Principles of Heart

Mattress Firm: exponential growth with an impressionable message

By: Jessica Dusek
Photos by: Paul Marshall

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Mattress Firm President and Founder James Perez is growing his company in Corpus Christi, the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo – and it’s spreading like wildfire!

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Perez’s team was recently given the national award of Franchise of the Year. Their Moore Plaza location in Corpus Christi was recognized as the No. 1 producer – a large achievement and compliment, given that there are 3,000 stores nationwide. Distributing three times the volume of an average Mattress Firm, this April will mark the opening of Perez’s 16th store.

“I’m being a good steward of things that were passed down to me,” explains the Corpus Christi native, humbly. Referring to his employees as the true “rock stars,” he maintains that his success is a recipe of working in alignment with a greater force: God.

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Perez’s passion ignites as his company’s operating philosophy resides on giving back to his community and paying it forward through mentorship. “I’ve come to learn we all need each other,” he explains of his employee team-dynamic. “I won’t bring a person into the company that we can’t change their life. If I can’t change your life, I’m not doing much for you.” The Corpus Christi native thrives on fostering employee leadership and development.

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Work ethic, love of country and the American dream
“My father inspired me a long time ago for the love of sales,” Perez describes fondly. He credits his father, Art, as his guiding light. He recalls his father’s support in opening his first store, sharing Art’s words from years prior: “Son, there is not one single thing that happens on this earth until a sale is made.”

Growing up near Corpus Christi refineries, Perez had big dreams and understood early on the fortitude to bring those dreams to a reality. In 1997, at age 29, Perez worked diligently, as the odds were against him opening his first store. With no line of credit, no capital and no previous experience with Mattress Firm or a large retailer, he pushed forward boldly with the support of his father.

“I must have been told, ‘No,’ 20 times,” explains Perez, initially approaching Mattress Firm to open up a location in Corpus Christi. Today, the Mattress Firm franchise is recognized on every corner, yet at the time, the company was just kicking off. Their brand awareness was regional, with only 25 locations in Houston.

“They didn’t have a national presence,” Perez describes of the company in the late ‘90s. “They weren’t even on the New York Stock Exchange.” Yet, with some corporate convincing and negotiation, Art demonstrated his faith in his son’s ability by gifting him his own storefront, Arts Market Place, so his son could build his dream.

“When he gave up his identity for me, he had best friends who said he was crazy,” recalls Perez of the risk involved. Although it was all their family had, the leap of faith paved the way for the first store. It was a success with the second location to follow shortly after. A large part of Perez’s success was, as he describes it, “staying on the positive side of habits. I’ve had the chance to use Mattress Firm as the testing ground – and what a testing ground!”

Herding the flock, he demonstrates to his employees about financial responsibility. He uses hands-on approaches, teaching them how to be financially driven and successful. “Some employees didn’t know what their credit score was,” Perez explains. The rewards are fruitful. “Seeing a single mom buying a house – that’s the American Dream.”

Perez’s laws of success
“We run our company spiritually; God gives us more to be in charge of,” explains Perez of financial success. Following this formula, Perez has seen his business success grow exponentially. “The power of these simple truths is actually a law. Throughout these 19 years, I realized how powerful these laws are,” Perez explains. These laws include the corporate social responsibility of giving back, and “paying it forward” to his employees and community.

Give-give transactions
“It’s a deal; in order for it to be good so both parties benefit, it’s two people becoming friends because of that transaction.” Authenticity seals the deal. Perez references old classic tactics that give salespeople a bad reputation. “The ol’ bait and switch – we don’t use it.”

Little things = the big things
“It’s always going to be about the little things,” says Perez when describing the small “booties” his staff wears over their shoes when delivering a mattress into a customer’s home. Simple thoughtful approaches speak volumes for their customer care.

Carpe diem
Being an opportunist and seizing the moment has worked in Perez’s favor. “When staring opportunity face to face – we call it the moment of truth – acting upon it. If you let your brain talk you out of it, it won’t help you. When you get in that moment, pull the trigger.”

Community
“Simple principles of being a part of a community mean something,” Perez says. “We run our business similar to a nonprofit. The giving has grown. As your business grows, the giving has to grow, too.” Their success has allowed the company to help support organizations such as Foster Angels of South Texas and the South Texas Women’s Shelter, among others.

At Christmas time, the Corpus Christi Mattress Firm donates mattresses to those in need of a warm bed. “Some kids actually sleep on wood pallets,” describes Perez of low-income homes. “We go around and donate mattresses to put beds in those homes. Every year, it gets bigger and bigger.”

Mentorship
Among Perez’s practicing values, he promotes his employees to success by principles of heart. “I’ve really enjoyed being a business owner. But more importantly, I’ve been able to mentor, helping my employees grow and be a part of that American dream.” Yet, Perez has learned that mentorship comes with listening and providing guidance leaving one’s comfort zone. “Let me be in the backseat; I’ll be the captain. But don’t worry, I’m going to push you out when I need,” he laughs.

Today, Perez Family Mattress Firm employs 63 associates throughout South Texas, with three distribution centers: Corpus Christi, the Valley and Laredo. Truly a family affair, Perez is heavily supported by vice president and wife, Karen Perez, who oversees business infrastructure for all stores. “That’s the beauty of family-owned businesses,” Perez says. “It’s the backbone of America.”

Perez’s mother, Mary Helen Perez, is CFO, accompanied by his daughter, Finance Director Aubrey Perez Garza. His son, Austin Perez, is their local spokesperson who is involved in the store’s participation in local health events, including the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk and Fit Fest.

Perez’s “rock star” employees are guided by his leadership, with generational business sense and wisdom passed down. “Women are strong in our company – lead-her-ship!” says Perez enthusiastically. “We truly mentor; it comes from way back. I’m a product of Corpus Christi.”

Reflecting endearingly on his father, who passed away in fall 2015, he concludes, “I promised him I would keep his name and legacy alive.” Perez continues to keep that spirit and knowledge alive through his dedicated mentorship and foundational principles.

“I’ve been asked what I would miss if I retired,” Perez says. “What I would miss is the amazing things we have created and contributed to—kids and education.” Supporting Education is Our Freedom, the GED program, helps students to be successful in the next phase of their life. Perez has no plans of retirement any time soon, and he is going stick around for a while. “I’m going to do this as long as I can, until I can’t do it anymore.”

For more information, email christopher.dunn@mfrm.com.

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