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Mary Pat Wallace of Chicago Luxury Beds: “Cheaper does not always mean better, and people are aware of that”

In my analysis, most of the retail responses to the pandemic — things like cleaning and distancing protocols, curbside service, shifting to new product categories or expanding certain categories — fall into a classic category: anticipating customer needs. Our circumstances are unusual, but the need to serve customers and meet them where they are is not. In our stores, […]

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In my analysis, most of the retail responses to the pandemic — things like cleaning and distancing protocols, curbside service, shifting to new product categories or expanding certain categories — fall into a classic category: anticipating customer needs. Our circumstances are unusual, but the need to serve customers and meet them where they are is not. In our stores, we have enhanced cleanliness and distancing protocols, but we also are allowing customers to book appointments for one-on-one visits to our space with no other customers in-store. For us, this was simply a natural extension of what we have always done — our customer experience has always been based on a very personalized service model in which customers are treated as honored guests. With that idea in mind, retail stores can shift to respond to almost any environment.


As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Pat Wallace, founder of Chicago Luxury Beds, is a 30-year veteran of the design industry. Committed to sourcing the highest-quality, bespoke mattresses and sleep products from across the globe, Mary Pat and her team of experts have spent the last 15 years helping clients transform their lives through sleep.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I began my career in the design world working with Holly Hunt. Her name is synonymous with high quality design and the luxury market, so working with her was an amazing education in not only the workings of the design universe but also in the inner workings of the luxury market. As so often happens in life, my business training intersected with life circumstances — I became a sleep-deprived new mother, and began researching better sleep strategies as a sort of self-preservation tactic. When a friend mentioned Hästens, a Swedish mattress manufacturer that has been making some of the highest quality mattresses in the world for generations, I had to learn more. I made a trip to Sweden, visited the manufacturing facility, and bought a bed. That bed changed my life profoundly: first, I reclaimed my ability to sleep and be well rested, which had an enormous impact on my health and wellbeing. Second, the experience inspired me to share my passion for achieving great sleep by becoming a Hastens retailer, and in 2005 I opened the first Hastens concept store in the U.S.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of my most interesting experiences was when Hästens Beds hosted a small trip for a select group of their platinum retailers. The goal of the trip was to break through our comfort zones to a place where there are no limits, and everything is possible! The trip included five men and three women partners, a team from Hästens Beds and Swedish expedition expert, Johan Ernst Nilson. When we were invited to the trip, we were not told where we were going or what we were doing until one month before departure. We knew it would be cold, so we bought all the appropriate clothing and gear for cold weather. The announcement then arrived with a photo of a glacier and a photo of Johan Nilson holding a sign with the word Impossible/I’mpossible! It was an expedition to Svalbard, Norway for five nights where we would be camping on a glacier. Men and women from eight countries ages 37–65 pitched tents on glaciers drove snowmobiles to a Russian settlement village, rode dog sleds to view Polar Bears, stood at the door of the world seed bank, cooked meals under the stars and ended the week with a solar eclipse. Through this experience I learned more about looking to those with experience and surrounding yourself with a great team to build success, and how business trust, transparency and teamwork can help you realize all that is possible!

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Like everyone else, we have been working on weathering this pandemic, but we do have some exciting things happening. Fortunately, we have seen a rise in the demand for better more restorative sleep which has translated to higher mattress sales as people spend more time at home and realize how important a comfortable mattress and quality sleep are to their overall health; we are also planning a brand expansion. The lesson I can share from the last few months is the value of pivoting quickly to adjust to a rapidly changing business climate, whether that means a retail shutdown that requires keeping a sales team engaged with productive work that cultivates greater expertise; or a rapid growth in sales that required us to transition quickly to a heavy uptick in our workload.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Of course I have to point to making sure you are sleeping well and enough — this honestly remains one of my key priorities in terms of fighting stress and making sure I am at my best each day. So much of your productivity and work satisfaction truly depends on the quality of your sleep the night before.

I also believe that, in order to thrive in your business and your life, you need to be passionate about what you do. Our business is not just a retail business, it’s a mission designed to help people live better lives — that’s a motivation we lean into every day.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I always say it takes a village, and I’m thankful for my partner and GM, Henry Bianchi, My accountant Howard Gamer, my lawyer Liz Sharp. We can’t be an expert at everything, so having a strong group of advisors is important during both good and challenging times.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We are close collaborators with several charities, including Designs 4 Dignity, which brings pro-bono design services and design products to non-profit organizations, creating beautifully designed spaces that create safety and comfort.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

In my analysis, most of the retail responses to the pandemic — things like cleaning and distancing protocols, curbside service, shifting to new product categories or expanding certain categories — fall into a classic category: anticipating customer needs. Our circumstances are unusual, but the need to serve customers and meet them where they are is not. In our stores, we have enhanced cleanliness and distancing protocols, but we also are allowing customers to book appointments for one-on-one visits to our space with no other customers in-store. For us, this was simply a natural extension of what we have always done — our customer experience has always been based on a very personalized service model in which customers are treated as honored guests. With that idea in mind, retail stores can shift to respond to almost any environment.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

Competing with online retailers is a very real challenge for all of us. Our business has been built on the concept of a physical store, simply because we have invested in selling not just our products but the personalized service and real expertise we are able to offer through our highly trained sales staff. We also offer a highly curated selection of products that we know will deliver extremely high quality, craftsmanship and durability, which you can see and feel for yourself in our showrooms. A mattress will always be a product you should touch and feel before purchasing — it’s a big investment, and it’s important to get it right. I feel there will always be a place for an in-person retail experience that delivers exceptional products as well as expert guidance and above-and-beyond customer service.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

While some successful retailers are working with a low-price, high-volume model, others are simply able to find a way to fill a need, and keep their points of differentiation strong. In our case, we have worked hard to build real knowledge as an added value that we bring to our customers as a part of doing business with us. We carefully select product lines which we know will deliver the kind of quality our customers expect. And we offer a level of customer service and customer relationships you won’t find in many places — these qualities make us one-of-a-kind, and we believe that builds success.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Cheaper does not always mean better, and people are aware of that — we have to find a way to change the narrative and talk about the qualities that make our businesses relevant and unique to consumers.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My goal is to continue educating people on the value of a great night’s sleep. Sleep is the foundation to a long and healthy life. More than diet and exercise, if you are not sleeping, the rest of what we do does not matter. This is not only for our biological health but our mental health. So many people are mentally and emotionally struggling during this challenging time, and if one is not sleeping, no amount of medication or therapy will work. Sleep comes first, and the rest follows.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Instagram: @chicagoluxurybeds

Twitter: @chicagoluxbeds

Facebook: Chicago Luxury Beds

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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