New Serta Simmons Plant Boosts Mattress Production In Houston

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Simmons ramping up Janesville mattress plant

CommentsComments PrintPrint Neil Johnson Wednesday, June 21, 2017
> Anthony Wahl An employee puts the final seam on a mattress inside Simmons Bedding production facility in Janesville on Tuesday. National Serta Simmons officials say mattress production is growing, and the company plans to expand through hiring. > Anthony Wahl Employees secure fabric to boxsprings at Simmons Bedding in Janesville on Tuesday. > Anthony Wahl Plant worker Lori Johnson nails the frame of a box spring at Simmons Bedding in Janesville on Tuesday. > Anthony Wahl Workers load finished Simmons mattresses into shipping trailers at Simmons Bedding in Janesville on Tuesday.

JANESVILLE—As the mattress and bedding industry rides a king-sized wave of demand, Serta Simmons Bedding is in the midst of boosting its national operations, including production at its mattress and bedding factory in Janesville.

Serta Simmons announced earlier this year it's pumping more than $100 million into beefing up manufacturing and marketing of its mattresses including Simmons Beautyrest, the brand made at the company's Janesville mattress factory.

The investment has brought a major assembly line overhaul and a hiring spree aimed at boosting hourly production at Simmons's 290,000-square-foot factory on Adel Street.

The company over the last two months has shifted the layout of the factory floor to fit more mattress-building lines, and the new production capacity should be ramping up within weeks, Operations Manager Jim Fenton told The Gazette during a plant tour Tuesday.

Serta Simmons meanwhile is hiring to fill dozens of new positions ranging from assembly to supervisory. The Janesville plant's “war room,” a board room where plant managers usually discuss how to streamline operations, now operates part of the day as a training room to school new workers in the art of building hand-crafted, made-to-order Simmons Beautyrest mattresses.

“We call it 'Bedding 101,'” Fenton said.

Fenton on Tuesday stood on the production floor, watching skid loader operators trundle past with loads of mattresses and box springs bound for retailers throughout the Midwest.

Fenton surveyed a 20,000-square-foot section of factory floor that once was used to store mattress material. A large portion of that section is now thrumming with a line where multiple workers assemble box spring frames with pneumatic nail guns and power stitching equipment.

Those are a few of the 320 workers trained in processes that make a mattress from start to finish in just a few hours. By this year's end, the plant aims to hire dozens more with the goal of the plant employing 340 to 350 workers.

Janesville's mattress factory now makes about 3,000 Beautyrest mattresses and box springs a day—a significant increase from a year or two ago, Fenton said.

“I honestly can't remember the last time we've had an expansion like this,” Fenton said.

It's all in the company's plans to ramp up its hourly productivity to capture market share in a mattress industry that Serta Simmons spokeswoman Gabrielle Braswell said has recently grown to $8 billion a year.

Serta Simmons, headquartered in Atlanta, this year struck an exclusive, five-year deal with major retailer Mattress Firm that could be a key to Serta Simmons capturing emerging demand. The deal would be one driver behind Serta Simmons $100 million push to boost production and marketing of its mattresses.

But Braswell said Serta Simmons also is responding to a national rebound in overall consumer spending that's put new mattresses and furniture at center stage.

“Overall, there's been a release of pent-up consumer demand” coming out of the Great Recession, Braswell said.

In addition to plant modifications and hiring in Janesville, Serta Simmons this year is opening four new, larger manufacturing facilities to add to its network of more than 30 plants. The new facilities are planned in Connecticut, Washington, Texas and California—areas where the manufacturer is seeing its greatest demand, Braswell said.

The Janesville plant will continue to fuel the Midwest market.

Near the Janesville plant's semitrailer truck loading docks, stacks of full-sized and queen-sized mattresses were waiting to be loaded. The new mattresses wouldn't have long to wait.

Simmons Bedding runs the Janesville plant as a “made-to-order” facility. That means the plant takes orders from retailers daily—orders that often come soon after customers in Midwest retail showrooms lie on a floor model mattress.

If they like it and want to buy one like it, an order goes to the Janesville plant. The mattress is shipped to the retail customer within 48 to 72 hours.

Because workers piece the mattresses together mostly by hand, most processes at the plant have little automation, although some processes have been improved ergonomically for workers. For instance, one sewing station where a female worker joins heavy pieces for the quilted top has a pneumatic table designed at the Janesville plant, allowing the mattress pieces to “float” so the worker can more easily move them while sewing.

“It's an air hockey table, basically,” Fenton said.

It takes the plant about a month to train workers and about four months for them to learn higher-skilled portions of mattress making, such as joining the top layers of the mattress with the internal boxes that house Beautyrest mattresses' specially-designed internal spring coils.

The challenge now for Serta Simmons is to continue to train and retain employees amid a hiring crush by other, competing industries. The local unemployment rate has dipped recently to below 4 percent.

Fenton said among other initiatives, Serta Simmons has begun to review a new, competitive model for how pays its most skilled workers.

The company the last few years has seen a growing demand for mattresses during holiday shopping season--with Black Friday sales becoming a bigger driver.

Fenton said Serta Simmons and its Janesville plant are predicting that trend will continue. One of its major focuses now is to find staffing and production methods that work toward a "smoothed" response to spikes in demand.

“Where we're headed, obviously, is a mixture of being able to handle additional capacity, and can we do it while reducing operating at overtime hours,” Fenton said. “That takes a lot of hands.”

In years past, the Janesville plant had subleased parts of its facility to other local companies, including Seneca Foods, as warehouse space.

Fenton laughed, thinking about those earlier arrangements. There's simply no room for it now.

“That's not likely to happen here ever again,” Fenton said.

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