The woman at the helm of a bedding industry empire shares her path to success.
Kim Brown Knopf, president and CEO of Innovative Mattress Solutions, admits she doesn’t always get a great night’s sleep. Some mornings she’s up at four or five a.m. on her iPhone or iPad checking the latest industry news or answering emails. It might seem ironic that the very industry that keeps her up long hours is devoted to a restful night, but for Kim, sleepless nights come with the territory of owning a highly successful business. Innovative Mattress Solutions (IMS), a West Virginia born and bred company, has been in business for more than 30 years and now has some 150 stores across three well-known retail names—Mattress Warehouse, Mattress Solutions, and Mattress King. Kim’s business has weathered both boom and bust and come out on top. In West Virginia alone, IMS has nearly 30 stores. “For the first 20 years we opened 20 stores—just about one per year. From 2003 to 2013 we’ve opened nearly 130 stores through both acquisition and organic growth. That gives you an idea of the pace in the last decade,” she says.
Kim was born with a head for business and a drive to succeed. A high school state basketball champion, she had her first experience in the bed and bath industry in high school in Louisville, Kentucky, and she attributes her deep knowledge of the retail world to the foundation she built there. In the summers she worked a midnight shift at the local grocery store and spent her daylight hours in a bedding shop. “It was my first experience in retail. I had to stock shelves and learn to sell,” she says. Just a year after graduating from the University of Kentucky, she answered an ad for a salesperson at a bedding store and got an interview. Swept up in the interviewer’s enthusiasm for the business, Kim started thinking—why work for someone else when you could be your own boss? At age 23, she struck out on her own. Nearby West Virginia didn’t have a retail mattress chain, and with the growth of specialty stores and their ability to provide both individualized and specialized customer service, she knew she could be successful. She just needed a little momentum. She attended seminars, researched the industry, and finally brought a one-page business plan to her then-boyfriend, now-husband’s parents. They took one look at it and let her use a certificate of deposit for collateral to borrow half of the start-up money. They also purchased 50 percent of the company’s stock. “I liked the industry’s simple nature. It was a model that could be easily replicable,” she says. “I was very close to the business and had done all the job functions, so I understood it. But everything you do in life is a risk. They just had confidence in the vision and they saw my passion.”
Thirty years later, Kim’s first store—a Mattress Warehouse in South Charleston—has branched into an empire spanning six states (Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and West Virginia). Kim is also the mother of two daughters—one of whom also works for IMS—but she also considers the more than 400 employees working for her as family. “We have a very loyal workforce with a strong ethic. They understand where the company is going and are invested in its success. It’s very tight-knit.” And even with her accomplishments, Kim isn’t one to sit back and take it all in. She lives just to roll up her sleeves and dive into the details—from cutting-edge technologies to customer service, and sometimes she even sacrifices her own sleep just to keep her finger on the pulse of the industry. “You have to stay very close to the indicators, so if you have to alter the course, you are able to do it. I like to be on the front line. I like to drill deep and understand everything.”