How Women Leaders Are Driving Valuable Innovation

This is the second installment in a series about women in the industry. Read Part One: Women Are The Key To The Bedding Industry's Future.

When surveying the mattress manufacturing landscape, there are two names that stand out at the top of the ranks: Daniella Serven of South Bay and Kimberly Fisher of Talalay Global. As some of the only female CEOs in this industry, both women have made a significant mark on the bedding marketplace with their fresh insight and creative problem solving. They are successfully leading their two distinct companies towards an even brighter future—and the rest of the industry could benefit from taking notice.

Before taking over as CEO at South Bay in 2007, Serven began her career in the Information Technology field in the R&D and Project Management and Implementation departments—where she gained valuable experience in the then-burgeoning digital sphere.

“It was quite a shock to me when I entered this industry,” she explained. “In the early 90’s systems development was still very new, especially with the birth of the Internet. It was the ‘wild west’ and the teams I worked with were highly diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender and age. Thinking outside the box was the norm.”

But even today, women continue to be significantly outnumbered by men throughout most of the bedding workforce—from the executive level to manufacturing operations all the way through to the retail space. Beyond simply creating an imbalanced work environment, this skewed representation may be holding the industry back from necessary evolution.

“Women bring a different perspective,” she continued. “They question old standards and aesthetics, which can result in creating new innovative products with true application and meaning.”

South Bay Blissful Nights

South Bay's Blissful Nights Collection delivers meaningful value both in-store and online.

At South Bay, Serven has leveraged her experience in IT to propel the company into new lucrative markets. Today, her main responsibilities concern the “sales, innovation and profitability of the company. How we can continually delight long-term customers, while meeting the new requirements and expectations of new customers.” This includes an ongoing focus on expanding South Bay’s successful e-commerce business through innovative new products that translate to increased online sales.

Fisher also started her career outside of the world of bedding. When she joined Talalay Global in 2013 as Director of Sales Support, she brought with her an “eclectic background, which included retail, legal, highly sensitive quality manufacturing.” She credits this diverse experience for giving her a “broader spectrum from which to see this industry.” Fisher took over as President of both Talalay Global and Pure Talalay Bliss in February of this year, where her leadership has proven especially agile as she continues to drive the company out of previous difficulties and into a thriving new chapter.

Since taking over their positions, Fisher and Serven have steered their companies towards creative new approaches to product development, brand positioning and sales support. Beyond their unique backgrounds, both women brought with them crucial insight into the industry’s most valuable consumer.

“I think we have to start with a simple data point: women are the primary consumers purchasing this product. And research shows that number to be in excess of 80%.”—Kim Fisher

Wielding buying power and influence across all market segments, the female consumer is the ultimate deciding factor when it comes to retail sales. With widespread consolidation affecting the industry as a whole, it’s increasingly important for high-level executives to have a nuanced understanding of their customers’ needs so that they can more productively engage with them. But with market disruptors continuing to shake up the status quo, many traditional companies have been struggling to connect with their customers on this level. Rather than trying to play catch up with the savvy newcomers, industry veterans could benefit from rethinking their existing approaches from the inside out.

“The way the online competitors do business is very different than traditional mattress sales,” Serven explained. “All that I was told when I entered this industry nine years ago is now very different. We must be aware of the disruptors in our industry and learn what is working for them, while still bringing to the table what we do best.”

South Bay became an early and formidable player in the e-commerce market under Serven’s leadership. She boasts an acute understanding of emerging online strategies and how they can be used to connect with changing consumer interests—a service the company provides for its retail partners.

“Mattress sales have exploded online not just because we can get a mattress in a box that can be easily shipped to a consumer’s door, but because the in-store purchasing experience can be overwhelming and uncomfortable,” she explained. “Women have a unique perspective on that process. From trying to manage their busy schedules as well as not feeling comfortable laying on a mattress on a wide-open sales floor. Women can provide retailers and RSA’s feedback on the in store sales experience they are looking for.”

Retailers of all kinds must understand how the online marketplace serves as an easy solution for the many consumers who are looking for new ways to maximize their time in today’s hurried world. For e-commerce retailers, Serven explains, the key is to create an aesthetically pleasing user experience that provides meaningful information about the mattress options. This same idea applies to brick-and-mortar sales, as it’s increasing important for “RSA’s to be trained to narrow down quickly what a consumer is looking for and offer a select few options.”

Over at Pure Talalay Bliss, Fisher knows the importance of “understanding the consumer and the shifting make-up of the market.” She has firmly positioned Pure Talalay Bliss as a manufacturer of exclusive quality and true value. In overseeing and maintaining the strategic direction of the company, she is responsible for ensuring that the operations and products are “globally superior in every way across all spectrums.” In doing so, the company is able to help retailers reach the growing consumer segment for which long-lasting, American-made products are the priority. Fisher’s goal moving forward is to continue to educate consumers about the superiority of Talalay, refocusing the conversation on features and benefits versus price point. As part of this, the company recently unveiled an eye-catching marketing campaign that strategically underscores these values.

Pure Talalay Bliss

Pure Talalay Bliss is a manufacturer of exclusive quality and true value.

Of course, gender is not the only determining factor when it comes to effective leadership. In addition to their accomplished professional backgrounds, both women pointed to mentors and peers of all genders who have contributed to their successes.

“I celebrate people who are change agents and paradigm shifters,” Fisher said. “You will find them on our team and this is certainly imperative in today’s environment. The industry needs to be more open-minded, to seek diversity and to think more progressively. Diversity of any kind—age, sex, ethnic background, etc.—brings fresh eyes to this industry.”

While gender equality remains an important goal, it is still just one of the ways this industry can grow. A workforce that more accurately represents the multi-faceted make-up of our society would allow for even greater ingenuity and more personalized solutions.

“I rely on everyone that has made a difference in my career, women and men,” Serven said. “I learned a long time ago, there is more than one way to achieve one’s goals. It is important to listen, analyze and consider many different points of view and then settle with the one that fits the particular circumstance.”

It’s this refusal to simply rest on one singular approach that has served both South Bay and Talalay Global well. By bringing diverse voices together to brainstorm and collaborate, both companies have been able to develop innovative new products and sales strategies.

“Among my most rewarding projects are changing cultures, empowering people and improving processes,” Fisher said. “I’m never satisfied with the ‘best’ because there’s always ‘better.’ At Talalay Global, our culture is driven by a PDCA mentality: Plan, Do, Check and Adjust.”

As the landscape continues to shift, proactivity is the key to meaningful growth. Rather than holding on tighter to the way things have always been done, we must take a critical look at where more improvements can be made. While tradition and experience remain valuable assets, companies may discover even more fruitful opportunities if they open their doors to new ways of thinking.

“I think people are generally comfortable with whom they know and in the past it has been a male dominated business,” Serven explained. “The industry must show that it is interested in the women’s perspectives by showcasing more women in management.”

While there are more women stepping into high-ranking positions than ever before, industry leaders must make a concerted effort to seek out and support new talent. This means taking the time to mentor them, value their input and recognize their contributions.

“It is important to understand where the industry has been and how it is evolving. We have to be paying close attention to what is working and what is not. Even if what is working goes against everything that made us successful in the past.”—Daniella Serven

Being a male-dominated business may have served the bedding industry well for many years—but times are changing. In order to keep up, we all must welcome new minds into the decision-making process. Much more than just two examples of women-led companies, South Bay and Talalay Global serve as proof of how beneficial a more diverse workplace can be.

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