The World’s Best Salesperson: Mattresses & Millions

napolean_barragan_top_salespersonHave you heard the story of the guy from Ecuador who sold beer off the back of a donkey before moving to NYC and building a multi-million dollar mattress empire? It’s one of my favorites. Meet Napoleon Barragan:

Claim to Fame: An early adopter of the 1-800 number, Barragan correctly anticipated the rise of tele-commerce, beginning what would one day be one of the greatest rags to riches stories of all time. In 1976 Barragan borrows $2000 to build his business. By 2004, Barragan’s empire, 1-800-Mattress, breaks the $100 million mark in sales.

History: At 17, Ecuadorean-born Barragan flees to Colombia where he launches his first entrepreneurial venture delivering beer and soda on donkeys. In 1969, Napoleon relocates his family to NYC on borrowed money. Jumping from odd jobs—packing shoes, assembling carpets, making plastic buttons— he finds his stride working as a salesman in a second hand furniture store. Flipping through a newspaper on the subway, an ad for Dial-A-Steak catches his eye. 1-800-Mattress is born.


Great Quote: “One day, I was riding the train to Manhattan and saw a sign for Dial-a-Steak. I was intrigued. What a wonderful idea to sell products by telephone.”

Lesson for Aspiring Sales Legends: Embrace sales technology before your competitor does. Many attribute the success of 1-800-Mattress solely to Barragan’s willingness to take risks on emerging technologies. Barragan gambled on the 1-800 number at a time when everything was sold in large, expensive showrooms. Similarly, Barragan snagged and before anyone was thinking e-commerce. Rejection of emerging sales technologies has brought huge companies to their knees while adaptive firms recognize the opportunity technology can unlock.

While it’s unlikely a toll-free number will skyrocket your sales today, sales technologies are constantly evolving. Your CRM, social presence, and sales hiring tools are the new 1-800—use them to your advantage.

“The World’s Best Salesperson” is a title too powerful to give to just one. I’m profiling some of the greatest salespeople past and present. Amazing stories that remind us of the joy of sales. Think sales is just for men? Check out A Tribute to Women in Sales: 3 Game-Changing Saleswomen.


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Kayla Kozan

Kayla Kozan

Director of Marketing at Ideal
Kayla spent the last few years studying Marketing and Entrepreneurship on 3 different continents. Now covering the latest in predictive analytics, workplace diversity and big data. She has a keen interest in tech and discovering underrated brunch spots.
Kayla Kozan