Local Simmons plant back on top, looking to add jobs

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012
— It's been five years, but the "Tony" has finally returned to Janesville.

Thanks to its 2011 performance on safety, quality, productivity, cost management and customer service, the Simmons Bedding plant in Janesville received the Tony Saliture Award for Operational Excellence.

Atlanta-based Simmons Bedding is one of the world's largest mattress producers. It operates 19 manufacturing plants in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

Janesville is the company's largest operation.

"We have a world-class work ethic here, and because of that we are a pacesetter for the company," said Chuck Waldhart, the plant's manager. "Each year, we do what we do, and we set the bar higher."

For seven consecutive years, the Janesville plant won the company's Franklin Award for Operational Excellence.

As a result, the award was renamed in 2001 to honor Tony Saliture, who brought Simmons to Janesville in 1980. Now in his 61st year with the company, Saliture still works a few days each week as a consultant.

Janesville won the renamed award for three straight years starting in 2004.

"We've been second every other year," Waldhart said. "I hate being second. It just eats at you."

After struggling through a down economy, things are on the upswing for Simmons, which posted its best January sales performance in company history, said Brian DesBiens, Simmons' regional vice president of sales.

In October, the Janesville plant was producing about 2,800 pieces of bedding a day. A couple of weeks ago, the plant turned out 3,500.

One result is an increase in employment at the plant on Adel Street. It is adding about 40 employees to its base of 230, Waldhart said.

Simmons is reinvigorating its brand and soon will launch a substantial advertising campaign.

"We're returning our focus to the customer and will talk directly to them," DesBiens said.

"Living Life Fully Charged" is the tagline that DesBiens said will set the stage for the upcoming campaign, the largest in the history of Simmons' Beautyrest brand.

It also supports three new bedding lines recently introduced.

"The basic idea is that people will wake up feeling recharged and refreshed," he said. "It's not about the night, it's about the day."

In terms of advertising dollars, Tempur-Pedic has traditionally dwarfed the campaigns of rivals Simmons, Serta and Sealy, DesBiens said.

"As a result, they've had a competitive advantage," he said. "It's time for us to take back our message."

The Janesville plant recently adopted lean manufacturing, a production practice that considers it wasteful to expend resources for anything that doesn't create value for the end customer. It centers on preserving value with less work.

Under the direction of Jim Fenton, the plant was reconfigured with the new efficiencies in mind.

As a result, workers in Janesville have committed themselves to making certain the "Tony" doesn't leave town any time soon.

Last updated: 7:37 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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