Fifteen Minutes with Pete Slavin of Factory Mattress Outlet and Cottonwood Storage
● By Kimberly Boney
Get AcquaintedDecember 2014
By Kimberly Boney
Photos: Eric Leslie
So, tell us a bit about yourself, Pete:
I was Irish born and I came to this country in 1949 at 12 years old. I was here only two weeks and I began working in a small variety grocery store. That was the beginning of a long trek in the grocery business – 16 years, in fact. From there I graduated into the retail bread business.
Yes. A little birdie told us you had been one of the pioneers of Oroweat Bread.
In Houston, Texas, in 1972, I went in cold turkey and put Oroweat on the map in that area. They had already been long established as a bread company, but not in Texas. We worked 7 days a week, 15 hours a day. It took about a year for it to happen, but we were able to create about 10 routes in Houston. It provided Oroweat with enough money to build a bakery in the Fort Worth area that provided bread for the entire state. After the establishment of the business in Houston, I needed a break, so I went to Las Vegas and took on a bread route. I worked with Zobrist Brothers, a family-run local distributor that handled brands like Wonder Bread, Oroweat, Laura Scudders and Hostess. The owner had built close relationships with all of his clients, so much so that when Wonder Bread itself tried to open a distributorship there in the area, Zobrist Brothers said, “No way. You can try to become a distributor here, but if you do, you won’t have any shelves on which to stock your product.”
Wow. Quite a win for a local business.
Yes, it was. Zobrist was able to hold off Wonder Bread itself by letting them know that they would not be pushed out of town by a biggerbox store, even though Zobrist was the distributor for Wonder Bread products. It kept a can of worms from being opened in Vegas. If that big business had been successful in infiltrating that market, imagine what other businesses would have been able to do the same. It showed respect for all of us who worked with Zobrist Brothers. It’s kind of a slur to just call someone a “bread man.” We were more than that. We didn’t just deliver stuff. We were salesmen. We wore a shirt and tie, slacks and polished shoes, as if we were going to a party. You had to go and talk to managers. You had to establish new business. We were always growing. You can’t just fall asleep out there. As you grow, you are also bringing in business for another human being.
So, what came next?
When I decided to get out of the bread industry, I went back east for a while. I ended up back in Vegas where I worked for Glazier Brothers. They supplied the valley with cigars, cigarettes, candy and sundries. I remember them asking me, “What makes you think you can do this?” I asked them, “What makes you think I can’t?”
What brought you to the North State?
I got married to the woman I live with now. We wanted to raise our kids in an environment that was safe. We wanted them to have exposure to not just the city, but to country living. The lake, you know. I’m very pleased to be here.
You own Factory Mattress Outlet and Cottonwood Storage. How do you manage both businesses?
We’ve run the storage business since 1985. We have 318 storage units. In 1986, I started out with one queen mattress from Square Deal Mattress, a company that has been making quality mattresses since 1920. And the rest is history. We’ve served thousands of happy customers.
So, the storage business and the mattress business are housed in the same building?
Yes. The warehouse is our showroom. I can always tell what kind of customer it is when they come up the driveway. The slow drivers are the ones buying mattresses, and the ones driving at a normal pace are the storage customers. The mattress shoppers are usually a bit confused when they first drive up. It’s not a traditional retail location. People often think they are in the wrong place. But we are very hands-on, “how are you doing” kind of people. If they buy a bed, we give them a jar of jelly made by my wife, and that seals the deal. You’ve got to give something back or you are doing it wrong.
What are some of the organizations you work with locally?
I’m the bed guy for the Good News Rescue Mission and some other local care facilities. I do a lot of repeat business, as the mattresses in some of the locations need to be replaced every five to six years. I’ve really gotten to know the heartbeat of the community. I get to touch lives through the storage and bed businesses.
What do you love best about your work?
Meeting the people and filling their needs. You are not just selling a bed, but something that will enhance their health and their life. The mattresses are two-sided, so that means double the value. Everybody gets a square deal, no matter what happens.
What is the hardest thing about what you do?
I really don’t have something I consider to be the hardest thing. I don’t have a day when I say I don’t enjoy what I do. If those negative thoughts do come into my mind, I evaporate them quickly. I can say “no” to a nasty thought in a minute! I don’t allow what I call “monkey mind” to invade my thoughts. As human beings, our own minds can be our worst enemy.
What do you remember most about your life in Ireland?
The closeness of family.