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COVER STORY
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Joe Tatulli

 Off Track Bedding- Keeping It Simple, Every Night

  I have been a fan of Tom and Roanne Barron for years. Their successful twenty year history in Southeastern New England, with Roanne’s bright and amiable personality as the marketing cornerstone in a long running series of television commercials, is a testament to their hard work and simple straightforward style.

The company’s first store was opened in East Greenwich, Rhode Island almost twenty years ago. “We started as a bedding store,” said Roanne Barron. Currently with ten units, OTB has operated both company and franchise stores over the years.
Futon Life always looks for a focus for our futon store owners stories, and Roanne has a great story to tell. “One of the great things about Off Track Bedding is our adaptability,” said Barron. “When we opened we had every type of sleep surface available in a two thousand square foot space. But it was the waterbed that gave us our greatest opportunity,” she said. Back in the early eighties, at the beginning of the waterbed boom, Barron started to get feedback about their venture from friends and associates that led them into water. “We got into water right from the beginning and it was the dominant portion of our business from the start. This is what I mean about our adaptability. Water was where the action was and we flexed into that area,” she said. With adaptability as their culture and with water as their focus, Off Track Bedding became and is still known as the best place to get a waterbed in Southern New England. “We were so dominant in water, and there was so much activity in water, we just became known, because of so much advertising, as a waterbed store,” she said. Barron related a great story about her grandmother, who went to another furniture dealer to buy a traditional innerspring mattress and foundation, and told the salesman that her granddaughter owned Off Track Bedding , but “they only sold waterbeds.”

The OTB Team (l to r): Tom Barron, Sandra Baccari, Roanne Barron, Steve Cruse, Shelly von Pongracz, Donna Dyer, Kyle Sheratt and Priscilla Keisling.

 

     
  Adaptability continued to serve the company as Off Track Bedding flexed into what was hot. “We are a very hands on company- we work here every day,” says Barron, “and because of this we were able to change our focus quickly as things changed in the futon industry.” As water began to move into soft sides and as the futon category began to make a move Barron and company morphed into what they thought they had to be. OTB moved into futons right at the beginning. “We started with futons in 1984-85 with New Moon’s futon program,” said Barron.
  It was right at the time futon furniture started to be a category that Off Track Bedding consolidated its franchise operation and began to lease some larger spaces. “During the late eighties, here in New England, business was flat for everyone and we were able to get into some larger spaces,” Barron said. With more space the company was able to carry a wider variety of products and more numbers in each product category.

“We had just three futon frames in the beginning, all New Moon.” But as the spaces got larger Barron was able to expand the lines that were moving well. “I began to get visits from reps who had always sold me water, who were now into futons. It became easier at that time to get other futon frame lines because we knew the reps. They were people we had been doing business with for years,” she said.


Off Track Bedding sells their futon covers from an extensive swatch display. The futon covers are then custom made and drop shipped to customer's homes.

     
  One of the more interesting perspectives Barron shared with us during our interview was the nature of the futon furniture customer. OTB’s customers for futon furniture were not the same people who were coming in to buy a bedroom product. It was because of the dual purpose aspect of the futon category that she saw their futon client as a separate and distinct customer from their bedding shopper. “It fit into what we were doing without taking any customers away from our core business,” said Barron. “It was a different product with a different customer, and we found that they were also interested in other things we had in the store as well.” Barron also said that because of the younger age of the futon customer her company was able to build a relationship with them that would continue to produce sales and revenue for years to come. “You could see a continuance with these customers, an opportunity to cultivate something for the future. We found that when these folks were looking for other products, maybe after college or when they were moving on, as young people do, they were back in the store looking for something new. Futons added something to our product mix without just adding a side step. It added new business to the business,” she said.

 

Keith Boisvert (Associate) and Donna Dyer (Manager) of OTB's top futon store in Narragansett, RI.

 

     
  OTB The Third Try is a Charm  
     
  It was after the third try that Roanne Barron hit on a formula that is still working. “With a young staff who had a lot of energy and a strong desire to stay with the futon category we decided to keep with the program. And it was at that time that we went with Gold Bond exclusively,” Barron said. “Gold Bond is it for us. They help you with advertising, POP and the sales training. They are a great resource. More than just product, it’s the whole package. They work with you every step of the way.” Roanne is also almost exclusively SIS Futon Covers with her covers. “I am carrying a couple of numbers from Cotton Works and Omni, but SIS Futon Covers is our best seller,” she said.


OTB stores merchandise to suit their local demographic

     
OTB and TV  
  As the chain was growing through the franchise years advertising was priority one. With a pool of money maintained by the franchise fees and the group buying power of ten futon stores Off Track Bedding became a household word. “The consumer is so fickle today. They will forget about you in a heartbeat,” said Barron. The company has always maintained a strong advertising presence in their market area. “We advertise every day, somewhere, sometime, with TV or print…every day!,” said Barron. “We are convinced that it was because we maintained a constant presence in our customers’ minds during that time that we survived, where the rest of the waterbed stores went out of business. They are all gone and we are still here. You can’t let up, even when things are slow. Like I said, the customer is fickle, no matter how good your products are. If you don’t keep telling them your story they will just go somewhere else.”


Accessories, POP and streamlined room vignettes are the the order of the day at OTB

     
  Tom Barron is the media buyer and Roanne is out front selling to her customers. As the story goes, several years earlier she and Tom were looking at a building location and happened to meet and become friendly with early appliance superstore dealer Harry Leiser. “Harry took an interest in our business and during some meetings we were having told me I should do the TV advertising. He said, you are the owner and you’re a woman in business. He said to just go on TV and tell your story. At that time there were no women selling anything on TV so we took his advice. Harry was the guy who came up with the ‘lowest prices every night,’” Barron said. Having been on radio for years Roanne had a recognized voice, and now is one of the most recognizable women on the tube.

She also added that commitment to TV is the key. “You have to go with TV for the long haul. People make the mistake of going on television and if customers are not running in the door after a few weeks they drop out. You have to make the long term investment. You have to be willing to stay out there, keeping your face out there, and go and go and go,” she said.


Roanne Barron

   
  With twenty years of experience and a long term commitment to the area Off Track Bedding maintains an enduring, high profile position in a very competitive marketplace. With the big box guys on every corner, and the local superstores like Jordan’s and Cardi’s pumping big bucks into local media coffers, Roanne Barron’s cheery smile and accessible persona keep Off Track Bedding a sure bet in the New England furniture game.
     
     
 
OFF TRACK BEDDING: THE FUTON DIFFERENCE

Roanne Barron believes in the KISS paradigm:

• Simple program based on comfort and value, not price

• A Gold Bond 8” Cotton & Foam Futon is standard on every frame package price

• Sell futons as a sleep product first - We are a bedding store

• Sell futon furniture based on what customer is going to do with it…
1. Happy with general feel of Cotton & Foam- go with that
2. Customer will mostly use futon furniture for seating- go with a softy
3. Customer will mostly use futon furniture for sleeping-go with an innerspring

• Stores tailor their merchandising display to fit their unique demographic

• Stores pick their own display futon covers and offer hundreds of swatches for custom covers and direct ship delivery to customer’s home.

OTB Advertising 101

Always Everyday Low Price
OTB uses a simple yet effective plan to get its message out:

• Three true sales per year: A vendor supported Train Load Sale, a clearance sale, and this year possibly a Twentieth Anniversary Sale

• Tell a story and stick with it

• Keep your name in play: OTB uses TV as its number one medium for advertising. The TV spots are category based and the media buys are in direct proportion to category percentage of sales. Print supplements TV when needed.

• OTB’s unique selling feature is depth of product in comparison to most bedding or bedroom stores. They carry a much broader line of bedroom furniture than Mattress Giant and Mattress Discounters.

    FL

 

 
 
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