Sleep Experts' Founders Return to Austin, Plan Growth

Austin Business Journal - March 16, 2011 - Chris and Christine Cook left Austin in 2003 to start Sleep Experts in Dallas. After creating a business that now includes 38 North Texas stores, the couple is coming back to the Capitol City with plans to open 10 locations this year and get involved again in a community they love.

Photo Credit: Jenny Watts photography

CEO Chris Cook hopes to have the first Sleep Experts stores open by early summer. They think the Austin market will eventually support about 20 Sleep Experts stores. The Austin office of Dallas-based Venture Commercial is handling the company's site search for roughly 2,400-square-foot retail spaces. They have signed a lease on a 22,000-square-foot distribution center in Southeast Austin at Southpark Commerce Center.

The Cooks want to expand in the Austin market for several reasons, Chris Cook said.

"Most important, geographically it's close to our home base in Dallas," he said. "And when I look around the country and I look at growth opportunities, [Austin is] at the top of the list from a geographic standpoint, cost of living and job growth."

They plan to remain in Dallas but keep an apartment in Austin.

A roll out of 10 stores makes sense for the company. That's about how many it needs to make the most of a regional marketing plan and distribution center, the Cooks said.

Consumers have dozens of mattress shops to choose from, including Austin Natural Mattress, Mattress Firm vand those that sell specific brands, such as Tempur-Pedic Austin.

Chris Cook said Sleep Experts' biggest differentiator is an approach to customer service that makes female buyers comfortable and educates consumers about the products.

"We like to create the right customer service experience. Customers like getting some straightforward, honest answers about what is the best product," he said, adding that the experience is created by having a good corporate culture. "Customers are smart. They want authentically good service from people who love coming to work."

The third facet of their business approach is community service, Christine Cook said. Under her guidance, Sleep Experts founded the Gift of Sleep mattress donation program, in which mattresses are recycled and donated to nonprofits. In Dallas, the company donated more than 6,000 beds, totaling $750,000. Locally, Sleep Experts has reached out to SafePlace, Saint Louise House, Center for Child Protection and Foundation Communities. She hopes to have 20 partners for the program.

"When Chris and I opened the store, family was at the heart of our world. We've always had a passion about helping families in need," she said. "We're excited to share the work that we do" in Austin.

Dave Shaw, of Arsenal Advertising + PR, said community involvement can be a factor in consumers' buying habits.

"It's a smart strategy, especially in a commodity marketplace like the mattress category, which is mystifying on the best of days. If you can walk in and feel good about what where you are, that may be the thing that tips the scales for a lot of customers," Shaw said. "I think it's more and more important to millenials. Brand engagement in a community and world matters to them. They want to do business with a company that does good."

- by Sandra Zaragoza