Article originally published in The New Zealand Herald
The brothers are the third generation to run the company and have 1200 employees on both sides of the Tasman, some of whom have been with the company for more than 40 years.
In 2006 the National Business Review Rich List put the Turner families’ wealth at $70 million, which Craig Turner said at the time was an overestimate.
Their Comfort Group is Australasia’s biggest mattress and foam manufacturer, with about 1200 staff, most of whom are in Australia. It has manufacturing plants in south and west Auckland and brands include the Sleepmaker, Simmons, Dunlopillo, Design Mobel and Serta as well as flexible foam manufacturer Dunlop Foams.
Sleepyhead was born in 1935, when Arthur Mudd began a business making kapok mattresses in a small factory shed in Auckland. He was joined by the brothers’ grandfather Sidney Turner, an electrician, who took a half share after Mudd was unable to pay his bills.
While the company is now being run on a day-to-day basis by the fourth generation of Turners, when inducted into the Business Hall of Fame last year the brother Graeme and Craig are both still involved in the innovation and growth of the Sleepyhead brand.
Graeme Turner said then it isn’t about the recognition or the public profile.
He’s just doing what he loves.”It’s great to have recognition but I just do a job every day, just try and make mattresses and make sure people sleep well,” Turner said.
“I’m not one for being in the public profile.”
Turner, in his late 60s, has been involved in the third generation family-owned business since the age of eight. In those days you could work in a factory when you were eight, Turner says.
“I just love it. It’s in my blood. There’s nothing in this business I haven’t done.”
Turner is modest when reflecting on career highlights, insisting there are a lot of little highlights rather than one big thing.
As he says, “it’s not like we created some great invention.”
But it’s the international recognition for quality that stands out most for Turner.
Most Marriott, Hilton and Accor hotels around the world have mattresses designed by Turner himself.
Sleepyhead has had success selling beds into China too, and according to Turner, is the number one exporter of beds into that country.
“People find that a bit hard to believe but we’re selling probably 300 a day into China,” Turner said.
“We’re very lucky in a sense too because New Zealand is the only one that’s got a free trade agreement into China with mattresses.”
Turner says Sleepyhead has had to adapt to the changing sizes and preferences of Kiwis over the decades.
He said the average weight of a New Zealand male in 1966 was 62kg — now it’s 92kg.
“Bed construction has had to adapt to people getting bigger,” Turner said.
He and his brother are regularly on the factory floor monitoring, perfecting and improving the way things are done.
Turner said the pair bought out their uncle in 1979.
He said it was a very small business back then with approximately 45 employees.
“We almost turn over more in a month than they used to do in a year,” Turner said.
The firm has recently expanded in Melbourne and Brisbane and last he talked about the expansion needs.
“We need a bigger facility in Auckland. We make more a day now than we used to make in a week. It’s bursting at the seams,” Turner said.
“It’s been my life. As the saying goes, I sleep and eat the business.”
In 2006 the pair made a failed bid to bail out failing carpet maker Feltex by injecting $63.5 million into the firm.