If you’ve recently driven down Valley Mills Drive or caught the commercial break during the evening news, you might have seen a blonde lady trying to sell you a mattress. That’s Carol Weaver of Waco Mattress Center, and she’s fine with you not knowing her name.
“People don’t recognize the name of our company,” she said. “I promise you, if you sat here one day and we had 10 people through the door, half of them that are writing out a check are going, ‘Who do I make this out to?’ Because they’re looking for the store with ‘that blonde lady.’ That’s what I’m referred to as. It doesn’t bother me. But I’m Carol.”
Weaver and her husband, Billy, previously worked in corporate retail, but in order to be closer to family, they decided to leave their jobs and open their own store. For 22 years, they’ve raised their three sons in the business and built a brand around being family owned and operated. In a recent conversation with the Wacoan, Weaver shared how her business has weathered the pandemic as well as a few surprising facts about herself, including how something that was once a battle — she never wanted to sell beds or be in commercials — is now her passion.
WACOAN: How did you end up selling mattresses?
Weaver: I worked for Walmart, and that’s where I met my husband. I was with Walmart for 11 years. He left Walmart and started working for other companies. He actually started working in retail with Mattress Firm, and that gave him the idea, ‘Hey, this is fun. I like selling beds. I like helping people and talking to them one-on-one and helping them find something that would help them sleep better.’
We wanted to open a store, and they did franchises, at the time. Unfortunately, they got bought out, so they shut off all franchise stores. We were slated to open a store here in Waco, but that idea was nixed.
He left Mattress Firm and went to work for another company, a competitor up in Dallas-Fort Worth, Mattress Giant. That gave him a different retail insight and more connections in the industry because there are a lot of manufacturers that are out there. You’ve got your big corporate ones and then you also have all these small entities as well. It taught him how to create a good mix because not everybody can afford or wants a Sealy or Stearns & Foster or Beautyrest. With a smaller manufacturer, it gives [the customer] the opportunity for a little bit better value but still a good quality product because [the smaller manufacturers] do take pride in the products they build.
So he said, ‘You know what, we can do this on our own.’ Then April of ’99 is when we opened our store. This will be our 22nd year that we’ve been in business.
WACOAN: Why did you want to open the store in Waco?
Weaver: The reason we came back is because I have family here. I grew up south of Waco in the Perry-Otto area. We wanted to do something for ourselves and not necessarily working for other people. We both came from a retail background, working for big corporation companies, so it was something that we wanted to do as far as coming here and offering a service that we felt like we could do ourselves or better. That way we could spend more time with our family and raise our kids in the business.
WACOAN: How old were your kids when you moved back here?
Weaver: Billy’s older son, Joey, was 4, and then our son Skylar was 2, and Alec was not born yet. We had him in 2001. So I was big and pregnant, walking this floor, selling beds. Then when he was born, he came to the store with us every day, and customers would carry him around if they saw him. He grew up in the business, and he’s the only one that’s really shown an interest in being part of the store and wanting to participate in it.
WACOAN: Were you nervous going from a corporate job to being a small-business owner?
Weaver: I was scared to death. I did not want to do this. I wanted to continue my tenure with Walmart. I was in an office job, so I had a ‘cushy job’ if you want to put it that way. I did accounts payable. It was easy in that my hours were set, come and go as I needed to, and I enjoyed what I did.
I [initially] stayed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area while he came here and opened the store. I was not going to come back here until July , but business just started getting better and better, and he couldn’t do it alone. I came in June, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
WACOAN: You didn’t originally intend to work at the store when you moved?
Weaver: I didn’t want to work at the store. I just didn’t want to sell mattresses. I actually told him when we first opened, I said, ‘Not going to sell beds.’ OK. I’m selling beds.
Then when I was pregnant with Alec, we decided we needed to get our face known. How do you do that? You have to advertise. I told him, ‘I’m not doing commercials.’ Well, I lost that battle.
I actually enjoy working in the store. I enjoy customers that walk through because you get all walks of life, and you hear so many different things. It’s a passion for me and for us — the ladies and gentlemen that work for us — helping that customer find what they’re looking for.
WACOAN: With your hesitation to sell mattresses and be in the commercials, how did you become the face of Waco Mattress Center? Why not your husband?
Weaver: His comment was, ‘Who wants to see an old burly guy talking on TV? They’d rather see a pretty lady.’ When we first did commercials, it was me speaking, but we had our family on there, so people saw our kids grow up on the TV, just like [Waco car dealership owner] Greg May. Everybody saw his kids and watched them grow up. It makes you feel like you’re a part of that family when you see them. We don’t brand the manufacturers. We’re the brand.
WACOAN: Was doing the commercials nerve-wracking at first?
Weaver: Yes. Every time they would tell me I’m shooting a new commercial, I was so nervous. I was shaking. Even though you’re talking to a camera, knowing in your mind that this is going to be seen by hundreds of thousands of people and just being nervous that you only have a certain amount of time to talk. But as the years have gone by and as I’ve done more and more, it’s become easier.
Billy is the one who writes our commercials. He comes up with the ideas. We have friends that are in the industry, and we kind of pick their brains for what we think might work well for us. We pay attention to what our competitors are doing as well.
WACOAN: How is your youngest son involved in the business?
Weaver: He started working here last year. He sells. He just turned 20. Both of my boys would come in on the weekends and just help me. If we needed someone to load mattresses, they were here for that. Most of the time they slept while they were at work. They weren’t here to do anything other than that.
But as time went on, Alec created an interest, and there was a day that we were very busy, and he was here. I said, ‘Alec, I need you to go over there and talk to that customer just to greet them and see what they’re looking for, kind of keep them in the store.’ He did that and actually sold that customer a mattress. And it wasn’t a cheap one. It was a really good mattress. And he got the bug. He got bit.
For his age, he’s one that’s confident in himself. He’s not scared to talk to anybody. He can hold a conversation and look an adult in the eye, which is very unusual for someone of his age group, and people find him refreshing.
WACOAN: What do your other two boys do?
Weaver: Joey is the oldest, and he is a paramedic with [American Medical Response]. He’s been a paramedic for a year. He graduated from the fire academy at [McLennan Community College], then EMT school and then paramedic school.
Skylar, he works for the city of Woodway in waste management. Started in parks and recreation, and he worked his way up. He’s been there four years.
WACOAN: What do you like about the Waco community?
Weaver: It’s just more laid back. It’s more comfortable. You feel like you walk down the street and you see somebody, you can say hi and they’re not going to look at you like, ‘Who are you talking to?’ They’re going to reciprocate that and say hello back. It’s a very strong, tight-knit community.
WACOAN: How are you involved in the community?
Weaver: We sponsor local football teams, different activities. Our kids grew up in the Midway school district, and they started [out] playing peewee football. The relationship [players] have with their coaches and the gentlemen that mentor those kids from 7 years old all the way up through high school makes an impact. We see that in our children. We want to make sure that other kids have the same opportunity, so we sponsor local teams.
We support Shepherd’s Heart [Food Pantry]. That’s kind of our local charity.
WACOAN: How did you become involved in that? What put Shepherd’s Heart on your radar?
Weaver: Actually, a customer. Gosh, it’s been six years ago now. This gentleman and his wife came in, and we waited on them. Very nice people. He gave me his business card, and it said Shepherd’s Heart on it. My husband and I were sitting around one day and said, ‘We need to do something for the community. What can we do? What can we do?’ I said, ‘I know of something.’ I dug through my stack of business cards, and we called them.
We met [executive director] Robert Gager, who started it and founded it. He came in and gave us his story. He grew up on the streets. He grew up homeless, and he wanted to make a difference. He got out of that situation, and he wanted to help people do the same.
To me, it’s a no-brainer. They serve the local community here in Waco but also surrounding communities. They serve shut-ins. They are in the process now of trying to get a food truck where they can deliver more food for those who can’t come to the food pantry. We give as much as we can to them.
WACOAN: How has the last year affected you as a business owner?
Weaver: We had a great year in 2019. Starting off in 2020, we were heading in to have another great year with an increase of sales. When COVID hit, it was really hard.
Being shut down was more frustrating than anything because there were still people who needed merchandise from us. Not that they didn’t have something, but they were just ready, and we couldn’t service them. That was the sad part. It was that we couldn’t help those people because we couldn’t allow them into our doors. We were not considered an essential business.
We did get assistance through the [Paycheck Protection Program]. We did get assistance through the [Small Business Administration] loan. I was able to keep all of my employees paid during our shutdown.
We still came to work every day. We may not have worked our normal eight-hour shifts, but we came in, we answered phone calls. We returned emails. My big thing was to keep the relationship that we had with our manufacturers up and going.
Once we were able to open back up, I won’t say it was a windfall, but there was a lot of pent-up frustrations that people wanted to get out and shop.
We try to keep a clean environment. We have an air purification system we had installed before the COVID shutdown. This air purification runs through our HVAC unit, and it kills up to 99% of viruses, bacteria, mold and mildew as well as pollens.
We still sanitize. We’re still walking around with the Lysol and the hand sanitizer. We’re still trying to be more conscious about that. Unfortunately, my husband and I and Alec all had COVID. We have been fortunate that no one else working for us has had it.
It is tough right now for our industry, as well as the furniture industry, because the supply of goods is limited. [Personal protective equipment] that they use for first responders and for nurses and doctors, some of that same material is also used in building mattresses. Most people don’t realize that. That created a shortage.
When we reopened for [the first] 90 days, everything was good. We were able to get mattresses in, and we were able to deliver as quick as possible. Nothing really changed in our supply demand. Then it hit.
Our manufacturers couldn’t get the supplies in to build mattresses. Customers could normally get a mattress delivered to them within a week. Now we’re having to wait four weeks, six weeks and eight weeks. You’ve got furniture stores who are up to six months to be able to deliver to customers. It’s really hard, and it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for all of us.
The one good thing about being a small business is that we’re not locked in with the national manufacturers that I can only display a certain amount of products from another company. I can add anybody onto my floor if I need to, so I’m looking for manufacturers that have the available supplies, that still offer a good product at a better price point, but also stand behind their product. So that’s kind of broadened our horizon a little bit more.
When the cold snap hit in February, one of the major manufacturers that creates a catalyst used to expand foams was [affected]. That particular company is now shut down. For six weeks, they’re going to be out of business. That’s going to cut us back again. It’s happening again, and it will probably be 12- to 16-week delays on some of this product, which is frustrating.
WACOAN: How has the trend of the ‘mattress in a box’ and ordering online affected your business?
Weaver: It’s really affected our back-to-school business. Once, Baylor, MCC and TSTC really did drive a lot of business to us because you have an influx of new people coming into the area and moving in. Back in 2017 is when it first started, that business slowed way down because it became more convenient to buy online.
We do carry products that come compressed in a box. We do have that opportunity for the customer who wants to come and load it, take it with them. Some people still don’t like that idea. They don’t want to go into a store. They don’t want to have to deal with the salesperson.
We noticed that when we brought in one of our manufacturers that has ‘bed in the box,’ they were not prepared for us. They did not think that we were going to sell as much of their product as we did. They said, ‘Yeah, we’ll be able to do it.’ They had no idea, no idea whatsoever.
Yes, one little store can sell a lot of mattresses, and you don’t think that you would. That was my fear when we opened. ‘Oh my gosh, what happens when we’ve sold to everybody? And we’ve been in business for 10 years, then what?’ But there’s always new people moving in. There are always people needing something new. Kids grow up. People move out. You have that extra room to fill. It’s refreshing to see customers from the past coming back in. Those that remember when Alec was little, running around the store.
But the industry has definitely changed and a lot more people are going online. There’s a lot more research capability, and we still try to compete with that. It’s hard, but there’s still that national branded product that people want to come in and touch and feel. That’s what also helps us out. We carry that same product that you can find online, but there’s nothing like trying it before you buy it. And that’s kind of where we stand.
WACOAN: Are you in the store full time?
Weaver: I work maybe three, four days a week. Other than that, I’m just kind of the face of the company.
WACOAN: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Weaver: I raised three boys, two of them are married. I’ve got my husband. I consider him my fourth child. We love to play golf together. I play at the sport. He actually plays it, and we have fun going out and spending time together and doing that. We like to play at [Bear Ridge Golf Club] and [Cottonwood Creek Golf Course].
I like cooking. I just got my new kitchen redone at my house, so I love cooking for my family, trying different recipes. If I see something at a restaurant, I’m like, ‘Hmm, maybe I can fix that.’ I’ll try to mimic that recipe.
I enjoy my time to myself. I enjoy listening to music. I like music of all kinds. I like anything from ’80s rock, ’70s rock, to classical, to a little bit of jazz. I like to read my devotionals every day. It helps me to get through the day, through the week.
WACOAN: What’s something people don’t know about you?
Weaver: I’m shy. I’m really not an outgoing person. Most people find it funny when I tell them I’m a shy person. I’m not the life of the party. If I don’t know you, I’m probably not going to go up and just introduce myself to you. But when you walk through the door here, I’m confident, because you’re in my home. This is my comfort zone.
WACOAN: What kind of mattress do you have?
Weaver: I sleep on an all-latex bed. My husband likes a really soft bed. I like soft, but I want to feel like I’m supported, and latex does that.
WACOAN: How often should we be changing our mattresses?
Weaver: A lot of people ask me that question. It’s recommended that you replace every eight to 10 years. Durability of a mattress can be anywhere from six to 12. It really depends on what type of mattress you get, what quality of mattress you bought.
Mattresses used to be built to last 20 years, and they did. You couldn’t destroy them. Now it’s built more for comfort. Yes, there’s technology to it, but on average, your mattress is going to last you about six to eight years. If you get one that lasts you eight to 10 years, that’s spot on.
I would say eight years is a good time to start looking, or if you go to bed at night and you’re not sleeping as well, look at what’s going on. What’s changed in your life? If nothing has really changed but you’re waking up feeling different, then you need to start looking at your mattress.
Carol’s 5 Must-Have Items:
1. Latex pillow. When I travel, I have to bring my pillow with me. I have to sleep with a comfortable pillow.
2. Mani-pedis. I have to get my nails done and my pedicures done at least every other week. I go to Nails of America. That’s my favorite place to go.
3. Bottle of water. I always have a bottle of water with me. I always want to stay hydrated.
4. Clinique lipstick. I always have my favorite lipsticks with me, and that would be Clinique. My favorite color is pink or red. The brighter, the better.
5. Mexican food. Mexican food is my favorite. Always has been. I have to have it at least once a week, whether I’m going to Casa [de Castillo] or Hecho [en Waco]. My favorite is enchiladas and guacamole.