Dream Factory: 3Z Brands CEO John Merwin is Turning the Valley into a Mattress Mecca

Jimmy MagahernSeptember 1, 2023
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Photo by Rob Ballard
Photo by Rob Ballard

With a new Glendale HQ and a growing portfolio of bedding brands, Brooklyn Bedding/3Z Brands CEO John Merwin is turning the Valley into a mattress mecca.

The first thing that strikes you, walking into Brooklyn Bedding’s new manufacturing facility on Bethany Home Road in Glendale, is the sheer size. Close to 650,000 square feet of springs, foam and fabric are laid out in a flow pattern where the materials meet on a conveyor belt on which mattresses are assembled, compressed to fit into boxes and shipped out the door. It’s a 1-mile walk just circling the floor.

“We’re the most vertically integrated mattress manufacturer in the country,” says John Merwin, Brooklyn’s founder (the company was named after his daughter, not the NYC borough). “We make our own springs, we do all of our own cut-and-sew, we just started pouring all of our own foam. No other mattress company can do all that in-house.”

In January, Merwin was named CEO of 3Z Brands, the new parent company that includes five other labels: Helix Sleep, Bear Mattress, Nolah, Birch and Leesa Sleep. (The 3Z stands for “zzz.”) Whoever you buy your bed-in-a-box from these days, there’s a good chance it’s being made here.

John Merwin at his new Glendale manufacturing facility.; Photo by Rob Ballard
John Merwin at his new Glendale manufacturing facility.; Photo by Rob Ballard

If not, parts of it are likely made elsewhere in town. “Phoenix has kind of become the mattress manufacturing mecca of the West,” Merwin says. Manufacturers with plants in the Valley include Serta Simmons (which acquired Phoenix-based Tuft & Needle in 2018), Tempur-Sealy, King Koil and MLILY. Scottsdale’s Amerisleep is headquartered here, but manufactures in Indiana.

Merwin attributes this to the availability of specially skilled laborers here. “We were kind of headbutting these other companies for employees… We really focused on how we could make this one of the best facilities to work in.”

It’s paid off. Since moving into the new space a year and a half ago from its previous 145,000-square-foot plant in Phoenix, the company’s turnover has decreased by 25 percent. Pay is good, according to chief operating officer Tim Dilworth. “Our tape-edgers here are making $60,000-$65,000,” he says, pointing to a crew that does the final manual stitching on the mattresses.

Merwin recognizes the value of skilled workers because he came from the manual labor pool himself. “My older brother Rob started the business in 1995, and he started as a liquidator,” Merwin says. “He would buy closeouts and overstock mattresses and he would sell them out of his garage.” After Rob (who’s no longer actively involved in the business) persuaded John and his wife to move from Montana to Mesa to help, the brothers discovered they could make more by buying excess parts from mattress manufacturers and learning how to make their own.

Their school was a Sealy factory in Denver and a Simmons factory in Texas, where they observed and asked a lot of questions. “A month later, we bought our first sewing machine, and we were off running, building mattresses.” They soon began adding stores – they currently have 18 in Arizona and 30 more nationwide – and in 2008 became an early player in bed-in-a-box online delivery.

“How we really broke in was that I was one of the first guys to sell compressed mattresses on Amazon,” Merwin says. “And that was when we decided, let’s shift away from the liquidation business and try to build an actual brand.” To compress and roll mattresses themselves, Merwin purchased a $135,000 machine, the first of many major equipment investments.

Today, 54 percent of mattress buyers purchase a boxed bed online rather than in-store, according to the International Sleep Products Association, up from 35 percent six years ago. Because 3Z Brands is not a publicly traded company, the CEO won’t give out sales numbers, but suffice it to say, the five brands constitute a healthy share.

Merwin hasn’t made a mattress himself in a long time, but says he values the craftmanship of the people who do the work, from the seamstresses to the crews loading wire into giant spring machines.

“I kind of joke with the guys that I’m still the best mechanic in the facility,” he says. “I know how to keep it all running.”