Cliff Levin CEO Furniture For Life, transforming the business while delivering lasting profound health and comfort benefits

Cliff Levin CEO Furniture For Life, transforming the business while delivering lasting profound health and comfort benefits

Our mission is to make the world a more comfortable place. And we do that through a variety of well-designed, well-made furniture products. We talk to discerning consumers who care about the quality of the product they buy and they’re interested in something that’s healthy and comfortable. That’s who we’re after.

All of our furniture has a twist on it that’s health, wellness, comfort-related. The core of our business is massage chairs, that’s kind of how we grew up as an organization. We’ve branched out from massage chairs into the recliner that you were trying, which is a True Zero Gravity recliner under the Positive Posture brand name

In 2006 I had stopped what I was doing before, which was running a chain of back specialty retail shops on the East Coast primarily, the D.C. area, and I moved here to Boulder. And through a variety of kind of lucky breaks, I ended up jumping into the massage chair business.  It felt like a matter of months later that it was announced that the United States was in the deepest recession in modern memory. And there we were, brand new company. It was me and a couple of other folks, and that’s the moment when I thought, “Well, my timing really couldn’t have been any better.”

We were lucky, we got through it. We got through it because we were small, we got through it because we were starting. And we were also talking to a slice of the American consumer that was relatively insulated from the worst parts of the recession, so they were able to afford our, what turned out to be, luxury products. And in our first six months of business… It took us six months to do our first million, now that was before the deep recession. Then when the recession hit, we actually continued to grow through that.
The question, is your product, furniture, is it for me? We have really affluent customers who are stressed out by their lives and are looking for a way to escape for 15 minutes or 30 minutes every day. And for them it’s not so much the expenditure, but it’s the commitment of space, it’s the commitment of… It’s just a decision to bring this object into their house. And they bring it in to run away a little while from their busy lives.

“I’ve got serious chronic neck, back, or shoulder pain. And I don’t care how much money I make, I’m going to solve this problem.” And so it’s really interesting and kind of heartwarming to me that we talk to a lot of people who are buying our products who are stretching, financially stretching, to own our products because after they tried them they really believe in them. And there’s where the real testimony lies in terms of what our product capabilities are, right? Somebody may be a mechanic whose work is really killing their bodies and choosing to step up and buy one of our chairs. And our most popular chair is $9,000. And saying, “This is what I need, this is the best thing. I tried them all, this is the best thing on the market.”
You know, in order to share the messages we have a fairly robust marketing effort, that’s absolutely necessary. We want to rise about the clutter and we want to make the argument to consumers, in case any consumers are listening right now, that there’s real value to buying the luxury and high-quality brands that we represent. And part of that value then comes to another critical area of the company, which is the service side of the company. Once you buy one of our products, either directly from us or through one of our dealer partners around the country, that’s…at that point we’re engaged, that’s the first day of our engagement as far as we’re concerned.

From that point on you’ve joined the family, we are going to take care of you and your problems we see as opportunities to make you delightfully happy.

On transforming the business.  What’s the most recent book or most influential book that has altered your perception on being a CEO or how you run your business and why?

Have you heard about this book called Traction?

There’s this guy named Gino Wickman and there’s only one possible answer to this question right now because our whole organization is now built on the concept of putting in place an Entrepreneurial Operating System. And once all the pieces of that are in place, this guy, Gino Wickman, informs us that at that point you have something that he calls Traction. You’ve got grip, you’ve got movement, you’ve got momentum, and you’re going in a direction. Traction involves a fairly painful process of really trying to understand who you are as an organization. And, you know, it’s only recently that we’ve gotten to 42 people. For a long time the company could just exist on people knocking on my door and going, “Cliff, what do you think of this? Cliff, what do you think of that?” and it worked. It no longer works for 42 people.

So we think hard about precisely who we are, how we’re going to focus, what our core values are. And from there we develop a one-year plan, a three-year plan, and a five-year plan. And after we’ve got those big blocks in place… And it sounds really simple, it’s actually kind of difficult to execute. It’s a big change for me and it’s a big change for a lot of people in the organization who are used to a much more informal environment. After you’ve broken it down like that, you then take your year and you chunk it out into quarters. And there are all kinds of rules and commandments that we’re going to live by under this Entrepreneurial Operating System that ensure that we’re all pulling in one direction.

The most kind of compelling aspect of it for me was the notion… This guy, Gino Wickman, says, “Look if you ask any successful business executive,” and we have a few business executives in here, “‘Do you have a clear idea of where you’re going?’ anybody worth their salt will have something to say that’s pretty clear and pretty good that sounds a lot like a mission or a vision statement.” Gino says the problem is not that good-thinking people don’t have a clear idea of what they should be doing, it’s that they don’t agree. It’s that one executive in one executive suite has got one idea and another one has got another idea.

And so the whole point of this effort is to suck every… Well, it starts with people just sitting in a room hour after hour whittling this thing down. I chime in every once in a while. But the effort to get on paper clearly who we are is a group effort kind of signed off by me, really. And then once it’s there, we go, “We all agree this is what we’re doing.” And that’s the magic, that’s when the magic starts to happen.

Bob Roark / Businessleaderspodcast


Cliff Levin /