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How I Made My Millions: Important Lessons Learned

Have a passion for your craft

Choose something you love to do, and find a way to pursue it as your livelihood. I’ve been in the bedding business since I was a 14 years old, when I started working in the sewing room of my grandfather’s factory.

Earl Kluft, CEO of E.S. Kluft & Co.
E.S. Kluft & Co.
Earl Kluft, CEO of E.S. Kluft & Co.

As a boy, I loved the creativity involved with making a mattress look rich and feel good, and that passion has never faded. I keep it fresh by always re-inventing and improving what I have done in the past.

After I sold my first company (and tried to retire), I took up golf. I wasn’t a good golfer, and I missed the creativity and excitement of my work. A friend and major supplier convinced me to go back into the business and we started once again producing the high end, luxury American made products for which E.S. Kluft & Company is best known.

Be an independent thinker

My greatest successes have come when I have been free to put my ideas into action. For that reason I have always been at my best when I have been working for myself. I believe that your success in business if often tied to being unique and offering something no one else has. While I have been fortunate in my achievements, I think I have limited myself at times by not being willing to take bigger risks.

Worry a lot

What motivates me is what motivates a lot of executives: fear of failure. When things are good, I worry why are they are this good, thinking that it won’t last until tomorrow. When they are bad, I think we have to get moving to get better.

Anxiety sometimes can be your friend, but you can’t just worry—you have to worry and then come up with solutions. I often wake up in the middle of the night and write things down, more recently, in my iPad and then do my best to implement the ideas.

Think of your customers first

What I really strive for the most is customer satisfaction and approval. I always want to do my best by my customers. I try to anticipate problems and then come up with solutions in order to meet my goal of trying to satisfy all the people almost all the time.

For example in the early 1990’s, I developed the “Spring Air 4-Seasons” mattress which featured one side with a silk covering and one side with a wool covering, for keeping cooler in summer and warmer in winter. It was an idea that made sense and solved many sleep issues. It became a top seller and helped us win a lot of business from our competition.

Exceed expectations to win

When we were a licensee of Spring Air mattress in Southern California, we were a member of a franchise operation in which all the franchise owners were bound to national quality standards. We didn’t just meet them—I chose to exceed them.

Our Spring air competition to the north manufactured only to the minimum standards, and the retail dealers could tell the difference. We were clearly the better company and had better quality, and eventually we beat them out of the market. The 30 best dealers in Northern California ended up jumping to us because they knew we would be able to help them them grow their business and we did.

Get the word out

You may be the best, but that won’t help your business if you are unknown. Marketing and public relations have always been an important component in E.S. Kluft & Co.’s success. I discovered the impact of marketing when we overtook our competition at Spring Air Northern California. As part of our strategy we unrolled a mass marketing campaign. We had the best sales team and we attacked. Get the word out, and then have the goods to back up your publicity, and it will keep growing.

Push the limits

When I launched the Chattam & Wells brand in 1996, many in the business doubted my approach of pushing the boundaries of luxury in a mattress. We ignored the critics and created the first mattress company in decades dedicated to true hand-crafting of mattresses. We used fine damask fabrics and added touches like monogrammed handles and 24-carat gold detailing. We invented the EuroTop, which remains one of the most imitated mattress features in the industry today. We created a high quality product that were second to none.

We launched at the Beverly Hills Hotel and invited 30 of the top retailers on the west coast to show them, and 90% put the product in their stores. We gave the dealers a product they needed to help them meet the needs of a new customer base of luxury mattress buyers and relaunched the luxury business for the industry.

It was the major turning point in my career that told me I was on the right path, and I’ve stayed on it ever since.

Tune in:

'How I Made My Millions' Monday, August 29 9p | 12a ET

Earl Kluft is the Founder and CEO of E.S. Kluft & Co. Kluft is a third generation mattress maker who created the original modern luxury mattresses: Chattam & Wells and the Spring Air Four Seasons, and he holds patents for his designs. E.S. Kluft & Co. is the only company in the U.S. that manufactures handcrafted, luxury mattresses.

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