At an age when many are considering retirement, 65-year-old Ted Sadtler has found more success with his Mattress Ranch franchise than in his first four decades as an entrepreneur.
Sadtler, whose wacky television commercial jingles and dances have given him cult status, has opened a temporary Mattress Ranch in Juneau at the Nugget Mall this month to coincide with the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend disbursement.
"I just started this when I was 60," he said about opening the first Mattress Ranch in 2004 at a 5,000-square foot store in Anchorage. "If I would have known what I was getting into, I would have started at 40. It just mushroomed."
That Mattress Ranch is now 18,000 square feet and Sadtler has expanded to Fairbanks, Soldotna, Wasilla and two more in Washington.
Sadtler estimates he has opened more than 40 stores in Washington and Alaska during the past four decades, none of them nearly as successful as the Mattress Ranch brand. He founded Sadler's Home Furnishings - he dropped the "t" because it was easier to spell and probably saved him some money on the sign, he joked - in Alaska years ago but sold off the business after losing interest. He said he did not believe in selling high-end furniture anymore.
Sadtler had a 15-year verbal contract to not open another furniture store in Alaska as part of the sale agreement. So he headed back to Washington to try his luck in a variety of businesses from Yakima to Tacoma and many places in between.
"I was gone 17 years and I couldn't make success out of anything I did," Sadtler said.
One day an employee drew a picture of what the business would look like if he was running the show and drew a picture of a barnyard scene and called it "Mattress Ranch."
"When he did it, something went off like a light bulb," Sadtler said. He still has a copy of that drawing to this day.
He decided to test out the idea in Anchorage and began brainstorming for marketing ideas. Sadtler had a knack for remembering commercial jingles all his life and decided to incorporate one into his own commercial.
"The jingle, I actually heard that in Texas for a chicken restaurant," he said. "Same tune, same beat and all that."
Sadtler eventually found the guy who wrote the jingle and got permission to use it for the Mattress Ranch.
"I took and rewrote the words," he said. "He gave me the chicken ones and all I did was scratch out those words and put my words into them. I'm not a really original guy."
Now, "Get more sleep without counting sheep," plays on television sets throughout Alaska and parts of Washington.
It didn't all run smoothly when Sadtler first started recording the commercials. He was too stiff and the woman filming the commercial told him to act like he normally does - "fidgety," he says.
Sadtler stands 6-feet, 9-inches tall and says his dancing grabs attention because his limbs are so long. He picked up little things from different television pitchmen from around the country over the years and created a composite character.
"All of those little things became something, but I really didn't plan them. It just came," he said.
The commercials were an instant hit. The store paid for its inventory in less than 90 days, something Sadtler says is unheard of in the business.
Up to that point, he had tried to stay out of the spotlight, mainly because his height has grabbed people's attention most of his life. The commercials have also helped his self-confidence.
"I didn't learn this early in life - nothing bothers me anymore," Sadtler said. "If somebody thinks I'm different, that's fine. I am different and so are you. It's just mine's a little more easier to see than yours."
He produces his own commercials now and even recorded Juneau-specific commercials for his two-week sale in the capital.
Sadtler gets recognized all the time, but does he feel like a celebrity?
"I guess I am, but no I don't," he said. "It's hard to accept on the inside because I'm no different than anybody else; it's just I had enough nerve to get up there and do something different and that's all it is. There is no mind-boggling trick."
There is a downside to the attention, he admits. He has spent hundreds of hours at the Alaska State Fair getting his picture taken with people of all ages, including infants.
"I've been peed on more times then you can imagine," Sadtler said. "I keep extra shirts, extra pants just for the next accident that happens."
And people want to meet him at the strangest of times, he added.
"I've had people want to shake hands when I'm at a urinal," he said. "That's the one I remember the most. It's just, 'I don't think so. This is not the right time, guy.'"
His celebrity has given him a chance to give back. When he first opened the Mattress Ranch, he met two girls with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that makes the body produce excess mucus and causes life-shortening complications.
"I found out myself or nobody else knew what it is, so I thought it was my job to get the word out about what it is and to get people reacting earlier," he said.
He sells bobble-head dolls of himself, and the proceeds go to charity to help fight the disease.
The mattress king spends about half his time on the road traveling between stores in his Dodge Sprinter Van. The rest of the time, he and his wife of 42 years call Port Orchard, Wash., home.
"I've driven the Al-Can Highway five times this year, and the sixth time will be when I leave here," Sadtler said. "I do that for fun."
He said he likes new adventures and the simplicity of waking up next to the ocean, or listening to rain fall on the roof of his van.
"Those little things have become the important things," he said.
If you can't catch him on the road, you can expect to keep seeing Sadtler dance across your television screen.
Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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