When Brian Hirsch’s grandfather started Dilworth Mattress Company in Charlotte, N.C., in 1931, the term “mattress encasements” was not in the vernacular of consumers. At that time one didn’t encase a mattress, they slept on it. Fast forward to today and you’ll hear the term mattress encasement tossed around by a host of individuals including consumers, health-care and hospitality professionals, and PMPs.
In his role as director of sales, industrial division, for Protect-A-Bed, Hirsch spends his time continuing to carve out a position for the mattress encasement manufacturer in these diverse markets where protecting people from bed bugs, dust mites and other allergens is a top priority.
“I grew up in the bedding industry and when bed bugs made a comeback I made the decision to learn everything I could about them,” says Hirsch, who joined Protect-A-Bed in 2007 but as a teenager worked in the Dilworth factory making mattresses, as well as selling them in the firm’s retail outlets.
Hirsch says the company, which is still going strong under his father’s watch, offers everything from traditional consumer retail mattresses to custom orders for interior designers and professional athletes whose dimensions do not take well to standard size mattresses.
Following graduation from Miami University (Ohio), where Hirsch, a three-time North Carolina Independent high school state champion wrestler, intended on wrestling collegiately until the school dropped the program, returned home and worked in the family business.
“The mattress business was a good fit for me after college because I was familiar with the industry,” recalls Hirsch.
A chance meeting between Hirsch’s father and Protect-A-Bed’s vice president of sales at a trade show opened the door for a new opportunity for the younger Hirsch to see the mattress industry from a totally different side.
“My dad mentioned to him that I was looking for a new job and he told my dad, ‘I have an opportunity that might be a good fit for him,’” says Hirsch.
The position was in sales at the Protect-A-Bed’s Chicago headquarters and when the vice president called to offer Hirsch the job, it didn’t take him long to pack his bags and move back to the Midwest to embark on a new career.
GROWING THE MARKET. Protect-A-Bed’s roots stretch some 8,000 miles from Chicago to South Africa where the company got its start in the 1980s marketing a product called Snug Fit, a baby crib continence protector. In 2000, co-owner James Bell moved to the United States to distribute waterproof mattress protectors that were constructed of a unique material that was waterproof, provided cooling attributes and provided stain protection.
The product was a hit and in three short years the company grew revenues to more than $3 million and in 2004 opened a new headquarters building in Chicago.
The company serves multiple markets in addition to pest management including hospitality, healthcare, institutional, janitorial and consumers. The company’s B2B products are marketed under the Protect-A-Bed brand and its consumer offerings under the Rem-fit brand.
Today, the company, which employs more than 100, sells products in 48 countries (40 of them have different-sized mattresses) and as a result it has more than 1,800 product SKUs in its inventory. It also operates three corporate showrooms in New York City, Las Vegas and High Point, North Carolina, as well as facilities in Shanghai, China, London and Chicago.
“We’ve grown into a very efficient organization out of necessity,” says Hirsch. “We also depend on multiple markets for our success and don’t want to depend on just one channel.” The entrepreneurial spirit the company sports was a perfect fit for the growing demand from the pest management market for solutions to the bed bug resurgence of the mid-2000s.
With the maturation of the bed bug market and acceptance of mattress encasements as one of the tools PMPs need to have in their bed bug treatment arsenal, Hirsch says Protect-A-Bed has plans to branch out into other pest management focused products.)
“Through our valuable partnerships in the pest management industry we have been able to build a trusted name brand,” says Hirsch, who notes Protect-A-Bed will attend more than 50 industry shows this year. “It makes sense for us to expand outside of bed bugs.”
Hirsch says the company has morphed from a sales-driven culture to one that emphasizes efficiency (if a product is ordered by 3:00 p.m. it ships the same day and the company’s shipping tracking system allows it to maintain a 99.8 percent accuracy rate) and innovation.
He notes that in weekly executive team meetings significant time is devoted to discussing new ideas and how products can be cross-branded across channels.
“Innovation is going to be the key to our success in the future, just as it was in the past,” says Hirsch. “If you are not bringing something new to the market, you’re going to be left behind.”
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