NEWBURGH HEIGHTS, Ohio — In 1922, a father and son working at a factory making Sealy mattresses thought they could do better and started their own company.
Four generations and 100 years later, White Dove is still competing with the major mattress brands. Bruce Goodman, CEO of the company, said the key to surviving is products that stand out.
“We’ve always known that we need to be different,” Goodman said.
White Dove is a regional, family-owned business in an industry where four brands — Simmons, Serta, Tempur-Pedic and Sealy — control 77% of the traditional mattress market.
Harry and Eugene, Bruce’s great-grandfather and grandfather, started White Dove in 1922, although the paperwork from 100 years ago doesn’t give them an exact date. They would pass it to Bruce’s father, Henry, and in 1996, Bruce would take the reins. It originally operated as H. Goodman Inc.
Goodman said the company operated out of two factories in Cleveland before buying its current home in Newburgh Heights in the 1980s, in what used to be a Higbee’s warehouse. The company has about 75 employees and sells to furniture stores within a 250- to 300-mile radius.
White Dove started when mattresses were made of horsehair and fiber, and the city was full of family-owned furniture stores. Most of the company’s business was done within 30 to 40 miles of its factory.
Goodman said White Dove has always competed by leaning on quality and innovation, demonstrated by how early it sold one-sided mattresses.
Since horsehair mattresses weren’t very durable, it was common practice to make two-sided mattresses that needed to be flipped. Otherwise, the sleeper would leave a divot where they laid over time.
In the 1950s, the company started using latex, which they called foam rubber at the time, to build a mattress durable enough that it didn’t need to be turned, Goodman said. While other companies may disagree, White Dove believes it was the first to do so.
The unique feature was a calling card for White Dove for many years.
“When I was a kid, they had TV ads with a big crane, showing how hard it was to flip a mattress,” Goodman said.
It wasn’t until 2000 that Simmons popularized one-sided mattresses and they became industry standard. Years later, White Dove came full circle with a line of two-sided mattresses, now one of the company’s fastest growing categories.
Unique is still the name of the game, especially in an ever-changing market. There are fewer regional mattress manufacturers surviving these days, and fewer independent furniture stores to sell the product, Goodman said.
Big-box stores need high-volume that only a large brand can provide, and online sales and web-based mattress companies are changing things rapidly.
White Dove’s mattresses are still made mostly by hand with no major components imported from overseas, Goodman said. Workers use sewing machines to make the outer layers and other parts of the mattress before a builder assembles the layers of foam and inner springs into one piece.
The company warrants some of its mattresses for up to 20 years, and to a higher standard than other brands, Goodman said. Other companies will replace a mattresses with more than 1 1/2 an inch of a divot, while White Dove’s sink-in threshold is 1/2 inch.
Goodman said the company still sends out sales reps to smaller, independent furniture stores, setting it apart from large brands that only give stores a phone number to call.
White Dove can be bought in local furniture stores under its different collections, including Duality, Cambridge and Atlas. It also makes a private-label product for a furniture chain in New York state and Florida and makes mattresses for an online-only company.
The commitment to quality doesn’t mean they don’t have to adapt. Goodman said online shopping has drastically changed the industry for big and small retailers, which means changes for White Dove. One is a machine that can fold queen and king size mattresses, with springs, into rolls that can fit into 18-by-18-inch boxes for shipping.
“A lot is changing and if you don’t change with it, especially in an industry like ours, it can be a rough ride,” Goodman said.
Running the business is challenging, but rewarding, Goodman said. He said there’s an element of running a 100-year-old, family-owned business that is special.
“I think they (Goodman’s grandfather and great-grandfather) would be amazed to see that we’re growing and building this business a hundred years later,” Goodman said.