Christine and Chris Cook (BBA ’91)
Multi-Generational Entrepreneurs Specialize in a Good Night's Sleep
Chris Cook (BBA '91) is the third generation in a family of entrepreneurs in the "sleep business." Cook's grandfather, a Colonel in the Army and decorated World War I veteran, sold adjustable beds door-to-door following the war. His father, Bob, started a chain of furniture stores in Dallas in 1977, and Cook grew up working summers and weekends in the stores. In 1990 Bob launched a mattress specialty retailer in Seattle which is now the largest mattress retailer in the Pacific Northwest and throughout Canada.
After graduating from Cox, Chris worked for a Dallas money manager for three years, concluding that his passion was building great companies, rather than trading on their equities. He left the money management business for the tech industry, where he ultimately became involved in a couple of venture-backed start-ups.
"Working for these ventures was an incredible learning experience, but I wanted to start a company of my own that did not have the complicated capital structure of a venture-backed firm," said Chris.
In 2002, Chris and his wife Christine, who also graduated from SMU with a BA in advertising, began due diligence on the mattress retailing business, leveraging his family's experience in the industry. The Cooks opened the first Sleep Experts mattress store in July of 2003, which today has grown to 34 stores and 100 employees throughout the DFW Metroplex.
"Christine and I feel so lucky to stand on the shoulders of my father's experience," said Chris. "While working with family can add an emotional dimension that can be challenging, there is an inherent trust that allows for great accomplishments."
SMU has played an integral role in preparing the Cook family for success. Not only did Chris and Christine both graduate with degrees from SMU, but both father and son benefitted from the expertise of Jerry White, director of the Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship. Bob took White's entrepreneurship class in the '70s as a non-credit course, and then Chris enrolled in White's entrepreneurship class during his BBA studies.
"Every day I leverage the analytical skills I learned as we look at our sales, marketing, merchandising and operations data. I believe this skill has given us a depth of understanding of our business that has translated into a competitive edge for Sleep Experts," said Chris. "The Cox School gave me a foundation of solid skills to get a start in business and a valued network of individuals who are not only close friends but business confidants as well."
The Cooks built Sleep Experts with the vision of a world-class retail company, where employees are enthusiastic and proud to come to work, and they feel like they are making a great impact on the community.
"We believe that business is about more than making a profit. The true value of our business is the impact it has on our employees and the community that we serve," said Chris. "At the core of everything we do is our Mission, Purpose and Values, a doctrine that we introduce to our employees on their first day and reinforce every day thereafter."
Using these guiding principles, Sleep Experts has built an employee culture based on integrity, with a team that lives and breathes these values and thrives on doing the right thing by the customer every single time, all with an end goal of exceeding the customer's expectations.
This principle of integrity is instilled into the Cooks' work outside of the office as well. They established the Rest Assured program, in which they recycle and refurbish every customer's old mattress and donate it to one of 20 local nonprofit organizations that care for families in crisis, with a focus on victims of domestic violence, child abuse and homelessness.
The Cooks' commitment to integrity and service to the community has garnered numerous awards. In 2009, Sleep Experts received the Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award for community work. They received the Consumer's Choice Award for Business Excellence in the category of mattress retailers (2007, 2008 and 2009) based on an independent survey of Dallas/Fort Worth area consumers. The Dallas Business Journal has named Sleep Experts one of Dallas' "Best Places to Work" (2006 and 2008), and in 2009, the publication honored Christine with a Women in Business Award.
The Cooks also find time to give back to SMU. "Every semester Christine and I have been guest lecturers for the Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship. It has been a wonderful experience, and it is extremely rewarding to be able to share our experience with students," said Chris.
"Christine and Chris share a vision that extends beyond sheer entrepreneurial savvy," said Jerry White, director of the Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship. "In addition to a successful business, they have established a visible leadership role in the community. Whether it's selling a mattress or giving blankets to the homeless, the Cooks specialize in ensuring a good night's sleep."