Mattress Retailer Sleep Experts has Big Plans for Central Texas

Austin American-Statesman - May 12, 2012 - Clingy kids. Noisy neighbors. A snoring spouse. 

Whatever the reason, many folks don't get enough sleep these days. 

The owners of Sleep Experts say they can help. 

The Dallas-based retailer opened four Austin-area stores this month, offering a selection of pillows, mattresses from Tempur-Pedic, Simmons and other well-known brands, and other products. 

Six more Central Texas locations are on the way by year's end, including one near the Arboretum, and its owners say the chain could end up with as many as 20 stores in the area. 

"The best customer for us is someone who has problems sleeping," said Chris Cook, a former Austinite who founded Sleep Experts with his wife, Christine. "Purchasing the right bed is essential to your health." 

Sleep Experts enters a crowded marketplace full of local and national mattress retailers, but the Cooks said they're confident their company can carve out a niche. 

"Buying a mattress can be confusing," Chris Cook said. "Where we differentiate ourselves is in the level of service." 

"Purchasing a bed has often been a grudge purchase," his wife said. "It's intimidating. You're shopping for such a personal product." 

Chris Cook grew up in the furniture business. His father ran Sleep Country, a chain in the Northwest U.S. and Canada. Initially, he said, he wanted nothing to do with retailing. Instead, he took a job in the tech sector. 

"I did everything I could to stay out of the business," he said. 

But over time — and after a less-than-ideal search for a mattress for the family's guestroom — Cook changed his mind. 

"One of the guys was outside with a short tie and smoking a cigarette, and another was sitting with his feet up on the desk and watching TV," he said, describing his visit to one store.

"It was just very unprofessional, and I wanted to get out of there." 

The couple felt they needed to launch Sleep Experts in a market bigger than Austin, Chris Cook said, and selected the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 

"I looked back at my dad's business and the model he had built and thought we could expand on that," he said. 

The initial plan was 25 North Texas stores, according to Chris Cook, but there are now almost 40. 

Austin is the chain's second market. Expansion to other cities is likely, the couple said, but right now, the focus is on Austin. 

"It's not our intention to be big," Chris Cook said. "It's our intention to be great. 

"We love Austin, and we're excited to be back." 

- by Gary Dinges