The commercials are a staple of Southern California culture: Sit 'n Sleep co-owner and co-founder Larry Miller promises to beat his competitors’ prices “or your mattress is freeeeeeee!”
He goes on camera to squeal the slogan only once every two years or so, most recently at his Culver City company’s warehouse in Gardena last week.
The 225,000-square-foot facility is a change in scenery for the film crew from Ideaology, the creative force behind the commercials for the past 16 years.
Director Cary Sacks and Miller hope to use the towering, mattress-stuffed aisles to demonstrate the scale of Sit ‘n Sleep’s inventory.
Which is to explain why a fully primped Miller was maneuvering a forklift through the narrow halls shouting his go-to phrase as men in blue Sit ‘n Sleep shirts marched back and forth behind him in an approximation of work.
“A lot of people hate the commercials, but being remembered and memorable helps put you on top of the shopping list,” Sacks said. “It’s easy to be invisible in this space.”
Sacks met Miller when the latter had three stores to his name (he now has 33).
Marketing mattresses was never easy: Many Americans hang on to the cushions for years longer than is recommended.
“People are in the buying cycle so infrequently – it’s an out of sight, out of mind product,” said Sacks, who voices the popular character Irwin in Sit 'n Sleep’s radio ads.
Sit 'n Sleep budgets $18 million for marketing each year, said Nelson Bercier, the company’s president and Miller’s former brother-in-law.
The company initially started with tiny newspaper ads, then upgraded to spots on talk radio. Miller got involved when, unimpressed with the professional announcers, he decided to record his own messages.
The first time he did, he struggled for five hours to produce a decent take, sweating the entire time, he and Bercier said.
In 1991, Sit 'n Sleep began advertising on Howard Stern’s radio show and watched revenue double in a year from $750,000. The next year, Miller went on television.
Some campaigns have missed their mark. One drive to convince shoppers to spend on good mattresses instead of on sleeping pills had little traction, as did an endeavor to link weight loss to quality sleep, Bercier said.
But others, such as Sit 'n Sleep’s “Replace in 8” message to swap out mattresses every eight years, have gained traction.
“It’s like rolling the dice,” Bercier said. “We could always use a sales boost. You have to fight so hard now to get the traffic.”
Sit 'n Sleep suffered during the recession. Revenue slipped 20% from 2008 through 2010, Bercier said. Miller renegotiated deals with his vendors and took a massive salary cut along with Bercier while freezing employees’ pay.
But the company never leveraged itself and today has no debt. A special Hispanic marketing effort is underway, following an earlier attempt that failed due to the downturn, Bercier said.
Miller, who started the business with his father in 1980 before eventually buying him out, said his company now makes “well over” $100 million in annual revenue.
He has no plans to go public because he refuses to take orders from a board of directors on Wall Street, he said.
But he does want to be more aggressive in e-commerce. Online revenue for the company is slim, because customers tend to want to feel mattresses before they spend hundreds of dollars.
Still, information on the Internet influences 40% of sales, Miller estimates.
“The business will not look the way it does today in five years,” he said.