Jaya Karns, a Woman with a Mission

Jaya Karns reflects on the remarkable journey that brought her to bedding.

Serendipity led this mattress purveyor on an extraordinary odyssey

By Andy Kriege, YSN

BrandSource member Jaya Karns beams with a smile that lights up the entire room when asked what she does for a living.

“I sell mattresses and I love it,” said Karns, who is the owner of Mattress Pavilion in San Diego, Calif. But selling mattresses does not begin to tell the story of this remarkable woman from India, who has made her mark in both retail and humanitarian endeavors.

Karns’ story – of her experiences as an immigrant woman who started out in law school and ended up a successful business owner – is one to behold.

When Karns arrived in the U.S. from India more than two decades ago, she was struggling to make ends meet. She needed a job that would pay the bills until she could go back to pursuing her law degree.

In a fortuitous happenstance, she spied a crumpled-up flyer on the floor of the San Francisco subway with the headline, “We Will Hire Anyone, No Experience Required.” Karns spontaneously decided to take a chance.

“Having no idea what it was, I called the number and left a message,” she said. “I had forgotten all about it when I received a call several days later asking me to come in for an interview, where they hired me on the spot.”

The company was bedding retailer Sleep Train (now Mattress Firm). Karns accepted the position and started immediately. The new job experience was life changing and from that point on there was no going back to law school.

Karns later transferred to San Diego, where she further enhanced her experience in the bedding business by taking a position as a sales trainer. It didn’t take too long after that before her entrepreneurial spirit beckoned her to seek out a business of her own.

With the support of her husband Gary, she pulled all their resources together, even tapping into retirement accounts, and made her dream of having her own store a reality by opening Mattress Pavilion in 2015.

Karns maintains that she received a great deal of support from “too many people to count,” but also acknowledged that as a woman, she wasn’t always taken seriously.

“Not so much to my face,” she said, “but I could hear the occasional condescending remark.” Regardless, “That did not deter me; I always stood up for myself no matter what. You cannot run a business if you are soft and back down from those who try to discourage you.”

Today, Karns’s store offers a full line of premium, name-brand bedding and business is booming. She runs a tight ship and is meticulous about every detail of the business, making sure the entire sales process goes smoothly, right down to delivery and set up. She also clearly defines all the rules and expectations for her team, and in return she has been rewarded with cheerful, loyal and productive employees.

Karns beams when asked what she likes about her job. “I love the fact that every day is different,” she said. “I cannot predict what is going to happen, who is going to show up and how the day will unfold.”

Karns plans to expand the business by opening two additional locations by the end of the year. However, building a chain of retail stores is not all that she aspires to do. Also in the offing: launching her own line of organic latex mattresses, affordably priced for middle-class shoppers.

Karns at home with her husband Gary and a few of their furry and feathered friends, beneficiaries of the couple’s animal rescue organization, Furry Planet

As dedicated as Karns is in her bedding endeavors, she may be even more devoted to the loving animal rescue organization she co-founded with her husband, called Furry Planet (furryplanet.org). She is passionate about the care and well-being of abused animals and abandoned pets and is building a sanctuary to house them, along with the pets of military personnel on deployment.

When completed, the Furry Planet facility will also attend to the medical needs of neglected animals whose lives all too often end in suffering and euthanasia. Profits from the bedding business and public donations are funding the operation.

Even with so many balls in the air, Karns offers support to other women who are contemplating opening their own business.

“Don’t question yourself and do not take things personally,” she said. “You need to make the distinction between you the person and the business. Try not to be emotional and always stand up for yourself.”

BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc., is a nationwide buying group for independent appliance, furniture, mattress and CE dealers.