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CEO of Sheex Susan Walvius “Crosses Over” from Basketball to Bedding

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Season 2 of “Just Stories with BT” features all Female Executive guests in the mattress/furniture space or other underrepresented industries!

These episodes focus on getting to know the amazing woman behind these roles and giving a platform to talk about getting our male dominated industries more balanced out!

Episode 16 was such a fun episode!  Susan Walvius was an All-Amercan high school and college basketball player that ended up becoming a division 1 women’s coach for over a decade.  During that time she became interested in the fabrics that the athletes were wearing and wondered why there were no good performance fabrics in bedding.  She then made the natural move from coaching to launching Sheex as the co-founder and co-CEO!  She talks about the similarities between coaching and running a company, the pitfalls, and gives advice on the number one thing entrepreneurs need to succeed!

Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and never miss an episode.

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Full Transcription:

Brett Thornton: Welcome back to another episode of just stories with BT. this is Season Two focusing on really focusing in highlighting female executives and underrepresented markets, especially the mattress and furniture market. So this week is doubly exciting because we have Susan Walvius, who is the co-founder and co CEO of Sheex. So welcome, Susan to the show. Thank you, Brett. I’m really excited about this episode, because I feel like your background is unmatched. The path you took to then get in this industry is very interesting. So I’m excited to hear about it. I don’t know how that part happened. So I can’t wait to talk about that. But before we do, I want to introduce the listeners to you so I’m going to do a little brief introduction and then you tell me what I missed. And what were the things that you need to fill in the gaps on sound good? Sounds good. Awesome. Okay. So everybody this is co CEO of Sheeks, Foreman’s bedding, Susan Walvius in 30 seconds or less. That’ll be my 10th. Okay. So she was born in Fairfax, Virginia. She grew up in Northern Virginia in a small town called Woodbridge. Her hobbies include playing football with the boys and obviously basketball, which we’ll get into her first job was at Sonny’s ice cream and barbecue. You heard that right? Ice cream and barbecue like, how is this not a combination that I’ve heard before? This is wonderful. So we’re gonna ask I’m gonna ask you about that. And I’m in high school. She was obviously big into basketball, so much so that she was an all American that led her into going into West Virginia University where she was also an all American in basketball. So that was a huge part of her life. As she got out of college. She transitioned eventually into coaching where she took over as the woman’s head coach of Western University, and then after a few years, parlayed that into taking over the USC women’s basketball head coaching job from 1997 to 2008, where she ideated and started Hey, what’s a smooth transition from basketball? Oh, yeah, we’re getting to sheets and apparel. So then she transitioned into starting Sheeks in 2008, as the business was growing a big kind of launching point for them was that they got into all the Bed Bath and Beyond in 2015, really put them on the map in 2018. They got into direct TV, or sorry, 2018, the guntrac direct TVs though, got in front of a lot of people. And then they’ve been growing, getting people to understand performance betting. And then during the pandemic, she got a wonderful pandemic pup named buck. And then she just told me she’s back in the office in New Jersey, which is great things are opening back up, travels back up. And now here you are on just stores with BT podcast. Well, super cool to be here. Really great.


So first off, explain to me ice cream and barbecue under one roof. How’s this work?

Susan Walvius: Well, I was 13 years old. I wanted to wear branded clothes. I think it was Izod that I wanted. And my parents said, No, you want to you want to you want expensive clothes, you need to get a job. So I started working at 13 got my first tip serving a table, even though it was kind of a takeout place. And you can eat all the food you want to know you could eat it was a great learning experience. Very cool to get your first paycheck.

Brett Thornton: Yes, absolutely. I’m just going through that now with my son. He’s almost 13 and, and he you know, we live in Southern California. And he’s a big skater and surfer. And so the, the style for the skaters now is back to wearing these big baggy pants, which is what I did in 1990 when I was a skater 92 and I wore big baggy pants, and I always thought to myself, you know, I’ll never be one of these dads that you know if that’s the cool style, go for it, you know, but here I am. You know, I’m like, trying to explain to him you look so dumb. Like these pants looks awful. And he’s like, I want these bigger ones. And I was like, you know what, then you’re paying for that with your own money that you’ve been saving up. He’s like, fine, I’ll pay for him. And sure enough, he bought his own pants. I was like, you know what, whatever you do what you’re gonna do? I love that. Yeah, very imagine that. That. At least for me. Anyways, I think I would leave that place with a stomachache every single time.

Susan Walvius: Yeah, probably not a good, good, nutritious diet for an athlete. No, I did get my Isaac shirts.

Brett Thornton: Yeah. So you go to West Virginia. You’re all American there. Went to Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech. Sorry, got that wrong. Virginia Tech, all American there. How did you get from that to coaching? What was the in between gap there?

Susan Walvius: Well, you know, I never wanted to coach which was really interesting. I wanted to go into business. I wanted to get into really more home development plan communities, which is what my dad did, and why I went to Virginia Tech, but my assistant coach at Virginia Tech, took a head coaching job at Bradley University, very late and it was too late for her to go out and find an assistant and she said, Susan, will you just come and I still had another biology class I had to finish to graduate. But she asked me if I’d be our assistant coach, if I’d be interested in doing that. I was like, well, how hard can that be? That’s like getting paid to be on vacation. So. So I did, and I went out to Bradley as an assistant coach, and I was there for three years. And then I went, but then I decided I was gonna go back in and work for my dad’s company. And I made a lot of money, and I was able to buy all the clothes and I don’t know, butter jag wire but I was really unhappy, you know. So I realized at that point, that money isn’t going to make me happy that I really needed I really enjoyed helping athletes be successful. So I got a call from the head coach at the University of Rhode Island. And he had just taken the job. And after being out of basketball for a year, I went to be an assistant coach at the University of Rhode Island. I loved it there, great place to live. But I had coaching job in Virginia came available. So I’ve been an assistant coach for four years, and I applied for the job at VCU, Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and I was the youngest division one head coach in the country at 24 years old, which was I sat at my desk the first day, and I was like, Well, what do I do now? You know, it was kind of a crazy learn learning on the job, which is certainly what we’ve done at sheex. But I was there. I was there for five years, I got a call from West Virginia University, and I went out to West Virginia and I was there for two years. And we rebuilt the VCU programme. We rebuilt the West Virginia programme, and then I was recruited to take the job at South Carolina. And so South Carolina, I thought it was USC. Yeah, well, that’s the other USC, the East Coast USC. So when I was the head coach at the University of South Carolina for 10 years, and it was I was always wanting to coach in the sec, I rebuilt the programme there, we took the team to the Elite Eight. We missed the Final Four by just a few baskets. And but it was a great, great experience. And while at USC, I fell in love with a particular fabric, and it was a we were we were a Nike team at that time, I fell in love with a particular fabric. I went to school with Kevin Plank, who founded Under Armour, I went to school with his older brother, and he and I were buddies. And so I watched his little punky brother create this big brand and Under Armour. And I just I was amazed by that, you know how you could do that and go up against the Nikes of the world not really understanding how competitive the industry was in general. But then fell in love with a particular fabric. It was an it was actually a Nike dry fit super silky soft fabric and I said oh I want bedding made out of this stuff. And I went online to buy it. And nobody was making performance fabric fitting which didn’t make sense to me after getting into it. I understood why. But that’s kind of that’s where the idea came from. And the thing that I knew about from coaching is building a team and how important that team is and success or leadership to me from coaching. As I said before, it’s about helping people be successful. It’s not about leading by demanding things it is about having expectations communicating clear goals, but it’s about helping people be successful and building the right team. So I could go on and on Brett so just cut me off.

Brett Thornton: No I’m just so interesting because that you know I think that you know what I love about that and that this is such a fabric that’s woven into all these podcasts with all these successful people is that you know so many times it comes down to these different relationships you know that you make in these different random places. And you know there’s I always tell my team and my kids we always talk about the way you treat people and the way you at all times but especially you know you’re leaving a job or what are you because you just never know you know how that’s going to come back around you know and I love the idea that you know here you went to school with this guy, his younger brother you know you know all these relationships, I love how they play out so for those people out there who may not know Sheex, can you give us like the you know, give us the 60-90 seconds kind of rundown on you know what it is why it’s special, why it’s different?

Susan Walvius: Well Sheex its spelled S H E E X. So there’s an x at the end like in Spanx and that was part of the inspiration and looking at what Sara Blakely did but what Sheex are if you think about your athletic your athletic wear if you’re going golfing today you’re wearing a performance fabrics shirt or you’re just going to sweat in cotton because cotton really absorbs more moisture. And so we did a lot of testing most bedding was created to be insulating. Our bedding was actually created to breathe with moisture and keep you cooler, which is a better sleep environment for better quality sleep. So that was the idea. And then looking at the space in general, and you and I talked about this before we got started, because that was a, I can see a lot of brands in the space. And I thought this could be really, really cool to do what Kevin Plank did, but do it in the betting industry and create a brand that’s really meaningful. That stands for something that does something unique that performs and functions everything we build in the company function. So it started with bedsheets, we were able to patent the idea. I mentioned earlier that we understood why it wasn’t done when we got into it. And when you’re dealing with these super soft, circular net fabrics, there are width restrictions in those fabrics. And our fabric stretched. And that’s also it’s very different than a sheet that stretches but it’s super easy to make the bed and it fits deep mattresses and works great with adjustable base beds. But you we had to we had to come up with a manufacturing process to make our product that we were able to get patents all over the world on which that was a learning experience. We had we’ve successfully defended those patents on three separate occasions, you know, which was great, nobody thought that this could be a patentable idea. But it is and it was and now it’s you know, we have a very unique product to offer as a company.

Brett Thornton: That’s awesome. I had, um, you probably would have no idea on this. But so years ago, you know, I was overseeing all of the mattress and sleep category for living spaces. So we called it revive. And I don’t know who on your team but some of your team was trying to sell you know, get sheets that linens basis. And so they asked for, you know, my information or whatever. And before market I got sent this box, you know, and I opened it up and it’s like this cool black box and sheets on top was this and I opened it up. And there was like the tablet inside. And it started playing the video, like full on pitching me through video and had the fabrics and I honestly, I was blown away and I went to market. And I went to the appointment even though I knew I couldn’t buy it. Because unfortunately, living spaces at the time had a vendor restrict, like literally I could only have six vendors total. So they were like, well, if you pick anyone up, you have to drop someone and I just I was hamstrung. So tell me why I can’t buy but I felt so compelled to go because I was like this thing is amazing. So whose idea was that?

Susan Walvius: That was my idea, but it’s still the idea actually from a marketing company that sent me a video book. And I said, this is a perfect invitation. It’ll be unique. And so we went out and we created, we create, we search for them we created you can tell your story there, you can personally invite people, you can change the content. And as soon as you open it, the video starts which I thought was really, really cool. So we’ve done several of those. It’s definitely unique. And you can demonstrate the product that way. Yeah, show your showroom that way. But I love the video invites and then shipping the fabric in the box and all that.

Brett Thornton: No, it was it was brilliant. So well played. So before we get into some more questions on Sheex, and kind of how you did it all, you know, we really like to give the listeners a chance to get to know you a little bit, you know, and I usually try to do that through, you know, the art of storytelling and some stories. And so, you know, and your career or even, you know, coaching, you know, Sheex, school, whatever it is like, is there a story that you love to tell that’s funny or entertaining? That always brings a good memory off?

Susan Walvius: Well, when we first you know, as I said, you know, not being a business major. When Michelle and I first got into the business, and we were trying to hire people because it is about team. I was reading a US business magazine. It was I don’t know which one of us but it was reading a magazine and there was a whole article on the best headhunters and so I thought, well, we’ll just go get headhunters, you know, if we didn’t really even have a business yet. So we call up a guy named Bob Damon and he was the president of North America for Korn Ferry. And we his assistant saying, you know, who are you? What’s your company? I have, you know, basically, after a long period of trying to get a meeting with Bob Damon, he had hired in this magazine reading about made out he had hired everybody in Under Armour. And so I was like, that’s perfect, you know, he can help us build this team. So Michelle, and I fly out to Beverly Hills from the east coast. We go into his office, we meet with them, it was like what do you guys need? And we’re like, we need a CFO. And he’s like, Well, you know, you know how much money have you raised and at that time was like 145,000, something like that. And we were really truly just starting out and he laughs at face, you know, I mean, he spent all this time with us, he’s asked us, you know, he was really personable guys. He’s the chairman of our board today, which is funny. And he, he laughed in our face. And he was like, you don’t need to CFO, you know, he’s like, you can’t even afford to walk in the door here, you know. And so we’d flown out to his big Beverly Hills Office, and he ended up in a conversation, he ended up investing in our company, he ended up bringing in investors, to the company, still the chairman of our board today. And he’s a great, great guy, and he’s been a part of our journey now feels like a part of our family. But it was he absolutely just laughed at us. And that was a was a special. There have been many, many crazy stories. Oh, I

Brett Thornton: Love that though. You know, and I but I love obviously the pitch must have been compelling. Even though he was like, hey, you don’t need that. What you need is money. Exactly. That is awesome. So throughout your time, you know, at Sheex specifically, you know, what were you have any stories around challenges or failure that, you know, you came up against, and kind of how you, you know, persevered and got to where you guys are today?

Susan Walvius: Well, when we first went to Bed Bath and Beyond, to try to sell them, and it was 2015, we took the let me start backwards. When we first started the business, we took the idea to Bed Bath and beyond. And they loved it. They didn’t want to test they wanted to roll into 600 doors and an end cap we had, as I said, $145,000 in the bank, something like that. And so how are we going to and we were manufacturing in the US at that time. So our price was much higher, and we have a premium price point now. So we went to Li & Fung, Li & Fung is one of the world’s largest sourcing companies. Lamp is going to interesting business model because they’re made up of small companies that they’ve acquired. So when you go we go to the Li & Fung and see if they would have an interest in licensing, the brand for this bed bath opportunity. And they did and they a guy named David Greenstein, who they had was one of the small businesses that they had acquired, led their home division. And he was one of the best salespeople I’ve ever met as the president of that company. And he got he, we, he, they sourced our product, we had to help them understand how to manufacture. But they managed the business, we were a licensed brand. But when David left, they went through two president changes, one came from accessories in a purse business and they really didn’t have the relationships to President Changes, they were sitting on their hands, they guess they stopped working the business. And we took the licenses back. But that was that was a really challenging time period to go through when somebody is licensing your brand. And we licensed other companies to at that time, and we took all the licenses back and built our back end ops team and began running the business ourselves. So but we were able to build it learn, understand, understand what the consumers liked, what they didn’t like, is we evolved on the back of the infant, which was which was great.

Brett Thornton: What was the most challenging part of that, like when you took those licensing back and had to figure out how to do it all yourself? What was the hardest part you think?

Susan Walvius: Well, you know, I talk about building team. And the thing about, you know, I could tell you what skills I needed in point guard what skills I needed two guard and go and evaluate that talent in business. You know, again, we thought we needed CFO we had $145,000 in the bank. So it shows you how little we know about what those teammates should actually look like. But when we took the business back, when it’s why we’re located in Marlton, New Jersey, we had to build out the back and ups team which we had nobody in us. So we were at that time, Cindy to Petra Antonio, who was the former coo at Jones apparel group, they were acquired by a venture capital company and we’d met Cindy at one of the Fortune 500 things and she was like, well, you guys are gonna have a cult following. This is so cool. I love it. She was an advisor for us for a long time. She stepped in and hired the Jones apparel people that had been let go with that transaction. So that’s why we’re located in Marlton, New Jersey because that Jones office was located in Bristol, Pennsylvania. And, you know, so they all knew each other and it was it was pretty much as seamless. Cindy came in and helped run that ops group for a period of time for us as a president. And that really helped us transition but systems IT ER P systems that that was really challenging because they’re costly. Everything’s a bolt on, you know, it takes a long time. Yeah, those things set up so you know, that part was a little learning process expensive and frustrating.

Brett Thornton: Yeah I bet. And what about on the flip side of that? What about success? You know, what, what, what’s the story you can tell around, you know, maybe one of the first times that you were like, wow, like,

Susan Walvius: They’re having success, many, many wow days but and still have them, which is fun, it’s exciting. But the one, you know, the one that I remember the most is watching, you know, the Bed Bath and Beyond sales when we first launched on those end caps, because, again, it wasn’t a test, it was like, This is it, you know, either it goes or it doesn’t. And we’re gonna know very, very quickly. So and it was a huge success. When we first launched it Bed Bath, they allowed us to launch with the video like video, right? So it allowed us to launch with a video on the end cap. But we were the most productive per square foot in their sheet department. You know, for the first two years that we were there. So that was cool, because we had a small team, we had and we were located in Columbia, South Carolina at that time. And we had a lot of interns that were students from South Carolina, and one of those interns still works with us today, Chris White, who you may have met, he’s gone from being an intern to being he doesn’t lead our sales team. But he’s manages our sales team, which he does a great job for us. So he’s been with us a long time. But that was that was a big moment. Seeing those sales knowing we had a hit and being able to, you know, build on that.

Brett Thornton: I can imagine, you know, just getting the first you know, be able to see the reports or how are you got the information the first few times must have just been amazing.

Susan Walvius: Yeah, I know. I mean, it’s been a learned by trial and error for us. You know, we’ve grown through people we’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. One of the books that I’ve read called Traction by Gino Wickman, I think, has been really helpful for me when I read that book. I wish I had read it a long time ago as an entrepreneur starting a business because it was all the mistakes that are laid out in the book or the all the mistakes that we made. It was like reading, reading about ourselves and but he gets he talks about focusing on the next 90 days and the big things that need to get done. And because he uses an analogy that I like, which is like if you have a glass, and then you have a pile of rocks, and you have a pile of sand, and you need to fit them all in to that blast, which represents a period of time, if you put the sand in first, all the little tasks, those big things never get done. But if you if you focus on the big things and get those big things done, then you put through your task and you’re saying you’ll that’s how you get it all done. And that that was a great analogy. But there’s also a lot of process in that book that was very helpful as addressing issues with your leadership team and communication and, you know, dashboards and things like that that are helpful. But I thought that was a really good book. And I’ve read that maybe two years ago, and we started implementing that entrepreneurial operating system.

Brett Thornton: I love that. Yeah, it’s a great philosophy, you know, and I’ve actually seen that demo live at a, I was at a retreat once and I can’t remember who the speaker was, but he did that he had a big jar. And then yeah, he filled up the rocks, and then you can pour the sand in it filled all the gaps, you know, and he like went with his speech, great visual those like, Oh, I get it, I totally get it. Um, so tell me what, in your experience, like getting sheet to the size of it now and you know, and all these different places, you know, from your leadership style as a co CEO, what did you take from coaching basketball, that transitioned into your role as a CEO,

Susan Walvius: I think the biggest thing is helping people grow and get better, you know, and empathy, which is really important, you know, really knowing people first and what their personal objectives are, who they want to be how they interact, and coaching people differently, you know, you there are people that need to be pushed and challenged a little bit more, and other people just need to be encouraged and recognized for what they’re doing. Well, that’s one of the things in coaching that is really important. You know, coaching is, is actually giving criticism, you know, you’re encouraging, but you’re also criticizing to get people better, and it’s so important to recognize what people do well, you know, and that’s people really you got to have that balance of, I really like what you’re doing here, this is great, you know, and then at the same time, being able to, we call it build a sandwich, Michelle, and I do, which is, you’re doing this, well, here’s the meat of what I want to talk to you about. And then you’re doing this well, you know, so you’re building your, you’re opening the, you’re opening the ears for the criticism and communication.

Brett Thornton: I love that. I heard a speaker one time who explained, you know, his coaching philosophy in the use of these four pennies. So he used to say when he was in sales, he would he would start the day with four pennies in his right pocket. And he would try to give someone a bunch of you know, hey, you’re doing great here, you’re doing this really good. And every time you’d give them kind of a compliment, talk about what they’re doing, right, he’d switch a penny from the right pocket to the left. And he said, You know, my goal was to try to get all the pennies to the left side before I gave him, like some real criticism, because he found that once he had done that they were very open to listening. Whereas if the first thing of the day was the criticism, they were much more, you know, there was a lot more of this, you know, and they weren’t as open to it. And I actually like that I was like, yes, it’s a great philosophy. Because you see now too, and I don’t know, if you’re seeing this in your business, I’m sure you are but, you know, generationally too, the way you approach people, the way you talk, all that’s changing and evolve consistently. And so if you think you know, you can talk to your, you know, your 50 or 60 year old employee the same you talk to your 20 year old employee, you know, I got newsflash, it’s not gonna be a very good conversation, and you have to understand how to adapt those conversations, you know, and it’s such a big part of, you know, it’s why I’m such a big fan of emotional intelligence, you know, especially the 2.0 book and the whole process, because you start understanding, you know, like, the way you’re being interpreted and the way other people are is such an important part in business. Those dynamics are just crucial, especially in your you know, leadership teams and your executive teams.

Susan Walvius: Well, one of the things Brett that was really challenging for Michelle, Michelle was an all American, my co-founder. She was an all American played 13 years USA basketball. I mean, she was really she was a National High School player of the year when she came out to Tennessee won a national championship MVP, the national championship team, where she really struggled and she was my assistant coach, we were working together when I came up this crazy idea. You know, it’s when you’re in when you’re in sports, you yell, I mean, there’s a level of your yelling you know, and it’s you’re very direct in your communication, you’re yelling at people, when you don’t like something, you know, things are, there’s less time for processing, you know, you have all that planning and preparation. But when you’re in the moment, when you’re in a practice, when you’re in games, you’re giving very on the spot, direct, sometimes stern, you know, communication, you know, run faster, you know, whatever, you know, or get on a line you’re running. And you have, you know, penalties for when things don’t have the most shot really had a difficult time with the HR aspect of and she doesn’t yell at people necessarily. It’s just, you know, I’ll give you one story. She decides, you know, we’ve got a lot of different types of people in our company, but she decides we’re going to do and we did this in sports, she’s like, we’re going to do team weight loss, everybody’s going to come in this then and they’re going to get on the scale. And I’m like, Michelle fires out this email to the team, let me show you can’t do that, you know, you, it’s, you know, like, we’re not we’re not going weigh our employees, and she’s like, it’ll be fun. You know, it’s like, Michelle, you just want me to lose weight. That’s what this is about. So, you know, if that’s what she’s made, all these, you know, we are one of our people, just like, you know. Susan Michelle, it might be good for you guys to go to do some sensitivity, you know, training. And she included me because Michelle would be like, that’s not acceptable, Joel or Yeah. And she’s a firecracker. And people love her because she was good. She has great energy. She’s much more engaging than I am. I mean, she’s fantastic. She’s actually going to be on CBC in about an hour. Yeah, but she’s much more. She’s a firecracker. People love her great, great energy, but she can pop, you know, yeah.

She’s gotten better.

Brett Thornton: That’s funny. Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, it’s been so interesting looking at, you know, when you think about it from the coaching perspective, you know, and you look at these dynamics over the last, you know, 2030 years, you know, where you had, especially like, watching, you know, Jordan and the balls, and you kind of saw how bill navigated, and he ends up with the leggings doing the same thing with Kobe and Shaq and, you know, and like, you know, he said in his books and whatnot is like his job was just to figure out how do I coach everybody? Because they all had to have something totally different, you know? Yeah. And, you know, then even modern day you saw it, you know, just even a couple years ago, you know, with the Warriors, you know, with Duran and Curry, you know, dream, it was just like, So Steve Kerr. That was kind of the thing he saw, like, okay, he seems to be really good at managing personalities, because this looks difficult, at least from the outside, you know?

Susan Walvius: Well, yeah. I went to school with Steph Curry’s older dad. Older dad, his dad. He’s my age. He went to Virginia Tech.

Oh, nice. Yeah. Yeah. I couldn’t imagine you know, you literally go to the NBA and that you think for one family, that would be enough, you know, and then you end up having multiple kids go, that’s just phenomenal. I can’t believe how

Good how good he became playing at Davidson and carrying that team to the Final Four and amazing, amazing.

Brett Thornton: Yeah, no, it’s pretty cool. Yeah, I grew up in Sacramento. So I was a huge king’s fan. So I just always I just judge every good NBA player by when the Kings missed them in the draft was like my entire childhood, like, how could I Karl Malone, I’m good at it. You know, it’s like that’s, you know, I could add Steph Curry. So

Susan Walvius: Well, you know, that’s, that’s sports. Well, and like you and I are talking right now, what’s been really interesting for us and very helpful in this male dominated circle of the industry is Michelle and I have been able to talk we would go into these Bed Bath and Beyond, and we would talk sports the entire time. You know, so coming from the world of sports, being in a male dominated industry, it’s been a, that has really helped us transition. Relate, communicate. That’s where we’ve come from. That’s what we’ve known. Being in sports is a bubble. It is. It is a really different. People. And as what I said before, I thought it was gonna be like, being paid to be on vacation. It wasn’t that way at all. I mean, its 24/7. You’re recruiting every weekend, you’ve got kids on campus every weekend, and I think I would have two weekends off a year. You know, you’re watching film at night, you’re going to practice your individual team meetings, you know, it’s there’s a lot, a lot of work. And it was a lot of fun, very challenging.

Brett Thornton: But this is why imagine that sets you up though, into the entrepreneur life, because that’s usually the shock that people when they dress or their visits are like, Whoa, it never stops, you know, but you were kind of already coming from something that never stopped. Yeah. So let me ask you, you know, before we end the interview, I really wanted to get into That you just kind of mentioned a little bit but, you know, in the mattress furniture space, I mean, there’s literally you can count the amount of, you know, female CEOs on one hand, you know, and I would love to know from you guys, you know, like, were there any specific challenges to this industry? Or any really that, that you kind of came up against? And then, you know, how did you persevere through? Or how did you get by it? Or what advice would you give to somebody kind of coming up and maybe doing those same obstacles.

Susan Walvius: It’s interesting, because I don’t really read don’t have anything to compare it to. I do know that coming from the world of sports, which is a high energy,


high energy, even brands, you know, Nike, and those brands, Lulu cussing, Lulu lemon, and they were to really stand for something they mean, it means something to people, and people like to be associated with those. And then the time that we came in, I mean, it was the home space was kind of boring. You know, it was whitespace, it was like the retail space was not exciting. And I think there were people out there that were doing some things put going to market and then seeing what people are doing. Avocado has been a great example. I mean, what a cool brand, and what a cool product and how you tell your story, I think is fantastic. And I know, we saw that as an opportunity to really mix things up. But I, you know, we saw that we saw this industry as being older as being you know, just not all that exciting. And wanting that to be I mean, you spend, yes, you know, if you’re 30 years old, you’ve been asleep for 10 years, you know, you need to focus on that. And sleep is so important to recovery for athletes, you know, it’s so critical to how you feel the next day, you know, and I think this industry is starting to do a better job of communicating the benefits the uniqueness of people out there with some really cool things. Now to address issues, more people are talking about benefits and problem solving than they were when we got into this. And we were the only people that were, you know, we put icons and hang tags and all those things from the sports world, like on our packaging, a lot of everyone just everybody’s doing that now. And, you know, it’s I don’t have any other business experience to compare it to. So it’s hard for me to answer that question. I just see, I still see a lot of whitespace in this industry for growth, excitement,


You know, improving people’s lives. And I think we have a great opportunity to do that. Not just sell products. No,

Brett Thornton: No, I agree with you. I mean, I think that’s, you know, your company’s a perfect example. You know, obviously I work in avocado, you know, but you’ve got purple, you know, there’s these different companies that I think saw that saw, like, hey, if this is so vanilla, it’s the same thing for 25 years, like, Oh, it’s a promotion. It’s the $300 like, it’s the same thing. It’s just the memory foam. Oh, we’re just gonna call it charcoal this month, next month, its charcoal. I did but the same thing. You’re always going to be blue nouns. Yep. And I think that the customers just got so you know, just okay. Same thing, same thing, that’s why the industry was so ripe for people to come in and disrupt. You know, I mean, if you think of what a Casper was, I mean, I know the people used to make it, it was like, a piece of memory foam on a piece of block foam when you wrapped in a box. You know, that was it? You know not to downplay a great concept, but I think they were able to come in because people were just still over the old

Susan Walvius: Did a great job of that. I thought they were a disrupter in their commercials and how they demonstrated, you could jump on one end of the bed and the wind would move on the other end of the bed, you know, which I thought that was that was a really cool demonstration, looking at Dyson as a vacuum and who would ever get excited about a vacuum, you know, but I thought Dyson did it in a really cool way. And that’s what we’re striving to do, you know, as a company and you continue to grow and bring out food products that are really unique in the marketplace, but do it in a branded meaningful way.

Brett Thornton: Yeah. And tell me about the TV thing, because you started with DirecTV. And then you mentioned that, you know your co CEO is actually going on QVC. So is that a big part of the business now?

Susan Walvius: What direct response television did for us, which we didn’t want it to look like direct response television. But what it did for us is really just we’ve noticed all the time. Number one, when we first got into this, nobody knew they were sleeping hot. There was a low level of education that we had to communicate to people look, you’re probably kicking your leg out in the middle of the night are probably throwing those covers out. And I think there’s and I’m really kind of glad we’ve got all these other companies out there doing it now because people are recognizing that most people do sleep hot and we needed to go on TV to demonstrate our product and communicate. We saw that work with temper we saw that work with Dyson to communicate power products is different, you know what it does, how it works. And we did that what it drove awareness, it drove traffic to our website. And you know, we have quite a few repeat customers and word of mouth. And one of the things that we’ve found through recent brand studies, we have brand love, you know, people don’t like our products, they talk about our products, they’re like, life changing,

Talk about our products, which

is crazy, you know, and, you know, it’s continuing to just communicate that to the rest of the world, how unique the product is, and how special and it may not be for everybody, but it is a, you know, I think pretty cool.

Brett Thornton: Oh, it is really cool. And I think you’re right, you know, I think I think the, the idea of, you know, a rising tide is gonna raise all ships, right? Like, the more people who understand the importance of, you know, not just your mattress, but then what’s on top of it is actually the better for companies like yourself, and everybody who’s kind of in that space, you know, the more people understand the value of, you know, what, doesn’t make sense for me to go out and buy a $3,000 bed and then go, you know, to target and buy $30 sheets? Like, that doesn’t make any sense, you know, but that’s what people did forever, you know, they buy that, because I would know, because I used to run these retail stores. And they’d be like, well, how come only 30% of our customers or 20% are buying new sheets, when they buy that? What are they doing? And then apparently, like, they’re either just using their old sheets, or they’re going and buying inexpensive sheets, you know, and it was like, they just spent all this money. This doesn’t make sense, but I think it was the education part, you know, not understanding that, Hey, you, you spent money on a mattress that’s has all these materials to help, you know, temperature control and keep you cool. And then you put wool sheets on it, or cotton sheets, you know, and you just ruined it, you know. So I think for a company like yourself, you know that education definitely obviously helps for sure. And I love the idea that you focused around, you know, not looking traditional, right, that’s why you have the end caps and the videos and all this cool stuff. I love the [inaudible] it’s been great. So last question would just be, you know, what would be you know, like you said, you’d have no other experience of outside this industry coming back from basketball to this, but as a successful CEO, the growing company, what would be one piece of advice you would give to young entrepreneurs, you know, who are starting now?

Susan Walvius: I would say, I would say it’s all been number one, you’re gonna have to work really, really hard.

But it is all about, it’s all about surrounding yourself with good people, people will help you. And you don’t necessarily you don’t have to pay them when people really do want to help. And so it’s reach out, find experts in the space that you’re in, don’t be afraid to ask, don’t see people as competitors, you know, even though they are you know, but people are willing to help so, you know, get as much advice as you can. And the other thing is, you know, a little harder I talked about empathy earlier,

You if something

Isn’t working, you have to make a change. You know, if you’re not if you don’t have the right people in the right seats, you have to make that change. And I made a lot of what I made some something I will say a lot, but I made some mistakes not doing that and you know, hiring friends, and you know those things really early on and that’s hard. That’s a really difficult thing, but get the right people in the right seats.

Brett Thornton: No, I love that. Yeah. And I think that’s from everyone I talked to you know, who started these big businesses? That seems to be a reoccurring message, you know, but I think early on, that’s what you do, right? Yeah, I know, these people, and I’m gonna do this, I’ll do that. But you don’t realize, you know, how quick people can outgrow roles when you’re growing fast? And then what do you do? So I think, you know, you either let the person just, you know, get overworked over their head, or you have to make a decision change. And those are hard. Those are difficult things, especially if it’s a friend or someone you know,

Susan Walvius: Yeah, that’s true. And, you know, the other thing, you know, and I think people, I think people, you’ve got to, you’ve got to capitalize your business. You know, if you want to grow, you’ve got to capitalize your business, so get really good at doing those pitches. So that’s important, too. You need capital to grow.

Brett Thornton: Well, it sounds like you’re gonna need to write a book on how to do it successfully. Since every time you pitch somebody they end up on your board or working for you or some so whatever you’re doing must be really good.

Susan Walvius: I do have a really good team. They’re special. We have a, today’s Thirsty Thursday, we call it so during work hours, we have a happy hour where we’re not allowed to talk about work. And I’ve really gotten to know people on a more personal level, you know, which that office interaction really didn’t get us you know, was going you know, we’re like a pinball in office. You know, so we’re going you know, one office to the extra people are in and out the door. But we’ve really gotten to know people it’s been fun. It’s been funny, I’m really blessed to have the team that I have because they are there. Just great people, and they’re hard workers, and they’re passionate about what they’re doing and their jobs and the company. 

Brett Thornton: That’s awesome. Well, thank

You so much, Susan. I love this. I feel like I could go on for like, I just want to know more about getting from basketball into Sheex. This is blowing my mind. But I do have to ask this question for all the basketball fans out there. Right. So being a collegiate coach for all that time. So what is your thought on this paying the players? I do,

Susan Walvius: I do think it’s gonna be, it’s going to be a nightmare to manage. That’s going to become a recruiting prop for people. It’s certainly going to separate your big schools with huge fan base bases from your smaller schools. But you know, I also see, I mean, the checks that we would bring home from the SEC conference, you know, generated from TV, and you know, and the money that schools are making from the athletes, performances, it’s a lot a lot of money there. That’s a big, big business. And I think, you know, they need to think through, you know, how they’re going to manage it. I just can’t, I can’t imagine how they’re going to do it. Do I think athletes should get some money? Yes. Because they don’t. I mean, they, so many kids that we were recruiting are first generation college students, you know, and they didn’t even know what they were gonna do with their lives. They’re making a lot of money for the school, you know, they can’t even they can’t even go out and buy things, you know, like clothes and stuff like that. I mean, they’re not getting any help from home. And they, you know, they do get a small stipend. But you know, it should be more than that. And if schools are making money on their jerseys on their name, they should get a piece of that.

Brett Thornton: Yeah, for sure. Awesome! Well, thank you so much, Susan. Are you going to go to a market in Vegas this summer?

Susan Walvius: Yeah, we talked about that this morning. We meet with our team every day, and we will be there. Maybe I’ll send you maybe I’ll send you a video book.

Brett Thornton: Yes, no, I will definitely stop. I will definitely do a high five for sure. So thanks so much for coming on. I appreciate it. Good to see you again. Awesome. Okay.

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