The community behind Elsa’s House of Sleep
Tetra Constantino learned the importance of customer service and community engagement growing up. They’re lessons he carried with him when he became president of Elsa’s House of Sleep.
What started as a small mattress store on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota, has grown into a white glove, full-service furniture store whose service spans the Twin Cities metro area. When Elsa Rezene started the store in 1997, she put customers and community connection at the forefront. That mindset is one that her son, Tetra Constantino, has maintained since he became the company president in 2001.
“We treat our customers like family, and we have a really good reputation in the community that's just been built up mainly from my mom and the way she interacted with customers,” Constantino says. “She really laid the foundation and taught all of us how to really interact with customers, family, friends, community, and employees, so then that way everybody really has more of a connection.”
That sense of community and connection was of the utmost importance during the multi-year construction of a light rail line on the street directly in front of the store. During that process, Elsa’s House of Sleep and many other businesses in the neighborhood lost their parking, making it difficult for customers to visit.
“We were able to pivot because we had partnered with some other local businesses in order to rent a parking lot,” Constantino says. The block that the store sits on is one of the most diverse in the city, he adds. Due to those local partnerships and Constantino’s lobbying for the parking lot, “there was not one business on the block that closed due to light rail.”
When it comes to supporting community and uplifting other businesses in this diverse community, Nneka Constantino, Tetra’s wife, says it’s important to support those businesses by being both an advocate and a customer.
“When you invest in those businesses in terms of just being a customer, you have an unbelievable economic impact in that community,” she says. “If you want to support those businesses, patron those businesses as a customer first, and then as an ally, and as a business leader. Look for opportunities to not isolate your spending.”
Business lessons learned
Around the time Elsa’s House of Sleep was first getting started, Elsa asked Constantino to help promote the business. So, he started selling furniture from a small nearby store that local entrepreneur, “Tiger Jack” Rosenbloom, had set up. Rosenbloom owned one of the last businesses standing in Rondo, a historic Black neighborhood in St. Paul that was destroyed during freeway construction in the mid-20th century.
In order to work with Rosenbloom, Constantino was required to set a schedule and always be on time. “He held me accountable and then thereafter I ended up just holding myself accountable. So, I hold myself accountable [in] my words and my actions, and also I hold myself accountable in a manner of consistency,” Constantino says. “Consistency is one of the keys to success.”
The lessons that Constantino learned from his mom, Rosenbloom, and other business leaders in his community enabled him to drive success and develop important relationships for Elsa’s House of Sleep. “We try to make sure that we focus on customer service,” he says. “That's something that's really helped us to survive all the different ups and downs in the business.”
“We've kind of developed that foundation and developed a nice company culture, that's really, people-focused more so than profit-focused,” Constantino says, noting that many people might think that being profit-focused is more important. “But we think if you focus on the people, the profits will come.”
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