NEWS JOURNAL FEATURE ARTICLE
by Jim Abbott, published January 19,2020
HOLLY HILL — From foam to springs to steel, Rick Carter lives to analyze mattresses and what people love — and hate — about them.
“I can talk about mattresses all day,” said Carter, 58, patriarch of family-owned Fox Mattress, a fixture in Volusia County since 1968. As trends and fads have come and gone, the company has endured for more than 50 years through an old-school hands-on approach inside the walls of a 25,000-square foot factory, warehouse and showroom on North Nova Road.
“This is where the magic happens,” Carter said, leading a guest into the company’s production center, where bed frames are stacked to the rafters, alongside mammoth rolls of fabric and padding.
“You can tell we’re in the mattress business,” Carter said.
At Fox, that business has been the obsession of two families since the company’s founding, in the midst of the flower-power era. The company’s founder, Rex Fox, learned the upholstery trade as a teen in furniture factories in North Carolina, where his first job was putting springs into chairs.
After moving to Florida to help his mother run a hotel in Ormond Beach, Fox opened his own upholstery shop on Granada Boulevard, a business that would eventually become Fox Mattress.
In 1980, Fox bought Carter’s Bedding, a company owned by Rick Carter’s mother, and Carter stayed to assist with the transition. Now, he’s assisted by his daughter, Chelsea Carter, 28, who earned a degree in social work from Florida State University, but decided to stay in the family business. Her two-year-old daughter, Everly, has already made a few cameos in the company’s advertising.
“I sold my first mattress when I was 9 years old,” Chelsea said. “I’ve been in the mattress business since I was 6 years old.”
The company’s specialty, trumpeted on the marquee in front of the Nova Road store, is the two-sided mattress. It’s a design that’s becoming increasingly hard to find in an industry often consumed with tech-driven bells and whistles such as customized sleep settings and other advances.
Fox embraces some of that new technology in its inventory of 35 mattress styles that range from $200 to $4,500 and up. Still, it’s the two-sided, or flip, mattresses that account for roughly 80 percent of the company’s sales, Chelsea said.
“People drive hundreds of miles to buy from us because we have two-sided mattresses,” she said.
Those loyal customers include Terri Lubas, 53, of DeLand. She and her husband have been patronizing Fox Mattress for most of the 30-plus years they have lived in Volusia County.
“We have built a relationship with them and they have built one with us,” Lubas said. “They stand by their products and they make a really good product. My husband does all kinds of research on whatever we buy and we always go back to Fox Mattress.”
To illustrate, Lubas recalls the time the couple bought an expensive adjustable bed only to realize after it was delivered that it wasn’t what they wanted.
“We had spent hours at Fox talking about it,” Lubas said. “We called them and said, ‘This isn’t working for us.’ Chelsea said, ‘Come right in and we’ll make it right,’ and they did. We didn’t have to fight for anything, didn’t have to justify anything. It was just, ‘Come in and we’ll make it right.’”
The Lubas’ family loyalty now extends into a new generation. Their daughter just ordered a mattress for her new home in Jacksonville.
“We were thrilled to find out that they deliver there,” Lubas said.
Other longtime customers include Lowell and Nancy Lohman, former co-founders and co-owners of the Lohman Funeral Home chain.
“Lowell met Rick at a home show and just started talking with him about our mattress,” Nancy said. “We were not happy with our bedding and he (Rick) told him, ‘I will make sure I find just the right mattress for you.’ That was about 15 years ago and it’s the best chance meeting ever. We have been fans ever since.”
For the Carters, the secret to a quality mattress involves one thing:
“It’s about density,” Rick said. “The density is key. That’s the money shot. That’s what makes it last for years. When something’s brand new, anything feels good.”
To demonstrate, he picks up two identical, brightly colored vinyl-covered blocks, about the size of a portable ice cooler. One is feather-light; the other heftier, maybe a few pounds.
“Not all cushion is created the same,” he said.
And the Carters are picky about the materials inside their mattresses, he said. The company uses a soy-based foam, rather than the chemicals used by many brands to comply with federal standards for flame-retardant materials.
“People worry about carpet and drywall, but a mattress is the closest thing to your face, eight hours a night, seven days a week,” Rick said. “I want to know what I’m breathing in.”
Nor is he a fan of buying mattresses from online retailers or the one-style-fits-all notion that some competitors offer.
He thinks those factors contribute to the emotion that he concedes most customers associate with mattress shopping:
“For a lot of companies, it’s not about what’s in a mattress, it’s about what we can make from a mattress,” Rick said. “We build what we know works.”
At Fox, the company’s 15 employees produce an average of eight to 10 mattresses daily and sell them in a showroom that doesn’t operate on commission, the Carters said. That production rate sometimes elicits raised eyebrows from larger competitors, they said.
“It’s a not a conveyer belt,” Rick said. “When you do things right, you can’t do things crazy fast.”