Magnificent Milestones: a Tribute to Red Fox (Founder)
Originally Published in the August 1998 issue of BEDtimes
We dedicate this section in memory of Rex A. Fox. Rex started Fox Mattress in 1968. Here is his story as told in an article from 1998 in BedTimes magazine. Rick Carter has been operating the manufacturing plant and retail store since 1980 and will carry on the business and continue the Fox Mattress Mission… To build a better mattress than we can buy.
A one-time upholsterer, then retailer and mattress manufacturer – in addition to a full-time guitar player – Rex Fox, founder and owner of Fox Mattress Makers, has applied a good deal of commitment and talent over the past 30 years to his factory-direct bedding business. As a result, what began as a one-person upholstery shop has grown into a successful bedding business in Daytona Beach, Fla. Fox began learning the upholstering trade when he was growing up in North Carolina. Leaving high school after the ninth grade, Fox spent several years working with skilled upholsterers in North Carolina furniture factories. He started at the bottom – literally and figuratively – putting springs in chairs.”I didn’t make but $3 or $4 a day, which was discouraging, but as I learned, I made a little more,” Fox recalled.
What Fox really wanted, however, was to be an upholsterer. After quitting time, when the others in the factory would leave, he would stay behind, going around finishing sofas and chairs that were left incomplete at the upholsterers stations. “I could pretty well look around at 50 or 60 pieces on workhorses and find examples of what I didn’t know and get ’em finished. No one knew I was doing this for quite awhile,” Fox has admitted.
Finally after about six months, the others in the factory discovered who had been doing the mystery work. When they learned he was interested in becoming an upholsterer, they started giving him useful tips and trade secrets, which Fox said helped a great deal.
During his teens, Fox worked hard learning the skills needed for refurbishing furniture. Little did he know how useful they would be when he relocated to Florida when he was in his twenties to help his mother who was moving there to manage a motel in Ormond Beach.
At first, Fox worked as a maintenance man in his mother’s motel and also found a part-time job at a local upholstery shop.
By the late 1960s, he had saved enough money to open his own upholstery shop on Granada Boulevard. Fox admitted that running his own shop taught him a lot about operating a business. He said he quickly learned how to sell and compete with other experienced business owners. The greatest challenge was to quickly refurbish a large number of furniture pieces for clients, while maintaining high-quality and artisan workmanship in every job order he had. To make extra money, Fox often bought secondhand furniture to restore and resell. He especially liked to take an old, ragged chair and reupholster it with fine fabric to make it look better than new.
Four years later, with his first venture showing healthy growth, Fox decided to branch out slightly and become a furniture and mattress retail company. To find the appropriate location for his business he took advantage of a bankruptcy sale of a small block building on Nova Road in Daytona Beach. Initially, Fox realized he didn’t have the means to buy the property, but he did sign a lease with an option to buy from the businessman who bought out the bankrupt business. The property included seven small detached rental units. While the retail space was tiny, and half of the furniture had to be displayed outdoors in the open air, the rental units provided Fox with extra income each month. Fox leased the entire property for $300 a month, while from the seven rentals on the property he received $900 a month. In two years, Fox said he had enough money to buy the place. Fox started off in the bedding business by selling mattresses manufactured by other companies.
Eventually, however, he decided to apply his experience as an upholsterer to the art of making his own quality bedding. Those skills he had acquired from the manual furniture upholsterers in North Carolina years earlier would serve him well now in making mattresses. In 1982, Fox started to make his own mattresses, spending a year in the factory to make sure the job was done properly.
The effort, Fox admits today, paid off. He explained he produces a quality product for a reasonable price which his customers truly appreciate. In fact, his business grew enough that Fox decided to expand his showroom warehouse and purchase a building on LPGA Boulevard to use as a factory. Mattress making became central to the company in the late 1980s and Fox stopped selling furniture altogether at that point.
Today, the company produces about 35 mattresses a day from its 18,000 square foot factory. The factory and showroom have expanded three times since Fox launched the business, and plans for a fourth expansion are in the works. Fox is proud to say that his business has sold more than 130,000 pieces of bedding since its inception in 1968. A factory-direct operation has always appealed to Fox because of the control it provides the company. “We build one of the best beds out there,” said Rick Carter, Fox’s plant manager. The company has capitalized on that fact with the public. In addition to running the factory, Carter, who has been with the business for nearly 20 years, also pitches in with sales.
Fox always has made a practice of plowing profits back into the business to keep the company growing and to minimize the debt load. However, he has followed some non-traditional approaches when it comes to selling mattresses. Fox sells bedding without a large number of sales people.Store manager Wayne Murray, who also has been with Fox for nearly 20 years, takes the time to stress the quality of the product with customers. “We give our customers an education so they can see what they’re spending their money for,” Fox has noted.
Fox himself comes up with his own advertising concepts, which have proven to be very successful over the years. He is recognized in the Daytona Beach area for a series of television commercials in which he is featured. During the commercials Fox tells potential customers, “I have a bed for you!” It took about six months for the commercials to catch on with the public. Once they did, however viewers began recognizing Fox on the street and coming into the store to buy. To celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary, Fox is manufacturing and selling a special edition 30th Anniversary “Fox 0-Pedic” model. Carter said sales of the special edition are going “great guns.” The company also is planning to launch special factory tours for the public.
As mentioned above, throughout his life Fox has played the guitar. Even today, one of his favorite pastimes is getting his band together and playing for charity events.
While back problems make it difficult for Fox to do the kind of heavy work he used to do, he continues to be very much a hands-on owner.
Looking to the future, Carter observed that the company may grow a bit more by opening up a satellite store. But for the time being, Fox is very content with what 30 years of hard work has produced.