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Estee Bedding Company

Finding a unique niche in contract

BedTimes December 2011 Cover Story

Small Producers: The Strong Survive & Thrive By Barbara Nelles

The mattress industry has seen significant consolidation and contraction in the past decade and the number of small, independent manufacturers—once the bedrock of the industry—has declined.

But some venerable mattress producers continue to thrive, despite tough economic times and rapidly changing market demands. Here, BedTimes focuses on six long-time, humble-rooted North American manufacturers to uncover the secrets of their staying power. Privately owned and mostly family run, each has been in business for at least 50 years, surviving good times and bad. Some have found success manufacturing under licensed brand names. All produce goods under their own label or for private-label and contract markets.

“I actually don’t know of anyone else who does just contract bedding,” says Tim Enright, owner and president of Estee Bedding Co. in Chicago.

The 87-year-old company fills a unique niche, supplying mattresses to a variety of segments—from trucks to dorms. The name “Estee” is derived from founder Sam Trossman’s initials. He was a Russian Jewish immigrant who settled in Chicago and built a successful mattress business.

In 1989, Enright and some other investors, including his father, purchased the business from Trossman’s sons, who were struggling to survive in the increasingly competitive Chicago marketplace. Under Enright’s direction, the company switched focus.

Without the help of his father, who Enright says had “thrown up his hands at the mess” shortly after the purchase and returned to retirement in Florida, Enright implemented lean manufacturing principles, sought out new market niches and turned the business around. In the ensuing years, he also bought out his remaining partners. He credits lean manufacturing and Six Sigma exercises with helping the company survive economic downturns.

Contract manufacturing was a part of the company’s original success under Trossman. The company flourished during World War II and into the 1950s, boosted by contract sales of all-cotton, ticking-stripe mattresses to the U.S. military. Estee then moved on to become a major supplier to large Midwestern retailers like Marshall Field’s and Goldblatt’s. By the 1970s, though, its retail heyday had largely waned.

Enright says he turned things around by building solid, long-term relationships with major contract clients. Many customers are Fortune 500 companies in the transportation, hospitality and dorm segments.

“We will go through hoops to stay ahead of our customers’ needs and to be of value to them,” Enright says. “They know they have a reliable partner in us.”

As part of Estee’s commitment to being a reliable supplier and helping its customers meet new requirements in their industries, the manufacturing facility has earned ISO/TS 16949 certification, an internationally recognized quality management system based on ISO 9001 and tailored to the automotive industry supply chain.

Enright entertains no thought of returning to the retail bedding sector.

“It’s so competitive in the Chicago market and I can’t imagine the advertising and personnel I’d have to invest in,” he says.

But he is open to other changes to the company. In 2010, Estee launched an e-commerce website that sells commercial mattresses, as well as pillows, pads and protectors.

As far as succession planning goes, Enright holds out hope. He says the oldest of his four children interned at the plant last summer and “has expressed interest in joining the family business.”

Estee workers manufacture mattresses for a variety of uses, including in trucks, on cots and in dorm rooms.