The 116-Year-Old Evergreen Business

Robin McRoskey Azevedo, McRoskey Mattresses Co.

October 06, 2015

Choosing the Evergreen path can sometimes seem like a daunting challenge. Many entrepreneurs ask themselves: Can I build a business that will be profitable and grow strong without outside investors?

My company is proof that yes, you can. I am the third-generation owner of San Francisco-based McRoskey Mattress Co., which my grandfather cofounded in the late 19th century. Over 116 years, McRoskey has remained a private company dedicated to its people and paced growth.

My grandfather and his brother, and later my father and uncle, made the decision to create a quality product and maintain a steady course while doing so. They didn't follow trends unless there was a valuable reason to add a material or change the construction technique. To this day, we never do something new to save a nickel.

Staying Evergreen can be even more challenging when you operate in a city built on quickie IPOs. Over the years, outside investors have made inquiries, but I’ve avoided any such pursuit or discussion. The reason is simple: When I look at companies that are public, it seems to me it just puts up barriers between the manufacturer and the consumer. That is not what I want for our carefully cultivated company.

Instead of searching for investors, I focus on quality and customer service. I rely on a long-serving administrative and sales staff that customers have gotten to know and trust over the years. I have many employees who have helped several generations buy mattresses for their families.

In turn, our loyal customers are willing to pay a premium for the McRoskey brand. Prices, for instance, can be $2,100 for the Basic Twin set and $8,400 for the Natural California King set. We always look for customers who think sleep is important—and then try to intersect with them at the right moment. One big challenge these days is convincing new customers to look at McRoskey rather than stopping by a Sleep Train store or ordering a trendy Casper online. We do this by staying focused on building mattresses and box springs that provide enduring comfort.

There have been other challenges along the way. A 1998 fire damaged our San Francisco showroom. I managed to turn the disaster into an opportunity to renovate and update the space. Five years later another fire hit a showroom under construction in San Jose. We redirected merchandise to a newly opened showroom in Los Angeles. But after three years, I decided to close that store in order to fully focus on the Bay Area.

The 2008 financial crisis hit McRoskey Mattress Co. as hard as any fire as people opted to keep their old mattresses a little bit longer. Like many business owners during that time, I had to lay off some staff and reassess procedures. In the end, dealing with these tests was a healthy exercise.

Over the past three years, sales have been relatively flat. With the economy rebounding, I am now working hard to improve revenue. We have refreshed our brand to place more emphasis on the fact that we are the manufacturer. These changes are reflected in stores and online where customers can now purchase all of our bedding products.

When your business has been around for 116 years, I think it becomes—philosophically at least—a little easier to weather the cyclical ups and downs. Being the torchbearer for my family business keeps me on my toes, but I don’t feel oppressed by it. Even when there are pressures, I like to rise to the occasion.

I sleep very well at night.

Robin McRoskey Azevedo has been the CEO of McRoskey Mattress Co. since 1990. McRoskey Mattress Co., which first opened its doors in 1899, is headquartered in San Francisco.

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