A Better Way
How the Scott Family Works Together to Build a Legacy
article by Michael DeVault | photography by Martin G Meyers
Looking back on the last 36 years, Ron Scott has reason to be proud. After all, it’s not every man who can say he’s achieved his dream in a year and then gotten to live that dream for another 35. But that’s precisely what Ron did in 1980, when he returned to his native Bastrop from Tyler, Texas.
For the previous few years, he and his wife, Debbie, had traveled around the south, working for a string of furniture stores. As Ron puts it, those years spent traveling gave him the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the furniture business. His employer at the time had been gracious and understanding, knowing that Ron’s time with the company was limited.
“It was a dream, always,” Ron told BayouLife. “As a matter of fact, when I went to work for that furniture company, I told them that some day, I wanted to do it for me. The owner said that was fine, and he asked me to do a good job for him while I was there.”
Ron did an exceptional job, and one day in early 1980, while his parents were visiting from back home, Ron shared his vision with his parents. Both of his parents understood the value of hard work and the joint trials and benefits of self-employment. Donna Scott, his mother, worked in her husband’s business part-time while also teaching school. Ray, his father, managed a mobile home sales lot and owned his own towing company. Both of the senior Scotts were supportive of their son’s dream. But he needed financing.
That’s where his parents came in. Ron approached them about providing seed capital for a bedding store. They would sell mattresses, box springs, bunk beds, headboards and other bedding products. It was a good business model, and one that protected their investment, Ron thought. They agreed, with one caveat.
“Through conversations, they were more comfortable being involved, to protect their investment,” Ron says. “And it really sounded like a great endeavor, so that’s how it became a 50-50 partnership.”
Just like that, the first two generations of Scotts were in the furniture business together. They selected a spot on a prominent corner of Courthouse Square in Bastrop, and they got to work. For capital, Donna and Ray took out a mortgage on their home–a testimony to their commitment, as the home was paid for and represented a significant portion of the couple’s long-term financial security. To save money, Ron and Debbie moved into his parents’ house. At the time, Ron didn’t quite understand his parents’ commitment. Looking back, it’s a different story.
“I probably didn’t appreciate that nearly as much then as I would now,” he says. “I didn’t realize what a sacrifice, what a risk it was for them.”
Adding to this risk, in 1980, the going rate for a mortgage through Ouachita National Bank was north of 20 percent. “It was a time of very pricy money,” Ron says.
Still, they persevered. As they set up shop, his father continued to sell cars and run the tow company. Both his wife and mother continued to teach. With every spare waking minute, they worked the store. As the company’s sales grew, they branched out. First, Ron had the idea to sell waterbeds, a notion his mother dismissed almost outright.
This was, after all, 1982. Now deceased, Donna’s thoughts on the idea are preserved in “The Legend of Our Sleepy Hollow,” a 1983 document she wrote to tell her family’s story.
“He had the nerve to suggest that we turn our perfectly respectable business into a waterbed store!” Donna writes in the story. “I was absolutely horrified. Nobody but hippies and ‘kinky folks’ slept on waterbeds. What would I tell my friends?”
But it was a partnership with four voters, of which Donna was but a single voice. Outvoted, she fell behind the plan and in mid 1982, Sleepy Hollow took up the waterbed business. “In almost no time at all, waterbeds alone had almost doubled our sales volume,” she writes.
Based in part on that growth and owing also to the expiration of a series of non-competes in Monroe and Ruston, Ron sold Sleepy Hollow in Bastrop to his brother. The family secured property in Ruston and on Louisville Avenue in Monroe. Another round of expansion pushed them out still farther to Shreveport and eventually the Sleepy Hollow brand covered five stores.
Those were the “good old days.” With the nature of competition from national retailers, Sleepy Hollow refocused its efforts into a full-service retail furniture store. It’s flagship, still in that Louisville Ave. storefront, continues to serve customers today. That’s where the third generation of Scotts come in.
Jo Tiffany Scott Faulk, Ron and Debbie’s daughter, recalls growing up in Sleepy Hollow, a place she calls almost magical. As children, she and her siblings frequently played in the store. She shares some of her favorite memories of the store, and it’s clear her love for this business–and this location in particular–is quite deep.
“Most of my life, we were physically in this building,” she says. “From the time I was old enough to come to work, I’d come with Dad and play. Mom was a teacher, so when we were sick, we’d sleep on the office floor.”
At night, she traveled around with her father, who delivered furniture, filled and drained waterbeds and helped set up rooms for customers. “That was everything Dad put into it to have a successful business,” Jo Tiffany says. “Thankfully, he allowed his kids to be involved.”
Where most kids have to content themselves with games of tag in the back yard, the Scott children played hide and seek under the doors of pedestal waterbeds. The back showroom was the mattress warehouse, with a high, arched ceiling and bare rafters. Those were happy times–if somewhat dangerous.
“When I say we swung from the rafters, we literally did,” Jo Tiffany says. “We made slides out of mattresses. We’re the only kids who had trampolines by Simmons Beautyrest.”
Today, it’s Jo Tiffany’s kids who are playing in the warehouse and climbing mattress stacks. Ron beams with pride when he thinks about his grandchildren in the store. “The fourth generation is already playing the same games,” Ron says.
Jo Tiffany is encouraged at the level of commitment her children have to their grandfather’s vision. They’ve already discussed at great length the order in which each of the children will own the company–and they each get a turn. It’s important to note, Jo Tiffany points out, that her children are all several years away from high school. Still, they’re involved.
“My children are using their phones to record their own commercials,” she says. It’s not too soon, she thinks, for them to consider their Sleepy Hollow futures. After all, hers began in childhood, too. Thinking about transitions is important to successfully navigating a multi-generational business.
In late 2009 or early 2010, Ron was starting to ponder his future. He knew he wanted to retire from the furniture business, to free up time to travel with Debbie.
Those same thoughts had been on the mind of Jo Tiffany, who had told her husband, Jarrad, that she wanted to buy Sleepy Hollow. “He said ‘yes’ immediately,” she recalls. So without warning, she approached her father. “I popped into his office and said if he wanted to sell, I wanted to buy. So much of my childhood was the story of Sleepy Hollow,” she says.
Ron was equitable to a sale, but he wanted time to gauge her commitment. They immediately embarked on an apprenticeship during which she assumed ever increasing responsibilities for the store. By April 1, 2011, they were ready for the switch, and the purchase was finalized. In a relationship-driven business like furniture sales, though, it was important to keep Ron involved.
“Until now, I’ve never publicly said I own it, because he always ran the company with integrity and the most important focus being on customer service,” Jo Tiffany says. “The value of the business came with the customer base when I purchased it. I never wanted to give anyone a reason to feel their ties to our family went away when he retired.”
Still, the transition was challenging. Long-term employees were used to dealing with Ron. Over the years, Jo Tiffany slowly assembled her own team to run the operation. For his part, Ron has made his presence almost invisible, no small feat considering he maintains offices with Debbie in the back. That success is by design.
“I’ve made a conscious effort not to butt in and to try and be as helpful as possible without interfering,” Ron says. “If I’m not asked, I generally do not get involved.”
Customers still expect to see him from time to time, and that’s flattering and an honor, he says. “Customers do come in looking for me, and I’m always appreciative of that,” he says. “I enjoy spending time with them, but I let the people who work here do their job and take care of the customers and follow up with the customers.”
One of the people who the customers depend upon is another Scott. Jo Tiffany’s little brother, Ronnie, joined the firm a couple of years ago. He calls himself the prodigal son, returned from a career in Dallas. Today he’s the Sleepy Hollow sales manager and oversees a team of five.
“The best part is this is home,” he says. “It’s allowed me to grow up with a tangible and visual example of what a family and a business model can be. That’s allowed me to think maybe there’s a better way out there.”