Sleep Savvy Magazine
Retail Road Trip: The Selling Scene
"East Chop Sleep Shop"
By Karl Kunkel
Vineyard independent gets islanders’ respect . . . and their business
Mike Chmura knew he needed a catchy name for his new sleep shop that would reflect the local character of Martha’s Vineyard when it opened in 1984. He found one as he drove by the famous East Chop lighthouse. He chose East Chop Sleep Shop as a nod to this beacon landmark, placed where the harbor merges with the outer channel of Vineyard Sound. READ ABOUT THE EAST CHOP LIGHT
“When the wind blows, it creates choppy water,” Mike said. “Since East Chop rhymes with sleep shop, no further discussion was needed.
Mike passed away in 2016, but today Mike’s wife, Pat Ferguson, operate the only sleep shop on this tiny 12-mile by 19-mile island. The Vineyard, accessible only by ferry boat, is a tourist mecca that swells to 175,000 during the summer months. During the off-season, the population drops to 12,000.
Family businesses are respected by the residents, and Pat has worked to make hers a key part of the community. “Islanders depend on family-owned stores on the island for their daily needs.”
Some islanders buy mattresses on the mainland and lug them onto the Vineyard by ferry – and then try to dispose of their old mattress themselves. But not many. “Most people can’t purchase a mattress and bring it over for what we can sell it for, deliver it and take care of their needs,” Pat says.
Selecting quality SKUs
Over the years, East Chop has grown to the point where “our volume is consistent with the average sales per store of any national chain.”
The store carries three brands: Gold Bond, King Koil, and Natura. Pat offers 18 SKUs and, with just 2,500 square feet, use twin and queen sizes as floor models. Two twin beds – a firm and a plush – are usually placed side-by-side so the customer can do a quick comparison. The less-expensive bedding is shown on bunk beds or daybeds.
“We have to choose the best models that will offer us maximum turns and dollars per square foot,”Pat says. “Our best-selling prices are $999 to $1,199, with queen prices running from $599 to $2,999.”
A good percentage of those premium-priced beds go to locals rather than just the affluent seasonal visitors. So the big ticket sales are not limited to the summer months.
The average price point has been on the rise of late. Consumers are more aware of the importance of sleep and the bedding options available, Pat says. Among the reasons: Television programs covering the bedding category more frequently and vendor reps offering substantive marketing suggestions to the staff.
“And our employees do, honestly, read Sleep Savvy every month,” Pat says.
A good team
Pat Ferguson was introduced to East Chop in 1987 on her first date with Mike Chmura, which consisted of some deliveries he had to make. She helped with the heavy lifting, and they discovered they made a good team – even though she got her pink jeans dirty.
Pat commutes to the store regularly from her home in Rhode Island.
An East Chop sales presentation starts with finding customers’ desired comfort level by taking them to a firm, pillowtop or plush and going from there. “If they like the pillowtop, we have eliminated 14 beds right there,” Pat says.
Customers like attention when entering the store. So two faithful assistants that immediately greet them are Isabelle and Stasiu, a pair of black lab puppies that brighten up the place and keep customers occupied during busy periods.
Customers are encouraged to buy the best bed they can for themselves and, if on a budget, to work down in price when furnishing the other bedrooms. They appreciate the honesty of not trying to oversell them.
To minimize confusion about warranties, the East Chop staff staples an informative brochure to every invoice and asks the customer to read it. The delivery truck drivers also have copies of the brochure, which spells out store policies and avoids false expectations.
“That has reduced the rate of returns and problems,” Pat says.
Accessories add appeal
Pat has a flair for decorating and a keen eye for accessories, which she uses to entice customers into the store. She accessorizes the floor sample mattresses in a way that shows how a customer could use them, but most of the mattress surface remains uncovered so customers can study the bed and lie on it easily.
“It’s a very colorful store,” Pat says. “The Martha’s Vineyard decor is the summer. You are always buying things that look like summer – light, beachy colors.” But no glitz. The islanders do not like anything that smacks of glitz or big-city life, she emphasizes.
In the past five years, Pat has greatly expanded the accessory items to include a wide selection of pillows, sheets, comforters and mattress pads, in addition to a collection of quick-ship, moderate cost, decorative quilts, shams and accent pillows. “We are on an island, so there are only so many beds we can sell,” Pat says.
She has learned about accessories from experience – and how to buy things in scale. “The first year I bought an entire truckload of quilts, and they all came the same day,” she says.
Although $1,500 imported sheets are available on the island, don’t look for them at East Chop. Pat stocks only accessories that are reasonably priced. “We noticed that even our affluent customers are very dollar-conscious,” she says.
Pat notes that two out of three customers who purchase a $799 bed or above buy at least $100 of accessories. “On a strong accessory day, we will sell $1,200 in this category,” she says.
Playing Santa for needy kids
Many of the residents of Martha’s Vinyard are paycheck-to-paycheck landscapers and service workers that are busy during the summer but have a hard time making ends meet during the winter. To help, East Chop supports a local program called the Red Stocking Fund. With the support of vendors, East Chop Sleep Shop fashions a dozen completely dressed beds for needy kids that don’t have beds. Each child gets a mattress, box spring, frame, mattress pad, pillow and blanket.
“We play Santa Claus and deliver these 12 beds to the kids a week before Christmas,” Pat says. “This will be our eighth winter.”
Filling every niche
East Chop’s growth parallels that of the island. Many of the houses going up – vacation and year-round residences – are quite large and will accommodate several beds. East Chop seeks to fill those new homes.
Niche market traffic is also important. East Chop gets a fair amount of interior designer traffic, as well as business from local B&Bs and inns. Other customers include property managers that care for the seasonal homes. Real estate agents and banks also refer clients to East Chop.
From February through August, the bedding delivered to East Chop comes by ferry on vendor-owned trailer trucks – East Chop claims to deliver more bedding dollars per mile driven than any one store in the United States. Its trucks only drive about 12,000 miles per year.
Pat needs to make arrangements with each vendor several months in advance. “Our primary bedding suppliers work very closely with us to make sure that our landed cost is the same as other dealers on the mainland,” she says.
Much of East Chop’s business comes from good word-of-mouth around the island, as well as newspaper ads in the two weekly papers. Pat promotes holidays, early-bird specials, truckload sales and, for the two biggest days of the year, a statewide tax-free weekend in August.
East Chop also runs a series of commercials on cable television all year. They produce a local one themselves, with Pat as the on-air spokesperson. Her tagline, as she looks into the camera, is “Remember, we are East Chop Sleep Shop, where our only goal is to make you feel good in bed.”
She sums up the East Chop attitude about serving their island customers with the following story: One Sunday afternoon when the store was closed, he received a phone call at his Rhode Island home from a new resident that had just moved to the island and needed bedding immediately for the whole house. Mike told him where the key to the store was hidden. While the customer walked through the store with his cell phone, Mike explained the features of the bedding models and prices. Mike helped him write up the invoice, and then told him how to operate the credit card machine. The beds were delivered later that night. Try doing business that way in the big city.
Keeping the Vineyard Green
Martha’s Vineyard residents and business owners want to ensure that the scenery of their island remains intact. As the island’s population has grown, so too has the volume of trash. With East Chop’s need to dispose of almost 2,000 pieces of old bedding yearly, we have the potential to upset an increasingly delicate environmental balance.
Over the past 18 months, the cost to put one mattress in the local landfill has more than quadrupled. When the price hit $50 earlier this summer, we worked out an arrangement with a freight shipper to take the mattresses back to the mainland for $25 each. The shipper now transports the mattresses to a company that recycles the materials, so nothing goes to waste – or into the Martha’s Vineyard landfill.
“When we explain what we do with the old bedding, we have no trouble collecting $25 from the customer. They are appreciative of our ecological concerns for the Vineyard.”