Over at Christianity Today, HOPE International’s Chris Horst, whose article on a Christian manufacturer was recently highlighted at the PowerBlog, focuses on yet another Christian business, this time dealing in mattresses:
“This is one of the sleaziest industries in the world,” says business owner Ethan Rietema. “Customers are treated so poorly. Stores beat you up, trying to get as much money as they can, but they couldn’t care less if you get the right bed.”
Rietema and Steve Van Diest, both former campus ministers, are bringing rest—and integrity—back to a business largely devoid of it. Four years ago, a Christian entrepreneur invited the Colorado natives to begin deploying their relational abilities in strip malls rather than on college campuses. They now co-own three Urban Mattress stores in Denver and have franchised four more. And, they argue, their current work is just as important as their former ministry….
…”I don’t have to do mental gymnastics with the product I sell,” Van Diest says. “It’s not a frivolous item. It’s not an image-conscious product. People come here after being worn down by horrible sleep, replete with aches and pain. If we can provide them with a small glimpse of grace for a third of their lives, that’s kingdom work. That matters to God.”
Every entrepreneur begins by identifying a need. For Rietema and Van Diest, it was better customer service and consumer information. Urban Mattress has grown its business by directly countering a status-quo industry environment of price misinformation, offering “consistent and fair prices that promote transparency and honesty.” No faux “blowout sales,” no shady product labeling, no overly hasty, overly pushy customer interactions.
And the approach has borne fruit. The owners recount several stories of customer satisfaction that have affirmed their position in the market. One story involves an elderly customer suffering from “several debilitating health issues.” When she came to the store looking for a mattress, she was blown away by how well she was treated:
“She said, ‘You treated me so kindly and with such dignity when I was sick, I’m putting you in my will,’” Rietema recounted. “She felt that because we treated her with such respect, she wanted to include us in her estate planning.”
For Rietema and Van Diest, this type of intimate and continuous customer interaction is common:
“The number one reason you walk into a mattress store is because you’ve experience a major life event. Perhaps it’s a divorce or separation,” Ethan shared. “Or, you’re getting married, having a kid, sending a kid to college, moving, or someone close to you has died. I’ve been shocked at how often I have incredibly rich conversations with our customers and am given the privilege to enter their lives.”
On this, Urban Mattress provides a good lesson not only on the broader implications of our economic transactions, but also on the broader potential of Christian business in general. Far too often we confine our thinking about Christian business to areas like philanthropy or “corporate evangelism.” By going further and offering this type of personal customer service, these owners show us how there can be more exchange in exchange than we allow for or recognize, whether social, psychological, or spiritual.
When we engage in the marketplace, whether as producers or consumers, there is something transcendent already taking place. Something meaningful is happening at a deeper level of human interaction and cooperation. If we recognize this, embrace it, and integrate it into our overarching view of Christian mission, as these mattress merchants have so attentively done, the implications for broader social and spiritual development are far-reaching.
Read the full article here.