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Breaking the Mold: The Laurie Torkaz Story

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Season 2 of “Just Stories with BT” features all Female Executive guests in the mattress/furniture space or other underrepresented industries!

These episodes focus on getting to know the amazing woman behind these roles and giving a platform to talk about getting our male dominated industries more balanced out!

Episode #1 has an unbelievable guest in Laurie Tokarz, who not only is the President of Restonic, but also such a motivational human.  We talk in depth about the struggles she faced as she came up in the furniture industry and how she overcame and shined!

Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and never miss an episode.

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Full Transcription:

Brett Thornton:  All right, well, welcome back everybody to another episode of just stories with BT. I am so excited this week, because we have the president of restonic mattress, Miss Laurie on today as our guest, and I’m going to first off, welcome. 

Laurie Torkaz: Thank you, very happy to be here with you. 

Brett Thornton: This episode is going to be a lot of fun because you have such a great history in our industry. And I’m sure a lot of stories that I cannot wait to hear. And also, you know, at the end, you know, we really want to break down one of the things that we’re talking about in this season two, which is really highlighting some powerhouse female executives in our mattress and furniture space, and also kind of talking through a little bit of the ,why with what are the reasonings behind the fact that we don’t have a big presence as far as female executives go? And then maybe what is the ideas? Or what are some solutions? Or how do we attract more women into this industry, that’s such a great industry. And at the end of the day is an industry that that the buying decision is often plateaus. 90% of times is made by the female and yet you have all these old white guys rolling around.

Laurie Torkaz: It’s so true. Yeah. So, we got to try and make some adjustments there without a doubt.

Brett Thornton:  Yes. So as always, I’m going to do my best to introduce you to our audience, because a lot of people are going to know you, but a lot won’t. And so, I’m going to do that in my style. And then afterwards, you can tell me what I got right and what I definitely messed up on because I was using.

Laurie Torkaz:  Okay, let’s go Yeah. 

Brett Thornton: Okay. All right. So here we go. So, this is Laurie. And she was born and raised in Rochester, New York, and she stayed in New York her whole life. So, she is a legit New Yorker. She has one sister who’s older, so she is the baby. And as she grew up, I asked Laurie for some pitiful pivotable moments. And one of the things she mentioned is that she got glasses and kindergarten had an eyepatch, which was no backstory. So I’m coming back to that. But it was an interesting time to grow up. So Vietnam was going on, she had an uncle go come back, thankfully, but also lost three of her grandparents at a young age, which definitely molded her in a certain way. When she was growing up. She was really involved in her school, she was a cheerleader involved in all kinds of clubs. Her first job was at a department store, little foreshadowing and as she studied she, she loved English, she loved business hated science. And that led her to actually wanting to go to New York State University where she got her BS in marketing. While there she met her sweetheart who ended up marrying her which was great and have two kids are now grown. And as she was in school, she started working at the same department store. But when she got out, she was able to move into a bind position for mattresses right, and eventually moved to case goods and an upholstery and then left that company and went to work for boathouse upholstery for a few years. Eventually, after that landing that sort and then from circa, she came to restonic, where she’s been for 21 years, worked her way up and is now the president of the company.

Laurie Torkaz: Wow, what a mouthful. You did great. Oh, it’s just it makes me feel old. But you did. Great. Thank you. So, I have to tell you, yeah, I catch, right. So, I was born with a lazy eye. And they, caught it really young. So that after wearing glasses and a patch for, I don’t know, let’s say five years, my vision was basically 20-20. And I haven’t had to wear anything but readers since then. But I think it was the start of my love for accessories because my mother would put, would draw on my eyepatch every day. Sometimes it was a flower or my birthday, it was a birthday cake. And my teachers were always anxious to say, oh, what’s your patch going to be today? So, I think that was a little bit in my development for accessories.

Brett Thornton: And so, did you wore the patch? Like underneath the glasses? 

Laurie Torkaz: Oh, yeah, it was really I was a looker. But it worked. So yeah. 

Brett Thornton: So just after a certain amount of years, it self-corrected.

Laurie Torkaz: What it was, is it was I think this is interesting. They put the patch over my strong eye so that my weak guy would become stronger. And so, and it did. So again, it was probably five years that I had to wear that.

Brett Thornton:  And how was that dealing with? I mean, I can’t imagine that some kids weren’t always the nicest, was it?

Laurie Torkaz: Yeah, you know, it’s funny. I don’t remember kids teasing me too much about it. And I think maybe you know, that whole having a drawing on it made me sort of proud of it. And I wasn’t as embarrassed as maybe I would have been so.

Brett Thornton: That’s really cool. That’s cool. Your mom did that. 

Laurie Torkaz: Yeah, it is. It was fun. 

Brett Thornton: Nice. So, and obviously, like I said, so you have two kids now and they’re all grown.

Laurie Torkaz: They are. Yep, my son lives in Nashville and loves it. And my daughter followed a lot of what I did. She went to the same college I did get a degree in marketing, and is in New York City working for an advertising agency. She’s a project manager. And we’ll be moving shortly to New Jersey because it’s so sad. What’s happened in New York City. It’s her company had offices in the New York Times building and they completely closed those offices. They’re totally remote and it’s just not the same city right now. It’s going to take a while to get back.

Brett Thornton:  Yeah, for sure. We have we were out like I was telling you, we were in Georgetown, but half our team was also in New York, because we were looking at different leases there and, and you know, and then you mentioned she’s going to go be in Hoboken or Hoboken. Yeah, because we have a store there. And I love I had never been in my life until I joined avocado. And I got to go to Hoboken. Actually, I love it. I love this strip on Washington. It’s such a cool area. And everything happens in one square mile, you know, packed with fun stuff to do. You know.

Laurie Torkaz: A lot of our friends have moved there already. So we’re going down in a couple of weeks to help her find an apartment and we’ll get a shifted there. It’s supposed to be a really great place for young kids to live. Yeah, no young adults, I should say.

Brett Thornton:  So tell us, you know, for those listening who don’t know you, why don’t you give us just the quick, I don’t know, 62nd version of, you know, kind of where you are right now with restonic. And just the quick and how did it happen? Kind of what was your progression to get where you got?

Laurie Torkaz:  Okay, sure. So restonic I, as I mentioned, or you mentioned earlier, I’ve been with them for just over 20 years. And I started in a sales and marketing role with them. And I’ll tell you a little bit about that later. But for Sonic is a licensing organization. So at the time I started, the owner had one location. And we sort of work together with the other licensees to come up with marketing ideas and things like that. So as soon as I joined the company, he was delighted to have somebody to share some of these things with and so I jumped right into that and started working with some of the other licensees. And shortly thereafter, a couple of years, we bought another factory that was a restonic factory in North Carolina. And we stayed with that for the 18 years, 16 years, something like that. And then he was able to his name is Tom Comber he passed away a few years ago, but he sold to Bob Sherman, who a lot of people know from the industry, obviously, and his wife, Barbara bought three of the restonic licenses. So those factories, I stayed on with them through that for the past about three and a half years. And just in January made the transition around Bisaya had been the president of restaurant IQ for about 12 years and has decided to retire. So I transitioned into that role. And I think just because I’ve been with brand for so long already know, all of the players know a lot of the history of the brand. It’s really been it’s been a lot of fun. And I’ve been enjoying working with the different factories and seeing I come from just a strong sales background. So I’m working with them to see how I can help them work with customers and, and prospects and help grow the restaurant brand. So it’s been a fun ride three months in.

Brett Thornton:  Yeah, no, it’s really exciting. I remember seeing that come across the wire. And I was like, Yeah, right. Yeah, we’ve had different interactions over the years, you know, like trying to where I’ve been at multiple companies, you know, trying to get restonic in there or whatnot. So tell me, you know, I want to transition a little bit. Like I said, Love Stories, love hearing the backstory, love letting people kind of get to know you a little bit. And I always like to start out with, you know, asking you about a story or two or a memory, something that you think back at is funny or entertaining, or something that you love to tell at any point in your career doesn’t really matter.

Laurie Torkaz: Okay, so I’ve been thinking about this when you told me you know how we were going to go through the podcast, trying to think of what would be one of my fun stories. And a real highlight is back in galleys, probably about 2012. A bunch of this, what we call it the product marketing group of ever stonic at the time, so it was different licenses and the salespeople and marketing sales managers. We went on a journey to New York City. So we had people from Oregon, Texas, Indiana, you know, all across the country, we came together like and it was this fast paced interaction With focus groups, and they would get maybe two or three minutes to answer a question. And it was really designed for us to get ideas that we could bring back to our own businesses. So we all show up in New York City, we go to the first hotel this month, I already gave it away the first hotel we go in, we check in and there’s this. I don’t know, a review, I guess that someone has come across that the previous week, a rat had eaten through a candy bar that they had left on their nightstand at night when they woke up, they saw. So within moments, we were like, that’s it. We’re out of here and we help pack up our suitcases Off we go find another hotel. Oh, good. So here’s the part of the story that I think is memorable. We all again, jump in this cab to get to our meeting place. And unbeknownst to me, my cell phone which you know, none of us can live without, had fallen out of my purse. Didn’t realize it. We get into the meeting. I’m looking for my phone, I can’t find it can’t find it. We didn’t get a receipt from the cab. So, we’d have no idea who it was. And I start panicking. I’m calling my own number and just trying hoping he’ll answer nothing. So, we’re in New York for I guess it was two days. That evening, little side note was Halloween. And one of our cohorts talk the New York City Police into allowing us to walk in the Halloween parade in in Greenwich Village. So that was a little highlight. But I still am without my phone. So we go through these meetings, we dinners, whatever, we’re on our way to the airport to leave. I borrowed my cohorts for phone, just to say let me just get my messages. This is killing me dial the number. And somebody answered. I’m like, oh, my gosh, you have my phone. And it was the cab driver. He said that he had been he had two days off. So, he didn’t know that my phone was there. But he heard it. And he said where are you? I’m like, where am I? I don’t know where I am in Medicare. I’m going to the airport because no, where are you? So, I look out at the street corner and I don’t remember was like Lexington and let’s say 27th Street. He’s like, okay, I’ll be there. Really. So, I jumped out of the cab that my everybody leaves. They’re on their way to the airport. They’re like waving to me for the window. And I’m standing on the corner just thinking, is this the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done? I don’t know if this guy’s going to show up. My team just left and I’m standing with my suitcase on the street corner. Well in New York City. About five minutes later, this cab comes screaming up. He’s beeping his horn, waving my phone out the window. No way up. I jumped in. Not only does he have my phone, he drives me to the airport. And I got there on time. And if not, I mean it was unbelievable and humorous and restored my faith in humanity. Yes. Isn’t that crazy?

Brett Thornton: Oh, so funny. Well, I mean, it could have been a way worse. You know. 

Laurie Torkaz: It’s Yeah. And I and so now everybody, you know, whenever we’re together, Lord, you have your phone, or you have your phone. Right, Laurie?

Brett Thornton: That feeling of, you know, when you lose your phone, it’s, you know, it’s like your whole world is like waiting. It was, you know, I had a I remember years ago, we were in Vegas for a convention. And I went and use the restroom. At night, we had been all day and then there’s a big dinner thing. And then everybody was going out to shine. We were taking everyone to a show. And I went to the bathroom. And I set my phone up on top of like the paper, you know, like the toilet seat kind of thing. I set it up on top of there. And then whatever. I forgot it. Go back out hanging out with everybody. We were having a drink we were waiting is probably like an hour, 45 minutes or so it goes by and then we’re all going to watch the show. And I like you know, fill my pockets. I’m just like, oh my gosh, I don’t have my phone, you know, like this? Oh, no, sir. And I’m just going through my head going through the bathroom. So we’re on one side of this big casino and I’m full sprint. As part of our casino. I’m full. I mean, people everyone’s looking because I’m in a full sprint, run to the bathroom. And I do the very end and I hit the stop someone’s in there. And so I can not is like busy or Yeah, someone’s and I’m waiting and waiting in front of us like Excuse me, sir phone sitting up on the thing. It had been like 45 minutes. And he goes yeah, sitting here and so is in there but then he’s like, just still gone. It’s probably like 30 seconds. I swear I swear I feel like I waited like five minutes from the get out. It was really this whole awkward exchange, you know that he just kind of walked by me and I went in and grabbed it was like, I cannot believe this thing is here, you know?

Laurie Torkaz: Right? Again, we’re so tethered to them that to be without its panic though. 

Brett Thornton: Oh, absolutely. Like I said love stories love hearing the backstory love letting people kind of get to know you a little bit.

Laurie Torkaz: This goes back it was when we were in high point. It wasn’t even Vegas yet, but it was just us. We were going to go, Peggy Christmas is another woman. She was like, no guys allowed because there I mean, every other night we go out, it’s always male dominated. So the four of us we were going to go and no guys allowed. So, we did that for probably, I don’t know, three or four markets. The first guy is done right. And from writer, Thomasville, he’s like, please, can I come or like no, girls only please. I’ll buy drinks. He said, oh, okay, you can come. So he was the first guy that we allowed a girls night out. It has blossomed. I kid you not there are probably 150 people that show up at girls’ night out. It’s Monday night of market. And of course, it’s reflective now of you know, being 80% men 20% women, but if that, but it is a blast. And it’s retailers, its manufacturers, its suppliers. It’s the whole industry and we have a hope so I will include clued you in our distribution of when and where it is going to be.

Brett Thornton: I actually have a girls night out story for you. Last year yeah, last year market the winter market like the last thing we did before the pandemic kind of shut down, so I was there with you know, Brian Baxter and V and a few other people and we went to dinner right there. That’s where the where the bar like Microsoft visor there’s a I think it was sushi restaurants. And so, we ate there. And then we walked to across to go to this girl’s eye now and there was this lady there I don’t know where she’s from the furniture here. She’s somewhere and V and Brian Knower and she was pretty next level. She’d had quite a few drinks. And was this talking and being like real loud or whatever. And Brian’s Baxter You know, my bosses met her a bunch of times, like totally, they know each other, whatever. And I’ll never forget because we walk up and she’s kind of the middle of a story. And we’re all talking, and Brian says something. And then she’s like, who are you, you know, to Brian? And he’s like, Brian Baxter. Yeah, we met like, last year at this thing. And this other thing, you want this tour or whatever. And we’re all around and she just looks at me. She goes, oh, well, you should probably worry about being a little bit more memorable. And like, turns around and walks away. And, and I started dying. I’m like, into the job two weeks into the job. And you know, and he just like, everyone looks at him like so ruthless. It was just hilarious. You know? 

Oh, my gosh

yeah, it was really funny. I’ll just never forget. It’s just like a spray worried about being more remember. So good. 

She was overserved 100%. 

Yeah, but it was super fun. Actually, I knew it. And yeah, we’ll definitely do it. This market? For sure. I’ll be there. Yeah.Good. Well, have fun. So I love that story. And now tell me, let me switch gears. Right. So obviously, you’ve been through a lot. And you know, as in business, obviously, you know, life, whatever, we all go through lots of things. But when I think about the progression, especially being at a company for that long, one years, right, it’s a long time, you know, you had to have gone through, obviously, a lot of ups and downs, you know, like multiple economic drops in sky rises, all kinds of stuff. So, what are, what is, what are some time you could tell us your stories, you could tell us around times when us really struggled with something or had a really difficult time and kind of how you got through it?

Laurie Torkaz: Yeah, so, I wanted, I’ll tell you two different stories. The first is, it touches in on old school, and you know, how you talk about there. There aren’t a lot of females in this industry. But it goes back to when I was with the department store, and I was a buyer at the time. And our department store has since been it was beaten up by Macy’s, but before that, it was a company and then Macy’s obviously. So that’s one of the divisions of what it was. But anyway, I was still fairly young to three years out of college prior to and the department store had a tuition reimbursement program for it so that you could get further education. And it was just part of the policy right. It was just part of their human resources benefit package. So I knew about it. I went and took the Matz to be able to go get my MBA. And I had gotten very anxious about it. But anyways, took the test, got good grades on it went to work. And I applied to tell them I was going to be taking this course really didn’t think about it needing to be approved, because it’s part of their policy. Yeah. And I got called up to meet with somebody, the VP of human resources, which I was somewhat curious about why, but went up and met with him. And he sat me down and said, you know, we got your, your application that you’re going to get your masters? I said, Yeah, you know, looking forward to it. And he said, Yes. So, we reviewed this. And we’ve sort of thought, do we see Loreto cars being the president of siblings? That was the name of the department store. Someday and quite honestly, we came back and said yet? No, I don’t see that happening. And so we’re not going to participate in your college reimbursement. And, like, I honestly, what I hold to this day, Brett is I hope that people speak up. Now. I don’t I assume things like that don’t happen anymore. I hope they don’t. But if they do, I think people feel more empowered to push back and say, wait a minute, that’s not that’s not how this works. 

Brett Thornton: Yeah.

Laurie Torkaz: I look back. And I’m, I wish I had handled things differently. Because I was, I didn’t think that there was a recourse that I had to say, wait a minute, you don’t have that in the write up that you’ll have to be on a trajectory to be president to be able to get tuition reimbursement. So and who are you going to bring to like, that’s HR telling you that? Yeah, your right. Arm be like this.

[ Inaudible 21:59] 

So I will tell you, though, I think, you know, I’m disappointed that I didn’t handle it differently, or how I would have I don’t know, but I also know that it, stays with me, right. I’m sharing it with you today. So I think it was something that I use to fuel my drive. And my need to want to always achieve. So, you know, maybe if it hadn’t happened, I would not be sitting here today’s President, I don’t know. But it sticks with me. But I’ll tell you also, when you save those 20 years with restonic, and the ups and the downs, Good heavens, in 2008, I think it was when the housing bubble burst we serviced from and that those factories still do, but from New York, all the way down to Florida. And I’m telling you before the bubble of the housing bubble burst, we thought we were geniuses, any place that we sold me actresses to that was close to water, they were in double digit increases and, you know, wanting to do more with us, and we just thought, golly, we are so smart, look at how great we’re doing. And then the housing bubble burst. Yeah. And you know, we were very fortunate to stay in business because it crushed us, and we lost a lot of good customers and a lot of good customers had to go out of business and it was a very challenging time. And I’m delighted that we were able to hold on and come to see the light of day but it it’s something that I have kept with me to say you know, make sure that the progress that you’re making is stable and never take anything for granted. And just because somebody’s business is up doesn’t mean that you’re ever guaranteed that business tomorrow make sure that you’re always delivering on not just product but merchandising and making sure that you’re marketing and it’s a very company in a constantly evolving relationship that again, never to take anything for granted. So it’s a lesson that was learned. Oh, for sure.

Brett Thornton: I love those stories. You know, I think your first story is such a, it’s a great one because I believe that you know for a lot of people in life you know as you as you get older you know you look back at things that in the moment seemed so crushing you know, or just like you know, so hurtful or so you know, damaging or this is the I can’t recover from this or whatever. And then you look five years, 10 years 20 years later, and you see how that moment shaped you or completely put you on a different path that you wouldn’t have been on or you might not have had that fire you know, I had a my first job in college and how to college I worked with a clothing company like a surf skate lifestyle brand and it was my life. It was everyone, all of my friends, everybody, I worked there for four years, I was the National Sales Director, I thought I’m doing this forever, we’re taking this company all over the world, this is going to be, you know, I’m traveling, it was just, it was this great job. But I never had any direction from the ball. Like I owned it. There’s the guy who started it was the visionary. And then the guy that owned these factories, they never told me how to do the job, what to do how to do it, you know, I just,  assumed I was doing good. We were growing earnings, but I never had any direction. And I made, you know, a big mistake, which was, you know, I started dating the boss’s daughter, and that was all close. And then actually, my sister was dating the other guy, the other boss, the younger boss, it was this weird kind of whole thing. And this one Christmas, after I got to school, like the year I go to school, both those relationships ended within like a week of each other, right around the holidays. And I remember I was off like a weekly Christmas, and I came back, and you know, around New Year’s or whatever. And that first day in the office was, it was awkward, so awkward. All pins and needles, it was uncomfortable. And I can tell Obviously, I’m on the, I’m the paws of them feeling weird. The owners, you know, like, because they both feel weird about both ways. It all feels weird. And the next day I walk in, and, and the owner, all’s mean to his office was on the other side of the big kind of warehouse and I remember walking over there. And he told me, you know, what, you know, you’re just not, you know, you’re not doing the things that this position needs to do. You know, you’re not doing you know, what you need to do, we just don’t think it’s going to work out, you know, if you want to, you know, work in the back of the warehouse or something like that is okay, but it’s not going to work out for this position. And I remember, just like you said, I didn’t know how to handle it. You know, internally, my thought was, well, you never told me what I was supposed to be doing. So how would I even know if I’m not doing what I’m supposed be doing? She never told me. Right? And then but then also going like, wait, but I helped grow this company from nothing, when one account with 10 t shirts to 400 accounts all over the place in Japan and all this stuff. So I’m going like, this doesn’t add up. Right? That was just the excuse. 

Laurie Torkaz: Exactly. 

Brett Thornton: The reality is, that gave me such a underlying desire to let that never happen again. That I’ve always, you know, I’ve just outworked and outpaced traditionally who I’ve ever been around, because I never wanted that to happen. Right. And it was funny because even like, up until a few years ago, I remember I was dealing with something that when I was at living spaces, and my boss at the time sky, Luke Parker, a good friend of mine, you know, said something about how well I was doing or whatever, and I just didn’t even hear and he stopped me and like made me look in the eye and say, like, No, man, you’re doing great. Like, you don’t need to prove yourself anymore. You’ve been here for a few years, you know, and but I was like, I just, you know, but I looked back and I and I realized it was because you know that moment? It really kind of took me on this different path. And so, although it felt like a life ending, at the time, my whole world crumbled. a whole nother path I would have never been.

Laurie Torkaz: Yeah, I think it shaped you. As you mentioned, I think that’s exactly what it does. So, you know, do you wish to happen differently? Yeah, I should, I still wish I had handled it differently. But again, I embrace the change that it made in me.

Brett Thornton: And let me ask you this. I mean, with that, too. I mean, do you think it had anything to do with? Was it just your current position at that time you think it had to do with the fact that you were a woman do you think it had to do with just you know, what did, why did you think that that was the answer?

Laurie Torkaz: I, without a doubt, think it was because I was a woman. And I’m just, I guess a part of who I am, is I’ve never been, I always think let’s find the right person for the job. So I’ve never been someone that says it’s got to be that you should hire me because I’m a female, you should hire me because I’m going to get the job done. But in that case, in the positions that I’ve already had already held as a buyer, I’ve been continuing, continuously promoted, and had exceeded expectations in terms of sales and turnover, things like that. So really, that’s the only thing that could have been the reasoning behind it. And they’d never had a female president in, you know, had been known for 100-year company never had a female president. And it just, I’m sure was, you know, a thing at the time that they, really didn’t see it, which is even that’s okay. It wasn’t like I was going in there to say I want to be considered president. I just want to get the benefit that you’ve made available to everybody.

Brett Thornton:  I wish, you know, with everything in my heart, I wish somehow, some way who, whatever that guy is, somehow got when you became President restonic that that came across his LinkedIn feed or something. I mean, that would have been awesome, you know, some InMail, or some burner account, hey, you should work with this woman one day, I would never be a president.

Laurie Torkaz: I should search him out and find him out. 

Brett Thornton: Send it to me, I’ll make sure he gets the info. So. 

Laurie Torkaz: Okay, that’s a deal. Thank you. It’s funny. 

Brett Thornton: So tell us, you know, I’m speaking of more happy things and success stories, you know, obviously, you know, becoming president is a huge success. But what story? Could you tell us or stories you could tell us about? You know, when did it all kind of come together for you? And you, like, when did like the realization that you’d become the president as big company, like, actually kind of like feel real to you?

Laurie Torkaz:  Yeah, that is a great question. And really making the move from soda to rest on it was an interesting situation, because the sort of that I was with it was pre, there was NBC, which was the one large license of soda. And then I think sleep, I can’t remember the other one. But anyway, there were two large ones. But we were owned by Silentnight in England. And so they own two of us, one in Boston, and one in Pittsburgh, and I worked out of the Boston one. And they got sold to NBC. And there, so there was a lot of change going on. But it was you know, becoming part of an even bigger group. So I was very excited about that. And Tom Comber who owns the restaurant license, recruit came after me and recruited me and it was really difficult decision to make, because I was going from this very large industry leader to a small one factory license. But I made the change because when I was with cert, I was in sales. And going to restonic, he, Tom had a great way of recruiting, he said, let us tailor the suit to fit you. That was one thing that I remember taking away. And the other thing he said to me is, you know, the most important name on your business card is your name. And so that again, still stuck with me. And so by going to rest on ik, I certainly was going to be a bigger fish in a very small pond versus a reverse. And so I was able to get into merchandising and product development and marketing, as well as keep my hand in sales. And that’s really what formed, took all of my interests and what I felt were talents. And let me engage in those. And let me become more excited. And I’ll tell you, I wake up every day and, and cannot wait for the day to start. So I feel that if I had stayed in, with just sales without having a voice in what I’m selling or how I’m selling it, I probably would have not lasted that long. I think I would have not enjoyed my career path as much. So I’m making that change. While it was like I said, very scary going from a big company to this really small little one factory in Buffalo, New York. And Tom would not even let me come to the factory. When he was, we were going through this dance of being recruited. Because he was afraid I’d turn around and never it was this old four story building in the center of like gang central in Buffalo, New York. And he said, Yeah, I don’t want you to see the building yet. So it was it was quite a different company that I joined. And then again over the years it has evolved and grown and I’ve been fortunate enough to evolve and grow along with it. So it’s really been a fun ride.

Brett Thornton:  No, absolutely. Because I’ve had some massive, huge splashes over the last four or five years to the Property Brothers in different I can remember that market, you know, walking in and seeing the judge I mean, you know, you guys have fine, you know, I was like, well, we’re stuck. They’re going after it.

Laurie Torkaz:  Yeah that was a fun market.

Brett Thornton: Let me tell you when I read lines out the door.

Laurie Torkaz: Oh, the brothers. They’re amazing. And of course, and they showed up that market and you’re right. I mean, people just lined the showroom and out the door and what a fun time? Yeah, they’re wonderful to work with. And they’ve helped elevate the awareness of the restaurant brand. So that’s been a wonderful achievement. 

Brett Thornton: Yeah, no, that’s so cool. And I love that story. Because I think, it’s good for for people, especially, you know, even younger people in their career that are trying to figure out, you know, what opportunities do I take? What do I pass what I go with, and I tell people the exact same thing, which is, you know, when I was with Mattress Firm, after they acquired us at sleep train, you know, it was kind of overseeing, you know, the train and development from everything west of the Mississippi, it was 1000s of stores, there’s all these directors, you know, but it was niche, right, it was just development, and sleep train, it was sales and training, and HR. And you know, I got to do a lot more in product and a lot more things. And when I got the math from it, it’s streamlined even more. And I was so busy, there were so many people, but I wasn’t, you know, getting to do a lot of other things. And when the opportunity came around for living spaces, I remember being terrified because I was like, well, I’ve never bought on urban the buyer before, I don’t know about product development. I know about sales and about training that part I can do. But there’s all these other things that that job was trying to tell you had to do all of it. And I remember I was inspired by this. Richard Branson from, you know, Virgin, mobile, Virgin, hey, he had this really cool quote that said, like, you know, if someone ever offers you and offers you an amazing opportunity, and you don’t know how to do it yet, like, just take the opportunity and figure it out, you know? And I was like, yeah, I’m all in. And, you know, that changed my life, because learning about both sides of the business is so invaluable, you know, so all of a sudden, I was designing private label product on this side. So as a merchant, then I’m buying it and selling on retail side, and I’m, you know, traveling to Asia to make adjustable bases, I’m designing pillows, and then I’m yeah, I’m building relationships with vendors. And it was just so cool. And there’s so much I’m doing marketing and doing Think Tank groups, like you talk about, and you know, all these things in a matter of three years, I learned more than I learned in a decade, and doesn’t just energize you know, it’s phenomenal, you know, in that, and then that, you know, really catapulted me to join avocado, because it was like, Okay, now I’m confident I can really take something fresh and help really catapult it, you know, because I felt confident I know about a lot of these things, you know, but it wouldn’t have happened where I was, if I’d say, you know, there, yeah, maybe I kept going up that corporate ladder there. But at some, you know, there’s walls there too, and you kind of bounced out. So anyways, it worked out. Same as you, know, like, it created a different path, you know, which was great. And the thing is, I always tell especially like college kids, you know, about when they’re looking for jobs, I’m like, I think, take as many risks as you can before you have, you know, families and kids and mortgages and whatever work for the small startups and hope they grow big. Because if you just only stick with that corporate path, that these big giant companies, it’s going to take you 30 years to get anywhere.

Laurie Torkaz: right? 

Brett Thornton: That’s the reality, there’s nothing wrong with that. Reality, you know, like, you’re not going to enterprise, rent a car and get to be a VP in five years, there’s just that’s not how it works. They’re too big, you know, it’s going to take you 20 years. 25. So, you know, so anyway, I think it’s anymore seeing that, that’s what’s exciting about companies, like where I work in different playlists, we’re seeing our industry is shifting over and turning, and it’s just become this whole new thing. And it’s still a great industry, but I think there’s just going to be a lot more opportunity for a lot of people. And I think, that’s really where I want to go here with my last little bit of this is just asking you, you know, like, So, here you are, you know, very successful became president of large company, you know, and as I’m looking around and wanting to highlight and have more, you know, female executives on the sad part is, you go to LinkedIn, search our big brands, and then you know, LinkedIn will put it in order of title, that’s how they do it when you search through them. It’s not a lot.

Laurie Torkaz: No, there’s not. And I got to, I have to believe, you know, people like me that have the same company for 20 years. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s happening even less. And so I’m hopeful that as this new generation, they, do make changes more frequently, I hope that we can figure out what tools we need to do to, attract them to our industry. And as I mentioned to you before, I really believe you know, find the right person for the for the job, but of being a female in this role can help me help the industry see that. Let’s do this, let’s use this to attract more females or younger people. And whatever the diversity is, let’s just try and get it to be a little bit more diverse because you’ve been to the same conferences that I have year after year after year, and it is a sea of white men. And that’s not who our customer is. We need to make sure that our industry is reflective of who we’re selling to so that we, we can, you know, make sure that we align what they’re looking for with what we’re offering. And you’re right. None of us ever grow up saying, Kelly, I can’t wait to get into that mattress business unless your family’s been in it. Yeah, so and it’s fun, I would challenge anyone to find an industry that is more inclusive. We competitors get along, when we’re not trying to get each other slot, you are many of my dearest friends or people that I’ve met in this industry. So how do we make it fun and inviting? And what avenues do we take to get people right out of college or train them out of high school if that’s what we need to do, but really to make it inclusive. And there are some groups out there like I think with it is a great organization that is female focus, but also more just diversity. And they have different internship programs. So it’s more furniture populated, but you know, maybe we get the mattress division to, to do some sort of internships, that there’s got to be ways that we can work together to bring more diversity.

Brett Thornton: You know, I had a Katy law, she owns the sweet dreams, though. Yeah, franchises in North Carolina and four or five stores and freight forever on the podcast. And she was saying, Now, you know, at the end of the day, you know, great talent, you know, attracts more great talent, you know. And so, it’s like as people like her get into her robes, and she’s been hiring people and bringing people on. And so, it’s working, but she’s just one of a small group, you know. And what I’ve seen is the good positive thing is that when you look at the DTC brands, so if you go and look at purple, and Casper, and tough needle, and avocado and brown, like our companies, whatever, and you look at that same LinkedIn profile, they’re much more diverse, but they’re also not people from the industry. That’s the thing. So they’re pulling people from other fields. So they, and a lot of times, these companies were marketing companies anyways, they’re not mattress oriented people from the industry. So they’re starting more like a tech company or whatever. And it’s more diverse, it’s more, you know, whether you’re looking at that male, female, ethnicity, whatever, which is great. And eventually that will bleed out. And that’s what I’ve been trying to tell my team, you know, because my entire man and entire management team is all female, except for one, one guy, and, you know, industry, but you got it. And I’m like, there’s a huge opportunity for you guys in this space. You can be executive one, or you can do all these different things. And I think you could take it by storm, you know, because at the end of the day, this is what our industry needs to be honest, you know, like, we need, you know, I was talking to someone their day, and they were talking about how they, this a big company in our industry pays consultants to come in to pick fabrics because they want to get the female perspective. And I and in my head, the first thing I’m saying is, well, why don’t you just find a really great, like, person in house? Like, why are you going outsource, you know what I mean? But that, hey, at least they were doing it, but it was like, Listen, like those, that’s our issue, go out. But at the same time, you have to be able to have people that can attract those people where they want to come work in the space? Because that’s what you see from the outside, right? If you do go on LinkedIn, you looked in, you’re just going like, wow, why would I want to work in that space? It just looks like it’s all this type of person, you know.

Laurie Torkaz: Right to what I want to say stuffy or traditional, rather than giving people the ability to blossom, and to share their vision. And we need to we need that we need that are we have to grow with the consumer. And hopefully, hopefully, we all are thinking the same thing. And we can put it into action. 

Brett Thornton: That’s Yes, more than just personally, these are the types of conversations that we just need to start adding those to reality. And the more we get it out there, and the more it becomes commonplace, you know, hopefully, it just did something that you know, eventually starts to help, you know, and so, so tell me, you know, want to leave us with one thought, which is, so what was the first thing you did? When you got the official call that you were going to become president? What do you do? 

Laurie Torkaz: Business cards. Right, I was ,that was, job one. But I am, you know, what I did is I called all the owners. And luckily, I’ve known all of them before, but I just wanted them. I want them to know how excited I was about this role. And I’ll tell you that just lifted my sails for a good month afterwards, because they all embraced it. They all said they, you know, I look forward to what I was going to bring to the table. And I’ve just had, it’s only been three months, Brett, so but I’m just still flying high. And working with each of the factories has been the most rewarding thing for me so far. And I’ve been able to bring to them some digital marketing ideas and actually have a turnkey solution for them. Because so we’ve had a call yesterday and we were talking about YouTube pre roll, and one of the licensees, so Well, how do I how does one do this? How do I buy pre roll? And you know what you don’t have to worry about it. We’ve got this company and you just go to this site and tell them what you want. And it so you know, it’s that type of thing. That is some they’re willing to trust me that though, they’ll reach out and use these tools that we’re bringing to them, so it’s been fun. 

Brett Thornton: Oh, that’s awesome.

Laurie Torkaz: More than one word, sorry.

Brett Thornton: It’s all good. Even better. Well, thank you so much. I know your time is valuable. And I think I said 45 minutes. I’m right on it. So I thank you so much for this. It was a blast.

Laurie Torkaz: I really have enjoyed it and honored that you included me and enjoy talking with you. Thanks so much. 

Brett Thornton: Awesome. Thanks Lori. Have a great weekend. 

Laurie Torkaz: You do the same.

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