Business

Mattress Ranch owner dancing his way to success

Ted Sadtler says every small business owner is destined to fail the first time up. - Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo
Ted Sadtler says every small business owner is destined to fail the first time up.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo

Those going into business today should expect to fail several times before making it big, according to someone who has lived that scenario several times over.

“I’ve failed more times than most people have had jobs,” said Ted Sadtler, owner of three Mattress Ranch stores in Kitsap County. “And I’ve been fired more times than most people have had jobs. But when I go into business, then I’m going to win. That’s what I am all about.” 

Sadtler, who lives in Port Orchard, was addressing the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon last week. He divided his talk between scattershot business advice and impassioned pleas for donations to the Cystic Fibrosis foundation.

“When I talk about CF I get very emotional,” he said. “I think I am making a difference. I am asked to support a lot of causes, and these are things that are supported elsewhere like the Boy Scouts. I want to support causes that don’t get help from everywhere else, like CF. I want to support the mother who can’t afford vitamins, or give haircuts to women in hospitals so they feel better about themselves.”

While Sadtler has been in business for more than 40 years, he acknowledges that success is far more difficult today than when he started.

His survival advice is not exactly modern, saying, “You better have a wife standing behind you when you fail, because there is no way you are going to make it the first time you try.”

Sadtler’s business advice involves taking both chances and responsibility. For his mattress stock, he eliminated brand names in favor of less-expensive product of the same quality, immediately cutting his overhead by a third.

He spent 39 percent of his budget on advertising and set goals for his employees.

“I don’t hire managers and I don’t hire janitors,” he said. “I am a demanding boss. I am the janitor. If I come into a store and the toilet is dirty, I clean it myself, then let the employee know. If I need to do it again, I let the employee go.” 

Sadtler also makes his preferences known to local government, and hasn’t always been on the best terms with Kitsap County.

He goes a long way back with South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel, whom he knew more than 25 years ago in Alaska.

He often calls her with venting voice mails, for which he does not expect a response.

Of Sadtler, Angel said, “He comes on hard, but he really is great and easy to work with.” 

“Running a small business in Kitsap County is way tougher than it has to be,” he said. “This is the best place in the world to live, but it isn’t a business-friendly community. The big box stores get all the advantages.”

Sadtler has tangled with the county about zoning and sign ordinances. And while a trademark of his Port Orchard store on the Gorst Highway is a series of cut-out wooden animals, they are open to interpretation.

“I want to make it clear that all of the cows in front of my store are folk art,” he said. “If you call them ‘signs,’ I will go to jail.”

Sadtler is perhaps best known locally for Mattress Ranch commercials, which feature his loose-limbed dance moves and (dubbed) singing voice.

People either love or hate them, but they do bring people into the stores.

And credit for their effectiveness comes from an unlikely source.

“Ellen DeGeneres is the real reason for my success,” he said. “I am not talking about her political views or her lifestyle, about I won’t pass judgment. It’s because she has zero talent. She can’t sing, she can’t dance. She just moves around and everybody likes it.”

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