4th-generation Wolf Corp. was early adapter to internet
By Dan Vance | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly
With nearly everything available for sale online these days, the now 145-year-old Wolf Corp. has continued to stay ahead of the curve. In fact, it has been selling its Wolf brand mattresses online since 1999.
It was less than a decade after Tony Wolf started running the business as a fourth-generation operator when he transitioned the business to the online world, long before most companies were forced in that direction.
“I was at the High Point furniture show (a biannual trade show held in High Point, N.C.) one day and one of my sales reps came and he says ‘Hey, the futon business really hasn’t gone away; it has just shifted channels.’ And I wasn’t sure what he meant,” Wolf said. “He said ‘No, there is this really new gig out called the internet. I got a contact with this little company in Seattle called Amazon, I think we should go sell to them.’”
Wolf made his first foray to Seattle in 1999, and the company soon became Walmart.com’s 500th vendor, before hooking up with Overstock.com and other internet upstarts early in their existence. And the rest, as they say, is history. But the Wolf family had already been making history in Fort Wayne business since the Ulysses S. Grant administration.
Founded as the Paul E. Wolf Mattress Co. in 1873, the namesake came to Fort Wayne as a German immigrant from Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871. An upholsterer by trade, the company founder started four different businesses in Fort Wayne.
“He was kind of a serial entrepreneur,” Tony Wolf said. “At that time, in this country, anything was possible, and he certainly made good use of it. That and he had 13 kids, so he had a readymade workforce.”
The Paul E. Wolf Mattress Co. opened on Berry and Schick streets, and the old family homestead still stands just down the road off Canal Street.
Paul Wolf passed down the business to his son Erwin around 1900, who then handed it down to his sons Don and Dick after World War II. Tony Wolf joined the company in 1976 after a two-year stint as a history teacher at Snider High School. Since then, Wolf Corp. has grown from a supplier for small-town furniture stores in the Midwest to a supplier in all 50 states and in South America. Not only that, its type of business had also had to change.
“As sleep preferences changed in the country, we moved through a phase where we did latex mattresses in conjunction with Firestone rubber. And then we did waterbeds in the late ’70s, early ’80s. Back then it was a big deal,” Tony Wolf said.
Waterbeds, he said, grew to about 13 percent of the United States’ sleep market. They then gave way to a heavy run of futon beds, which grew to between 10 and 15 percent of the sleep market.
When Wolf Corp. went to the World Wide Web in 1999, the company started rolling and compressing mattresses to make a “bed in a box” to sell to its growing market. While brands like Casper and Leesa went the foam route with their compressing, Wolf took the lead in the market on rolling traditional innerspring mattresses to start working with those internet retailers, including Amazon and Walmart.
“We’ve been very successful at that. That was the new wave we decided to ride,” Wolf said. “We have evolved with all of those people and are still selling with all those people. So we were very early adapters to the internet.”
Wolf currently operates with 50 employees, which is down from an estimated 120 in the year 2000. That’s due to automation. The company has two machines that can roll and compressw 300-500 mattresses a day. In 2008, it opened an outlet store in its manufacturing center at 3434 Adams Center Road in Fort Wayne, for local customers who choose not to buy online. Tony Wolf is still there holding up the family name; his wife, Beth, is the company’s vice president of sales. His son, Brandon, worked with the company previously and still advises for his father on the side while working for marketing company the Asher Agency.
Whether Brandon comes back to Wolf Corp. ever, Tony is proud of the team he has assembled to make everyday processes flow smoothly.
“I have a very competent professional staff that we have built over the last 30 years. We have a very deep, wide staff, and it is a pretty balanced business,” Wolf said, mentioning Dave Rauch, the vice president of operations and Priscilla Feasel, who has handled purchasing since the 1980s.
“It has been a very fast-paced world, and it has certainly changed a lot. It has been a fun ride.”