Custom furniture maker eyes ‘Shark’ infested waters

THOMASVILLE, N.C. — Prominence Furniture is looking to live up to its name, expanding its business and turning a patented sleeper sofa design into a successful appearance on ABC’s hit program Shark Tank.

The company and the patented EZ-sleepsofa are the brainchild of company President and founder Scotty Hill.

Growing up locally, Hill spent his early career working at several local furniture manufacturers before founding his first entrepreneurial enterprise, Carolina Furniture Specialists, a small company doing everything from re-upholstery to private-label manufacturing, in 1987.

After a sojourn West to Colorado where he began working with a series of high-end clients and learning to address the luxury segment, Hill returned home to North Carolina and founded Prominence Furniture in 2006. The private-label furniture maker manufactures case goods and upholstery from frame to finish for residential and hospitality design firms out of three small facilities here, with 95% of its products manufactured completely in house.

The inspiration for the sleep sofa design grew out of the company’s hospitality design work, according to Drake Leonard, director of operations. “So many people, when they talk about sleep sofas, talk about how uncomfortable they are,” he explained. “In addition, because the mechanisms are heavy and the product is bulky they can be challenging to install.”

To address that, Hill’s EZ-sleepsofa — which has a utility patent — breaks down into its component parts that can be shipped and moved individually, then assembled onsite. “There are hardwood slats that connect the arms using tongue and groove, and we also incorporate industrial-strength Velcro,” said Leonard. “It’s literally a three-to-five-minute process. A circus monkey could almost put this thing together.”

To eliminate qualms about comfort, Prominence has partnered with Cozy Mattress, which bills itself as “the most comfortable and durable sleep system in the world.” The mattress used on the EZ-sleepsofa employs Cozy’s Z-Spring technology, which utilizes a trademarked mechanism support strut that controls the 2.3mm outward tube of the mechanism, coupled with an 8.5-inch pillow top to deliver a premium sleep experience.

Like many prospective Shark Tank contestants, Prominence has an established business it’s looking to grow, with its EZ-sleepsofa already finding placement in a number of high-end locations, including the Marco Island Resort in Naples, Fla., which already has 96 of the units installed.

The company has yet to face the Sharks and only recently completed the second step of the process, undergoing a 45-minute interview with a show producer to see if the product and company were ready to stand an even more-rigorous examination before taking the stage.

According to Leonard, who filled out the initial proposal for the show then waited months for a call-back, the next stage includes preparing a 10-to-15-minute video and filling out an extensive questionnaire about the company.

It also includes what has become a signature of the show, the amount of money the company is seeking and the share of equity it is willing to give up to, in Leonard’s words, “get a shark to bite.” At this writing, Hill and Leonard were still in the preparation stages of the video and detailed outline necessary to move on to the final stage.

Getting on the show is not the goal but the means to an end, according to Leonard. The company is looking to raise its profile and achieve the next stage of its growth, which could include expanding to encompass retail distribution and building the Prominence Furniture brand.

“If we’re truly going to realize our potential as a company, we’re going to one day have to come up with an owned [branded] line ourselves and venture into the market,” Leonard said. “That’s something we think we can do with the EZ-sleepsofa.”