the Superman, the Mattman podcast, but nice to officially get you guys on Kathryn Gaus and Greg Law. Brother, sister, and part of the Sweet Dreams team there in North Carolina. Thank you guys for joining.

Kathry Gaus: Yeah, thanks for having us. I’m excited.

Greg Law: Hey, honored to be a part.

Rob Stott: Yeah, absolutely. Greg, I joked, for anyone… Do we even share the inside story before we get going here I’m afraid because I know you’re reading the description. This is an HR podcast, so not only do I want to get you in trouble with your sister, but the HR team there, our past of how you’ve previously been seen on Nationwide productions.

Greg Law: I like to think of myself as trying to make HR sexy, so go ahead.

Rob Stott: Well, you certainly did. For anyone that doesn’t know, you can just go watch our… I believe it was on the CityWalk in Orlando, just a guy creeping behind the video and doing his thing and making it fun. But that’s what I… Honestly, it gets to who you guys are and you have fun. That’s what it’s all about and doing your thing.

Kathry Gaus: It’s a blast.

Greg Law: It is a ton of fun.

Rob Stott: Awesome.

Greg Law: I don’t know if you noticed too, but it’s nice having our HR director keep me in check. You saw her doing this.

Rob Stott: Right. Absolutely. If you’re not watching the video version of this, I implore you to pause right now. I don’t do that often, but I implore you to pause it right now and go to our YouTube channel because this will be a good one.

Well, we’ve got a lot to dive into. Before we get into the heart of this episode. Greg set the stage, how are things at Sweet Dreams right now? Give us a quick business update and tell us what’s going on down there?

Greg Law: We feel like we have a lot of momentum. We’re really proud and feel blessed that in a challenging environment I think we’re doing really well. We went into this year with a focus on investing more into our people, more into the training and development and realizing and helping everybody realize that we need to hone our craft and we need to be better at what we do so that we can help more people more effectively. We are seeing a difference in our numbers because of that. We are up a little bit this year. We can always use more. We see the need for more training, more development, and just more investment in our people. That’s proving to be a worthy focus.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. I imagine the outlook, looking at the back half of this year… A lot of talk, a lot of noise in the industry, in retail in general, and of course the furniture and bedding space. But how are you guys cutting through that noise as you look to the back half of the year?

Greg Law: Just by implementing all that we’ve learned from Nationwide over the years. Just the way we connect with people. One of the programs that we went through with Kris Kuester was The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. We’re big Stephen Covey fans and big Kris Kuester fans. But it’s all about sharpening the saw. Can’t be complacent. A big part of that is listening skills and better sales technique through a genuine interest in others. Then demonstrating that to our customers and forming that connection. It’s all about growing one person at a time, and we can’t get distracted by the busyness. That’s the main thing right there. Same goes for our people too. It’s how are we making that human connection with our customers? How are we making that human connection with each individual on our team? That’s how we cut through the clutter.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. I know lots to dive into there. I also want to give you guys a chance too, because I mentioned it at the top right brother sister dynamic here. It’s pretty cool. Don’t see that too often I think. The generation to generation, but the siblings involved, it’s got to be fun. I imagine getting up and going to work every day or is it? Am I completely wrong? Tell me?

Kathry Gaus: No, you’re not. You’re right on. Especially with Greg as your brother and also your boss, every day is a blessing. It’s so much fun. Our personalities are so different, we compliment each other. We get along really well. But he’s the fun one. He’s so much fun to work for and with, so it’s a joy every day. I’m having the time of my life working with him and Katie, for sure.

Greg Law: Kathryn’s being modest because she’s a fun one because her laugh… She is so much fun to laugh with. There’s always some comedy going on around the Dream Team. A lot of us just do the comedy to get her laughing. That’s a lot of fun and we enjoy working together. We’re just really proud of the job that Kathryn’s done. She’s a professional first impression made on every applicant in the community. She’s out in the community. She’s the face of our company for recruiting and has been the difference maker in our talent that we’re able to recruit.

Rob Stott: Bringing that Dream Team together, right?

Greg Law: Yeah.

Rob Stott: That’s where it starts right there, bringing the people in the door. In business 2002. Is that right? Dive into a little bit the history. For those that don’t know Sweet Dreams, tell us how you got your start and what brought you into this retail world?

Greg Law: We just onboarded our latest member of the Dream Team today. We learned this from Paul Shaffer. On their first day, Kathryn and I like to take them to breakfast. Sit down with them and learn more about them, first of all. What drives them, what motivates them, even more than we picked up in the interview process. Then share with them a little bit about the story of Sweet Dreams and their role in the company history.

Rob Stott: That’s an awesome welcome.

Greg Law: I love telling the story because in college my wife and I owned the company, Katie. We went to Florida State University together. I was in the restaurant and bar business. Love service and hospitality. Got hired on at the mattress store right by Florida State campus. Ran that business like it was my own company and put service and hospitality into that company. I mentioned to my parents early on that if you guys ever want to do a family business, I love this. Everybody needs a bed. Everybody comes in here expecting a substandard level of service.

Then I love just surprising and delighting them and getting regulars, and people bringing their friends and family back to us. That’s what we built Sweet Dreams on. It’s just fun to point that out to a new hire. Like, “Okay, we had an original Dream Team of four. Fast-forward 20 years later, you’re number 40 on the team, and we’ve grown to a point where we need your help. We’re all about making a difference one person at a time and trying to connect and surprise and delight our customers. Now it’s your role to help us get to that next level and help us train that next person in the Dream Team.”

Rob Stott: That’s a cool experience, I got to imagine, for someone just starting out and having that level of touch from the owners of the company. Being able to sit down and get that perspective from you, and you’re putting the spotlight on them.

Greg Law: Always. Always. But it’s important to… I point out to them, “You’re going to learn a lot, and we’re going to give it to you in spoonfuls so it’s not too much at once, but I do want you to know what you’re a part of here.” It’s a great story and there’s more to the story than that, but we like sharing the whole story with them. Then why we need them. Then what they need to be, what’s expected of them, and what we’re hoping to be able to achieve with them doing a good job in their role.

Rob Stott: Now, that portion of the onboarding, has that evolved over time? What’s that been… How long have you been doing that? Talk about that a little bit, the evolution of that?

Kathry Gaus: Yes. Human resources for Sweet Dreams has really evolved. I joined the team in 2007 after taking a little bit of a break professionally. I started in the early nineties. My background is human resources, but it was in the corporate world. I was involved in recruitment, employee relations, and then towards the end was a generalist. Then I took some time off to raise my kids. In 2007, Greg and Katie were starting to grow a little bit. My mom ran the business office, and I came in part-time while the kids were at school. As through the years as Greg and Katie were growing and adding more locations and we were adding more employees, I went to Greg. I was like Greg, “With my background, I could really be helpful in putting together HR policies and procedures, getting a good process and system in the HR office for onboarding employee files. Making sure that we’re following the laws. Making sure that we’re serving our people through training and development, onboarding. Making sure that we’re celebrating them every step of the way.

That probably started… I started working on the HR piece of it in 2010. We’ve been members of Nationwide since 2014. I started going to Prime Times in 2017. Wow, I soaked up every opportunity in the training programs of Kris Kuester, Steve Bryant, Mike Whitaker, just soaked up everything that they had to offer at Prime Time Learning Academy. We really started to apply things that they were teaching us in the class of really thinking outside of the box. Changing your work culture for employees that just are raving fans of being your employee. At that point, it really started to shift with HR becoming our employee’s customer service department. That’s how I look at it. But Nationwide has been so instrumental in being able… Even if you have background and experience in human resources or you’re a small business and you have no experience in HR, Nationwide has been a huge resource no matter where you fall within that experience and that background.

Rob Stott: Well, that’s an important point, too. You talk about your own background and how… You trained HR professional, and then you get to experience how Nationwide has approached it. How different is it? Can you explain previously prior to seeing the methods and talking to a Kris Kuester and how he approaches things, what’s really the big shift for someone that might have an HR background but understanding what’s different about this approach?

Kathry Gaus: Especially in small business. I’m a one-man shop for HR. I’m by myself. Of course I work closely with Greg, he’s a very huge piece of what I do on a daily and weekly basis. But to have those resources to be able to have mentors, like when Kelly… That was part of some of the survey background or feedback that I would give after Prime Times. Like, “Man, these classes are so rich, but I would love to dive deeper into human resources, hot topics, trends, what’s changing.” Nationwide knocked it out of the park when they hired Kelly Patridge.

Then Kelly started building her HR team, brought in Genevieve. What really has changed is being able to have mentors in our industry with human resources professional experience. Then they are always… Any email, any call, they’re right on it to help. We have utilized them for market analysis for pay rates to make sure that we were competitive within our market. There were some HR topics that when we were dealing with elevated type situations where I just wanted a sounding board. That’s really what’s changed is diving deeper and having those resources that Nationwide provides with Kelly’s team has been huge.

Rob Stott: Well, it’s awesome to see, too. You guys, you emphasis into the HR department and prior to it really being a thing at Nationwide. It’s been important… Not that it’s been important longer. I try to figure out how to make that sound better than it does. But you know what I’m saying where you guys have been at this a little bit longer than Nationwide, so you understand why it’s important. I want to ask, what’s that pitch to the retailer that hasn’t necessarily… Maybe it’s a back burner idea, the concept of HR. What would you tell them that allowed you, Greg, whether it was you to get over the hurdle or the idea of bringing in an HR department? Not saying you had a challenge bringing your sister into the business. But what’s it like to get to that point where you’re okay with putting so much emphasis on this department?

Kathry Gaus: I’d like for Greg to be able to share how much it’s increased our business.

Greg Law: Sure. Like I mentioned earlier, we’ve been in business just a little over 20 years and almost 10 years with Nationwide. I love telling people that I feel like we grew so much more and learned so much more the day that we stopped pretending that we knew everything. The first visit to Atlanta Prime Time to see if I wanted to join Nationwide was just eye opening. Because at that point in time, Katie and I had always joked about it, “Hey, if we’re ever going to write a book about our business and about our life, it would be called Winging It With Greg and Katie Law.” Which if anybody knew us, they’d probably laugh. To a degree, I’m glad that we were built that way where it gave us the confidence to just jump in with this family business and get going and figure it out as we go along. I’m not embarrassed about that, I’m actually really proud of that.

But at that point in time, it seemed like everything in our business was funneling through… Every decision, everything that needed to be done was funneling through us. We just realized that’s not sustainable. That’s not a recipe for growth. We really feel like Sweet Dreams has been a blessing to our family and a blessing to us, and we want to do the best that we can with it. It is like a garden, it’s providing for all these families, it’s providing for the community. I think it’s an inspiration to the community that we live in as long as we’re doing the best that we can with it. You can’t do that as a two-man team on a team of 40. That’s why HR and doing things properly… Although I wasn’t born an organized person, but through being made self-aware as to what I need to work on. Bringing in a professional like Kathryn that can show us a better way to do things, discipline is liberating. It’s doing things properly and handling situations properly can relieve that stress.

Then it’s a whole lot more fun for us. We’re getting things done as a team. That’s what Kris in the early years taught us, you need to define your core values. That needs to be something that everybody that you recruit on, everything that we do recruits on it, and we loved it. We’ve eaten that up. We’ve lived by our core values. If we didn’t do that, everybody would just be making up their own values, and we’re not rowing in the same direction. Because of those things and more, we’ve felt less stress, we’ve felt more fun. We’ve more than doubled the business since we joined Nationwide, average two digit growth a year for almost 10 years. That’s the growth that we love. We want to just keep growing one person at a time, but doing things better and better and figuring out how to get to the next level.

Rob Stott: Obviously a big part of having that support in that team internally is the… I want to call them traditional HR things. Like the hiring on, the paperwork, that sort of thing. But there’s a word that underlies all of that, and you’re hitting on it and its culture. The opportunity to put a bit of added emphasis on that word and what that means to your company. Talk about… Both of you really, I’d love to hear both of your perspectives on the impact on the company’s culture, and what you’re doing, the things you’re doing to put that at the center of the Sweet Dreams experience?

Greg Law: One of the things that we defined was our vision statement. The vision of Sweet Dreams. What are we trying to accomplish here? Are we just trying to meet sales goals? No. At the end of the day, we want to be able to look back and our vision statement is to help as many people as possible achieve their dreams. For me, personally, at the end of my career, I want to be able to look back on this time and equally as important as making an impact on the customers we serve, probably even more so is what impact do we have on the people that worked here? To have seen that ingrained in our culture and to hear our team members at their own department meetings talk about what it’s meant to them to grow as a person and grow new skills. To feel like they’re moving towards their dreams and to feel a part of something special.

I want to build a program that develops people that they feel like it was a… I call it Dream Team University. Either you’re getting a degree with Sweet Dreams so you can move on towards another career. You look back and say, “That was a special part of my life that allowed me to get to those dreams.” Or maybe you want to stay on as a professor and make a career out of Dream Team University, and help us grow the company. Either way, feeling a part of something special. I feel like that is the culture of… It’s a culture of continued and measured growth and fun. Our mantra is work hard, play hard, serve others and grow. That balance I think is ingrained into all of our culture.

Rob Stott: Kathryn, how about… Hearing that as the flagpole that Greg leads the company with, talk about your role in helping that come to life really through your employees?

Kathry Gaus: A little bit deeper dive into all of that what Greg was talking about. I really took on Kris Kuester’s recommendation. Early on, we were just like, “We have an awesome team, but people are frustrated because they don’t know what their career path is here.” Sometimes the complaint is like, “Well, this department isn’t communicating well with this department.” That employee engagement survey, I was able to literally go around and spend about 30 minutes with each individual. I had questions listed out really the deep dives of how they were enjoying their job, what they need more of, what is their vision as far as career path, what are they looking for? What are some challenges that we’re experiencing either maybe in their department, they’re experiencing individually, and how can we just get better? Through that, we really implemented… We meet with our team on a daily, weekly, quarterly, and then annual basis.

There’s a really good streamline of communication between departments. Everybody now has a really clear picture of, man, if I’m here for a season or I’m here for a career, these are the opportunities that we have to either work and have a great experience with Sweet Dreams or make a career of this. I think communication has been a huge… We’re doing much better on the communication piece. I think that’s one of those things that can always just get better. But man, we’re working on it on a daily, weekly basis. Then everybody has their own vision within the company of how they can learn, grow, work hard, play hard, serve others, and grow within the company. Those are the things that I see and that we’ve implemented to really… One of Kris Kuester classes is everybody wants to have autonomy, everybody wants to have mastery and purpose in what they do. That’s what we’re working towards.

Rob Stott: It’s awesome to be able to tap into you guys because you are putting such an emphasis on it. Not even just putting an emphasis, having success with it too. Seeing the way it’s impacted your teams and you individually is obvious to us and cool to see play out in your business. A great example I think too for other members that if this is something they haven’t already thought about pursuing or getting into, but for those that still have the challenge in their mind or they’re having this mental hurdle of maybe they just think that the idea of HR has a negative connotation or something along… But what would you tell them as far as some advice to either get over that or just make this not as hard as it seems to be to them to implement into their businesses?

Greg Law: I think everybody can relate a time in their life where they’ve been on a committee or an organization where either they themselves or they noticed others maybe shutting down because they didn’t feel like they had a voice in the conversation or a seat at the table or nothing was going to get done with whatever their input could be into the group discussion. I think that that is what Kathryn, with the structure that she has in place with our HR program, allows us to be able to do is I think I was just asking our warehouse manager, “What differences have you noticed over the years since before Nationwide? Since we’ve gotten better?” He is like, “Well, I don’t think that we have a problem with change anymore.”

I think that we would have more members on our team, if not a majority, that felt discouraged that whatever they said or whatever ideas they had to make the place better would fall on deaf ears if we didn’t have the structure that Kathryn has in place for us to be able to capture those ideas, that feedback. Now I feel like we have a team full of people that feel like they have a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation. We’re all trying to get better together. If you don’t have that structure in place, there’s no way that those ideas get done and accomplished just with one person making the decisions at the top.

Rob Stott: Yeah. Kathryn?

Kathry Gaus: I wanted just to add to that too. We have seen… Really working on our team development, we’ve seen significant improvement in our retention rate, which right now, as everybody knows, recruitment’s been very difficult. It’s very challenging to find top talent. Just doubling down on really working on your culture, working on your team, develop, grow together. It really eliminates a lot of the things that we’re dealing with in this industry. On the HR scale of hiring top talent, it just starts eliminating the things that become challenges and that are difficult to work through. If you’re constantly cycling people in and out, you work on these things which are so critical to the success of retention and having a great team. All those little things start going away as far as issues and concerns.

Rob Stott: No, I love that. You beat me to asking it as far as what that biggest impact is, having really placed an emphasis on this. I don’t have to ask it anymore, which is great. Unless there’s other areas you want to talk about. Communication and feeling empowered within the team, and obviously the very real challenges of recruitment and retention being two very big areas and important areas to see that this has impacted. Are there other areas that you’d tell a retailer that if this is something you pursue that you could realize some real impact in your business?

Kathry Gaus: Other areas that… Oh, go ahead, Greg.

Greg Law: No, you go ahead. I’m sorry.

Kathry Gaus: I was just going to say other hot topics that we’ve talked about on the HR council with Kelly and Genevieve and Kris is really working through things that are very expensive, like insurance. Really being able to tap in and have the resources to shop what you currently have and are giving your employees as benefits. That has also been pretty significant as far as what has really helped us maximize our systems and processes. Kelly was very instrumental in giving me recommendations to shop our human capital management system as far as doing payroll. I shopped all of her suggestions, was able to really narrow down. It saved me on time. It saves us money total. Then also, it really is also benefiting the employees that are enjoying that process much better. But those are some things that I wanted to share in addition to what Greg was saying.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Greg, did you want to add anything else?

Greg Law: Yeah. We learned from Nationwide years ago that the main things that employees are hoping for and hoping to be a part of is a better boss, a bigger vision, and a brighter future. I remember I took a road trip a long time ago and listened to the audiobook 21 Laws of Irrefutable Leadership with John Maxwell. I think number one was Law of the lid, an organization will not grow beyond the caliber of its leader. You can’t do that. I was like, “Man, I better get busy.” A whole team full of people are going to have different personalities and different strengths, but everybody’s going to appreciate being a part of an organization that is well organized and fair and designed around investing in its people. That’s what I’m really proud of Kathryn for implementing. It’s delivering that impression on our people so that they can feel they’re a part of something better.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Like I said, it permeates this conversation, but just how engaged you guys are with the group and seeing the impact that it has through all parts of the business top to bottom. But obviously today specifically talking about HR and the human capital side of things, which without businesses aren’t businesses, they don’t have their people. Pretty important one to dive into with you guys, so I appreciate you spending a few minutes with us and opening that lid. I’ll take your reference there. Opening the lid and letting us dive into the Sweet Dreams sauce a little bit. This was cool. A fun conversation. Greg, I’m glad you kept your shirt on and we did it.

Greg Law: Are you Rob?

Kathry Gaus: I’m glad, too.

Rob Stott: Am I? It’s a good question. Am I? I know Kathryn is.

Kathry Gaus: Yes. Thanks, Greg.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome.

Kathry Gaus: Thank you so much for having us. We love every opportunity we can brag and just really love on Nationwide because they’ve poured so much into our team. We’re just eternally grateful, so thank you to you all.

Rob Stott: Absolutely.

Greg Law: Hey, I did want to share one more thing. If we have one-

Rob Stott: Oh my God, absolutely.

Greg Law: Cut it out if it’s too long.

Rob Stott: No.

Greg Law: But the Prime Time down in Houston, and we had the astronaut.

Rob Stott: Yep. Massimino.

Greg Law: Yes.

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Greg Law: Do you remember when he said they were training him on a mission, and as an astronaut they make it clear to you, you may not be able to fix the problem immediately, but you sure can make it worse.

Rob Stott: Right. I think that was in relation to him fixing something on the… He broke a screw on the outside of the… It was either the Hubble telescope or the Space Station. I’m like, “What?”

Kathry Gaus: That’s intense.

Rob Stott: You think your problems are big.

Greg Law: What a great imagery on that. Just being able to apply that to everything. I’ve used it with my kids. I’ve used it with our team. Having a well-thought-out HR game plan so that we handle situations properly like they should be handled keeps me from blowing up the ship.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, hey, we appreciate all the input. Just one conversation in many that we’ll continue to have with you guys. Appreciate the availability and access to the Sweet Dreams all star team here. We appreciate it and look forward to connecting in Nashville before we know it.

Greg Law: Yes.

Kathry Gaus: Thanks again, Rob. We appreciate you.

Connect With Us!

More Podcasts

212: How Much Better Can TVs Get? We Ask TCL That Very Question.

212: How Much Better Can TVs Get? We Ask TCL That Very Question.

The TV market is a truly fascinating one to follow. Screen sizes continue to get bigger and picture quality continues to get more vibrant and clearer. But how much better can these displays actually get? We sat down with Bruce Walker, product evangelist at TCL, to get a – ahem – clearer picture of what’s in store for TV technology.

211: Checking In with Chris Whitley and Ellipsys Commercial Technology Group

211: Checking In with Chris Whitley and Ellipsys Commercial Technology Group

A year in, we sat down with Chris Whitley to talk about the launch and growth of Ellipsys Commercial Technology Group and what’s ahead for his expanding network.

210: An Economic and Inventory Financing Overview with Wells Fargo

210: An Economic and Inventory Financing Overview with Wells Fargo

You can’t have a conversation about the retail industry without talking about the current status of the economy or where it’s heading. We did just that with Velicia Sutton, managing director and general manager for Wells Fargo. In addition, Velicia dives into the world of inventory financing and shares how independent retailers can leverage this available benefit to free up cash to focus on other areas of their business.