Inside a small storefront along Brainerd Road, Brent Winters can see more than two years of work begin to take the shape of what he hopes will be a successful enterprise.
Within the 3,000-square-foot building he shares with a friend in the pawn business, Winters has about 20 mattresses set up in his half of the shop. The Chattanooga location is the first of several planned expansions of Winters' Mattress & Furniture Expo that he opened in Cleveland, Tenn., in late 2008.
"In Cleveland I have full-line furniture and floor coverings, too," he said, adding that the Cleveland store is about four times larger than the location in Chattanooga. "But I just wasn't prepared or committed to say, 'Hey let's go down to Chattanooga and open a huge furniture store,' because the economy's crazy. But I feel comfortable in mattresses because I know where I'm at pricewise."
To reflect his offerings, he dropped the furniture portion of the name for the Chattanooga store, simply calling it Mattress Expo.
Winters said he may not have "the craziest, nicest location," but he prides himself on his ability to sell brand name mattresses at wholesale prices without what he calls the traditional "hard-selling techniques."
When starting his business, he knew little about mattresses, but he knew how to sell and knew he wanted to target a market looking for the best prices possible.
"In this economy, people don't have a lot of money to spend and sleep is important, and I understand that," he said. "But not everybody has to have a $1,000 mattress."
Despite tighter purse strings, Winters said he's had a steady flow of customers at the Cleveland location and things are starting to pick up at the Chattanooga store, which opened late last year.
Brian Jones joined Winters as co-owner in 2009 and has helped push forward the goal of growing the business throughout Southeast Tennessee.
"We'd love to have 10 stores in this area," Jones said. "Of course, if we have 10, we'd like 20 or 30."
For now, the business owners are focusing on reaching more customers and increasing their footprint one step at a time. They said sticking with low prices is how they hope to differentiate themselves from competitors, especially since there are several in the area.
"I'm OK with making less profit and turning more of those sales," Jones said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's the way for us to get more people in our doors and for us to expand."
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