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Connecting With Empathy: The Deena Gardner Story

In 2016, Deena Gardner was working at the Reverie showroom during the Vegas market when a woman walked in and changed her life forever. 

Gardner had started working at Reverie only five days prior, and not only was she a newcomer to the company, she was a newcomer to the mattress industry as a whole. 

Gardner has a background in brand management and had previously developed marketing strategies for companies such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, so being in a showroom as a trade marketing manager for a mattress company seemed like small potatoes. And it certainly wouldn’t have appeared to be the next rung up on the corporate ladder. 

Yet, there she stood, alone, face to face with the woman that had walked in, and Gardner was ready to answer any and all questions about what Reverie had to offer.  

The woman in the showroom asked some general questions about the mattresses on display and then the conversation took a personal turn. The shopper noticed Gardner was one of the only females in attendance at the show and that she was one of the only people of color. “It was love at first sight,” Gardner says with a laugh. 

From there, the shopper—who turned out to be Dana Helms of the non-profit organization, WithIt, a group committed to connecting emerging and executive women leaders with diverse backgrounds in the home furnishings industry—invited Gardner to a networking event that set the course for defining her niche within her new arena. 

Gardner quickly became a WithIt member, and six years later she now holds the title of vice president of membership. She credits that one singular encounter to changing the trajectory of her career.

Today, Gardner serves as the vice president for marketing and communications for Reverie, and in listening to her speak, it’s clear the mission of the company strongly reverberates within her. 

When asked what drew her into a completely new field and one that doesn’t initially seem exciting, she says that it was the perfect combination of it being a pivotal point in time when life goals and circumstances aligned, and she knew her next venture would be mission-focused. 

“When I interviewed, I was viewing the position with the lens that I would be developing marketing strategies for a company selling mattresses and bedding,” Gardner explains.”But what I was actually doing was interviewing with a company whose mission is to help people fall in love with the idea of better sleep.”

Guided by her passion and fueled by her skillset, Gardner has helped set Reverie apart with her innovative marketing skills, especially in light of everything that happened in 2020. In analyzing the past year and looking ahead, she was asked her thoughts on the future of the furniture and mattress space. 

She says that last year the theme that spilled into every facet of life was the term “connecting with empathy.” To connect with empathy, the starting point is listening. We have to tap into understanding the needs of people before getting what we want out of it,” she says. 

Playing this theme out professionally, Gardner mentioned that as an industry, it had to step back and truly listen to the customer base in order to meet them in a new and fresh way. What this looked like was creating immersive experiences via virtual visits. 

Suddenly, she explains, “customers were in the comfort of their own home, they may have been able to have their partner with them whereas they may not have before, and in conducting transactions in such a manner we found the conversation flowed much more easily and you can really begin to understand the intimate sleep needs of people when you start from a point of listening, rather than just selling.”

Gardner also touched on her hope of the industry continuing its efforts to spearhead initiatives for women, which would allow them to accelerate and shape more of the direction of the industry. 

“Representation matters,” she explains. “From a consumer standpoint, as a company, when you look at the buying and spending power and who holds those purse strings, it’s women. If we as an industry don’t acknowledge that and start marketing more to that demographic, we will literally lose market share.” 

And what’s one way to reach women? “By having women at the table when decisions on how to reach them are being made,” Gardner explains. She continued on by emphasizing that “trade publications are showing progress, and I’m excited for the efforts to come.”

Indeed, the industry has a bright future ahead with women like Gardner pushing the momentum forward, and not just in carving pathways for women, but for businesses everywhere seeking to connect on deeply personal levels with their customer base. 

Empathy, listening and a mission-focused mindset were the seeds planted that have led Gardner to her success and, as an industry, we’re thankful Helms walked in the Reverie showroom that day and helped Deena get more closely connected with the mission behind her career. 

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