Company saves schools money, reduces city waste stream

by Eric Ginsburg

Nobody else thought this would work, or at least nobody else thought of how to make it work.

Bob Savino’s idea for recycling and manufacturing mattresses may seem obvious now, but his brainchild is not only innovative for Greensboro, but one of a kind.

The relatively young Mattress Go Round has already grown tremendously, taking old mattresses that would have wound up in a landfill and recycling the parts to provide new beds at lower cost. The company first began replacing old mattresses with new ones using recycled material to UNCG, and now has contracts with all five colleges and universities in town.

Mattress Go Round is expanding into the hotel industry. The company ships beds all over the place.

It recently began a pilot contract with the city of Greensboro and is negotiating with 32 local governments in Charlotte, and in Wake and Orange counties. The contract saves Greensboro money by keeping bulky mattresses and box springs out of the waste stream.

“This, in essence, is just a paper bag filled with air,” Savino said, gesturing to a mattress at the company’s headquarters on Yanceyville Street.

Sheldon Smith, the city’s solidwaste division manager, said there are no estimated savings for the year-long pilot yet, but said that it is part of a larger recycling effort that compliments the city’s contract with ReCommunity.

“The opportunity to recycle another part of our waste stream is the encouraging part of it,” Smith said. “Everything that we can take out of the waste stream… helps us save in disposal costs.”

The city is asking residents to call in mattress pickups, which are handled by Mattress Go Round. By the second week of the program there were already an average of six to seven mattresses a day, but the ones that aren’t called in are currently picked up by the city’s bulk collection crew and go into the waste stream. Smith said they hope to be able to separate them out at the transfer station so they aren’t sent to the landfill, but

the only money saving and recycling guarantee is for residents to phone in discarded beds.

Savino said bulk pickup costs the city more than other curbside services and estimated the program will save Greensboro at least $500,000 annually. The city pays Mattress Go Round $9 to take a mattress curbside — a next-day pickup — and $4 for beds dropped off at its facility.

District 4 Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann was impressed when she toured Savino’s operation, and after getting Mayor Robbie Perkins to check it out, helped push for the pilot with the city.

“In some ways it’s a simple operation but impressive when you look at it in totality,” Hoffmann said. “If there are no-brainers, this is sort of a no-brainer, don’t you think?” Conventional wisdom perpetuated by the mattress industry encourages people to throw out and destroy beds even though they are made of salvageable material, Savino said, with Mattress Go Round capitalizing on a “disposable economy” and disproving the common belief that requires regularly purchasing brand new mattresses.

Savino thought of the idea while working with the Bryan Foundation as a mentor after realizing that the central complaint of people running college dorms was the constant need for new beds. Despite being made of recyclable material, mattresses and box springs are contain so many component parts that it used to be considered too difficult and cost prohibitive to reuse the material than items like a plastic bottle, he said. By using the material to manufacture new mattresses instead of disassembling them for other uses, the company makes the process profitable.

The factory, storage area and offices for Mattress Go Round are located near the Revolution Mills complex, which houses the Welfare Reform Liaison Project. The job-training program at the project links unemployed workers with the mattress manufacturer, which not only provides jobs to people who might otherwise be seen as unemployable, but the sociallyresponsible business model makes financial sense, Savino said.

“These people want to work,” he said, easily naming off employees who had once been homeless or were recently released from prison. “Why not make effective change in someone’s life? [We’re] giving people a trade.

In dollars and cents it works.”

The company already employs 34 people, and Savino said with planned expansions, he anticipates they will be hiring soon.

Hoffmann applauded the company’s green practices alongside job creation.

“Bob is giving good jobs with benefits to people in Greensboro who need jobs,” she said. “[We] need more places like this. The best thing that we can always do for anybody that’s in that situation is a decent job. I want to see Mattress Go Round grow to their greatest potential.”

Mattress Go Round cranked out upwards of 50,000 mattresses in the last year, Savino said, many of them to colleges like UNCG, which bought 1,600 new mattresses this year. Mattress Go Round’s “give one, get one” program takes a school’s old beds, strips them down, sanitizes the metal and rebuilds them before selling them back at a cheaper price than a conventional new mattress.

Ed Keller, the associate director for operations in housing and residential life at UNCG, met with Savino early on and helped him refine the business idea along the way. Savino quickly got Keller’s interest when he asked if Keller would like to get out of the mattress business.

Keller had been looking for a way to recycle mattresses or save money on beds, but said previous options he found amounted to “green-washing,” where companies are recycling or sustainable in name and not practice. At first, there was a lot of skepticism to overcome, but given the company’s sanitizing furnace and solid business model, UNCG moved up from a small initial order quickly.

Keller said the beds were a hit with students, and Savino attributed their satisfaction to the mattress toppers they add to make the beds more comfortable.

“When he said he would take us out of the mattress business that’s exactly what happened,” Keller said, describing it as a huge financial benefit that also satisfied students. “In the past I would fill a dumpster up with 300 mattresses and it goes off to the landfill.”

The cost savings allows Keller to switch out about 1,000 mattresses a year instead of 300, which he said is particularly important as students and parents fear a bedbug resurgence or complain about perceived old mattresses. With 800 new on-campus beds coming online soon with the school’s Glenwood neighborhood expansion, saving on mattress costs is even more critical, Keller said.

Institutions in Rochester, NY and in Texas and most of the schools in the UNC system are working with them. The company is looking to expand in the Triangle and western part of the state and will open a retail outlet on Lee Street to sell more affordable mattresses to the public. Savino has already started venturing into other furniture lines, creating recycled leather headboards and redoing furniture for Guilford College and the Proximity Hotel.

The large mattress companies have tried to freeze him out — presumably worried that he is turning the industry on its head — in part by threatening his access to the supply chain.

Despite the opposition and difficulty of launching a start-up company with an idea that hadn’t been done before, business is booming.

Sourcing locally whenever he can and reaching into other industries for supplies, it’s easy to see that this entrepreneur with 35 years of turnaround management experience in New York will stop at nothing. Walking around the facility, the pride is evident in Savino’s demeanor as he describes how his company gives mattresses — and people — second chances. If all goes well, the company will have a more permanent contract with the city at the end of the year, and the business will keep pushing the envelope.