In November, Steve Tipton returned to Serta Simmons Bedding as the VP of the bedding giant’s hospitality division. It had been nearly four years since he had stepped away from getting beds in hotels (and helping hotels get heads in beds), but he had a lifetime of experience under his belt to help bring the company’s business to the next level.
Tipton grew up in the furniture industry. His grandfather and great-uncle opened up a furniture store in 1935 in a small Missouri town, and when his father joined the family business decades later, Tipton stepped up as well. Helping out in the store, he learned about manufacturing, business and sales, developing an interest and expertise in all three facets of the industry.
By the 1980s, Tipton left the family business and spent several years rising through the ranks at the major mattress companies. He went to work for Sealy in the firm’s national accounts business—“dealing with large, big-box retailers,” he recalled, noting Sears and JCPenney as some of the big furniture chains he connected with at the time. In 1992, he went to Serta, where he worked as VP of marketing for more than two years, among other roles. After seven years, he joined Simmons to oversee some of the big national accounts, and by 2003 took over the company’s hospitality division—which, he said, was “somewhat in disrepair,” with narrow distribution. Lacking strong relationships with the hotel brands, he began building a team that could grow the business by connecting with hoteliers. “We took that business from a pretty modest start and in 10 years we were No. 2 in hospitality—by a long shot.”
Growth and Changes
Tipton credits the team he built for the division’s success. “It's all about people,” he said. “Besides having the commitment of the company, it's about the people that you bring in, the people that you work with, that understand that you're going to go in one direction and you have to stay focused. You can't be distracted.” Over the years, the team helped get Simmons' beds into the standard design prototypes for companies like Marriott International, Hilton, IHG, Choice Hotels International, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts and Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Tipton recalled.
At the end of 2015, as sister brands Serta and Simmons reorganized and formally integrated, Tipton left the mattress industry to become first VP of sales and then VP of sales and design for design and procurement company Innvision Hospitality. Over the next four years, he was responsible for managing the company’s team of internal and field-based sales representatives.
And as 2019 drew to a close, he came back home to Serta Simmons. The opportunity to lead the combined organization to what he calls “the next level of excellence” was too good to pass up. “When they approached me about coming back it put me in a pretty good place to be able to say yes.”
His experiences have provided a perspective that he describes as “pretty unique ... from both sides of the house, so to speak, in that I see the design process and what has to go into every hotel that gets built, how they have to be designed, the details and the intricacies.” From the procurement side, he learned what hotel owners need from their suppliers and how suppliers—like a bedding company—can help a hotel open on schedule.
Over the course of his career, the most important lesson Tipton learned is to never assume anything. “It's a precise business that requires precise information,” he said, adding that knowing when a product shipped is less important than being sure of when it will arrive. “So that perspective is a great tool as I come back to lead the Serta Simmons team,” he said. And as a leader of a leading supplier, he added, he has learned to never rest on laurels. "Competition keeps you smart," he quipped, "and I'll use the expression that success makes you stupid. The minute that you are trying to break your arm patting yourself on the back because you're doing such a great job, somebody is going to knock you off."
The company’s position as a leader in the mattress industry—both for residential and hospitality use—is not accidental, Tipton said: “We earned that position, but you have to earn that every day. That is not a ‘one and done.’ We have to wake up every morning and earn our position in the industry and earn our position and the trust of our clients and all the different segments that we work with. So it's a great responsibility.”
Clicking with Clients
Any hospitality supplier must pay equal attention to pleasing both the hotelier and the guest. “Our focus is going to be on the well-being of the hotel owner, their guest scores, how we build our product to drive guest scores—and then how we service them,” Tipton said. “I know that [for] every general manager in every hotel, the primary bonus is driven off the guest scores.” (Tipton’s son works in the hospitality industry, giving him a “privileged” look at what happens behind the scenes at hotels and what a supplier needs to know.) “So we just have a restless way and we never feel complacent about where we are.”
Logic in Logistics
“We work very closely with brands to listen to their vision, to listen to where they want to be,” Tipton said. The company designs its products in a “huge” innovation center in Atlanta— “about 150,000 square feet of nothing more than design and testing,” he said. “And we look at stuff about the environment, [such as] ‘how do we protect the bed from the elements,’ that kind of thing ... We'll guide the development because we have a bunch of great team members at Serta Simmons in the innovation side of our business. So we take our vision or our client's vision to them and then we collaborate, and that collaboration then develops the product that we want or that the client wants.”