People call her the “Mattress Queen.” On Wednesday, April 28, 2010, at 12:30 p.m. in the conference room of N201, Sunny Kobe Cook, the founder of Sleep Country, was busy greeting the students and staff of Bellevue College.
Hosted by the International Association of Administrative Professionals and the BC Student Chapter, the presentation began with an introduction by James Johnson, the Acting President of the BC IAAP Chapter.
Johnson was followed by Cindy Boekhoff, the Staff Adviser for the IAAP Lake Washington East Chapter, who called forth Cook to take the spotlight.
Cook is from Kansas City, grew up poor, and only has a high school degree. Basically, she explained, she started out with nothing, so the college-attending audience is a step ahead of her.
Before becoming the founder of Sleep Country, Cook worked as an admin at a company in Kansas City. She had some financial troubles, during which she “lived on credit cards.”
Cook has a sister who is four years older than her and has a Masters Degree in Business. Cook told the audience about how her sister had changed her life.
“One question changed the path of my life,” said Cook. When experiencing money issues, Cook relied on family members. One day, she called her sister and said, “Help! I’m in serious financial trouble!”
“Define serious financial trouble,” was her sister’s reply in a very calm tone. One piece of advice that Cook gave was to always stay calm and ask specific questions with a little sympathy here and there to help someone solve their own problems. In no way, shape, or form should you solve their problems for them.
Hence, if Cook’s sister had paid her credit card debts for her, she wouldn’t be in the position she is right now.
Her sister’s one question that changed the path of Cook’s life was, “What are you going to do about it?” Cook explained that her sister wasn’t very sympathetic, but walked her through how to pay her credit card debts.
Cook’s sister led her to get a second job so that she could pay off her debts. Working at the mall was not an option because thanks to the mall, she was in debt. The bar wasn’t an option either, because she didn’t want to work late at night.
However, there was a furniture store across the street from her company when she transferred to Dallas, Texas, which closed at 9 p.m. and was open on weekends. She decided to work at that store as a part-time job. She worked 32 hours a week at the furniture store and 40 hours a week at her company and, in two years, she was no longer in debt.
While working at the furniture store as a cashier, Cook was able to learn business from the inside out; she learned how to run a business smoothly and effectively. She didn’t think that she would be able to work 72 hours a week, and she didn’t even imagine how well she could connect with the furniture world. Thanks to her sister, however, Cook realized that she has talent in the business world.
That’s when Cook decided to start her own business with only $5,000 in Seattle, Washington. She had never been to Seattle, but she knew roughly where it was located on the map. When she visited, there was no Internet; she had to find her way with maps, you-are-here dots, and the Yellow Pages.
She moved to Washington in October of 1990. Cook rented a condo in Bellevue, in which she used her second bedroom as her office. She prepared for her business for about a year until, in January 1991, she opened her first business.
She took one full year to prepare for her store’s debut, because she wanted to be fully prepared. By the end of her first year, she had eight stores, and by the end of her second year, she had 13 stores.
Two essential personal pieces of advice that Cook gave her audience were to talk to everyone as humanly as possible and to try something new every day. Talking to everyone will help you break out of your comfort zone and is a daily practicing exercise to prepare your speaking skills for when it matters the most, such as when you are trying to make connections with people that can help you.
Also, trying something new every day may seem intimidating but if you sit in the same spot every single day, you won’t have the opportunity to meet new people who can help you change your life.
Concluding her “Talking 101” speech, Cook told the audience that she retired in February 2000 at the age of 42. She “gave the keys and left,” she said.
She further emphasized how she only had a high school degree, and that she was successful because her sister didn’t write her a check to solve her credit card problems. The strategy that Cook’s sister used changed Cook’s life and had made her the founder of Sleep Country.