Nancy Coffey | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Nancy Coffey

Background:  

KTT is a custom latex foam manufacturer and supplier of Talalay latex foam products that co-owners and Connecticut natives Nancy and Dick Coffey proudly proclaim to be made in the USA. The couple opened its 14,000-square-foot Hamden plant in 2004 to bolster its growing latex business.

The company has shipped products to all 50 states, Canada, Mexico and South America, and KTT reports that its foam can be found in all of the 400-plus chairs inside the U.S. House of Representatives chamber, as well as in NASA spacesuits. KTT next hopes to get its foam used in the House’s couches, said Nancy, who previously worked as a graphic designer.

The Mistake:

Being married to our business plan. It hemmed us in the first few years. We were seeing that we had missed some opportunities. But by our fifth year, we were listening to our customers about all sorts of things. Be married to your customers, not your business plan.

We first started with one or two products, [including cosmetic applicators], but then much of the cosmetic applicators business went overseas. That new reality required some adjustment.

We were strictly focused on [mattresses] at one point. But when we started doing more and more of what our customers told us, all types of new markets opened. Latex foam has such potential in numerous markets. Once we realized that, the business took off.

Be married to your customers, not your business plan.

The Lesson:

You can have well-made products, but that doesn’t guarantee you sales. We never thought about closing. We learned to diversify with the times and tweak things a little. Custom mattresses morphed into mattress toppers.

Communication goes both ways and we’ve found that it’s very important to take time to educate your customers. I like to talk to people on the phone. They get to talk to a real person who can make decisions. They trust us a lot more because of that.

Photo courtesy of KTT Enterprises.

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