For four generations the Cantwell family of Texas has been raising cotton or using cotton in their mattress company, a business started by E.R. Cantwell in 1920. And while new synthetic fibers have largely replaced cotton in the larger, national mattress manufacturing firms, Curtis Cantwell, Sr., says cotton is still king in his book.
Cantwell hosted visiting Delta farmers recently as part of the National Cotton Council's 2015 Cotton Producer's Information Exchange (P.I.E.) tour in Corpus Christi. While visiting the mattress factory, producers learned why Cantwell still uses cotton in his manufacturing process.
"The big national firms (mattress manufacturers) prefer the synthetics for a number of reasons such as lower material costs, ease of working with the material in a factory and because the synthetics wear down faster and that helps them sell more mattresses in the long run," Cantwell said and smiled as big as Texas. "But as long as I live, as long as the Cantwell's make mattresses, we will always use cotton in the manufacturing process because it is a superior product; it's natural; it lasts forever and it's more comfortable."
Cantwell admits he uses some synthetics these days in addition to high quality cotton in order to remain competitive. But cotton is still the primary component where it counts the most.
"We know that cotton stands up better when people sleep on it and roll on top of it, and we still stuff cotton on every corner so there is that softness to the touch that makes the sheets fit perfectly on the bed. Steel frames and cotton are what makes our products popular in the niche markets," he said.
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While using superior material increases the cost in manufacturing and makes the mattress more expensive, Cantwell says superior materials and workmanship make his mattresses last longer.
"We still have people bringing back old Cantwell mattresses after decades of use and they want them resurfaced or refurbished and we make them just like new in our Corpus Christi facility," he adds.
The company's slogan, assigned by Cantwell's grandfather, remains the credo in his modern-day business: "You can't well sleep without a Cantwell mattress."
To help offset the cost of his superior product, Cantwell maintains a retail outlets.
"There is no question we are a niche manufacturer of quality mattresses. We take a great deal of pride in our product and realize we need to go the extra mile to make certain our loyal customers are getting the best product and the best service available on the market," he said.
By way of proof, while Cantwell was conducting the tour with visiting cotton producers, a Cantwell mattress owner from San Antonio strolled through the front door and said he was told that if he brought his old mattress to Corpus Christi that he could get it refurbished by later that afternoon, a promise that was kept and finished, and the product was delivered on time.
"My uncle, who along with his son, was once the biggest dryland cotton farmer in the Rio Grande Valley (of Texas), so we have a lot of cotton in our blood," Cantwell said.
Regulations add to cost
Part of the problem with using cotton in his manufacturing process has been satisfying requirements imposed by government regulations.
"One of those requirements, and a good one, is to make certain all material used in a mattress meets federal fire regulations," he explained.
This requirement forced many manufacturers of bedding materials, including mattresses, to abandon cotton in favor of synthetic materials. But the Cantwell family solved the problem by dusting the cotton used in their mattresses with boric acid. Similar to and as harmless as baking soda, boric acid gives cotton the ability to meet the strict fire hazard, smoldering standards without giving up cotton.
"A problem across the industry, and you hear about this in the news all the time these days, is that bed bugs gravitate toward mattresses, one of the reasons that many people are advised to buy a new mattress after only a few years use. But you won't find this problem in a Cantwell mattress because we use cotton dusted with boric acid and bed bugs don't like boric acid; it kills them, so no bed bugs in a Cantwell mattress."
He makes no bones about it. Intense labor required in his manufacturing facility, the costs of superior materials like steel springs and treated, high quality cotton, make his production costs higher than high-volume mattress factories. His commitment to quality, especially cotton fiber, makes the difference for his customers.
He proudly displayed a fabric tag that is sewn into every mattress and box springs the company makes. It reads, "Built in Texas with Texas cotton."
"We are a small manufacturer with a regional customer base, so we don't have to worry about offending folks from other areas, but the truth is, while we use other high end materials, we make certain people understand our commitment to cotton. It is cooler to sleep on, more durable; cotton is the best insulator; it's going to last longer, and it fights molds and mildews better as a result of the boric acid. Se we have a story to tell because of cotton and we make certain we share that with our customers, with mattress consumers in general," Cantwell said.
Following the factory tour several of the visiting cotton producers remarked it was unique to see an operation where cotton is not only used but where the manufacturer was dedicated to using the fiber over synthetic alternatives.
But as Curtis Cantwell proudly says, "you can't well sleep without a Cantwell mattress," and he says one of the secrets to his success is the high quality of cotton fibers "raised by the hands and sweat of the American farmer."