From humble beginnings
Sleepwell International has come a long way; it’s progress is nothing short of incredible.
And during an interview with the Founder of Sleepwell New Zealand and a Director of Sleepwell International in Samoa, Sala George Lutu, he is optimistic that progress will lead to bigger and brighter prospects not just for the company but also for the people of Samoa.
The bed factory company has certainly come a long way from its humble beginnings when Sala started it in the garage of his home, with his wife and son.
“Before I went to New Zealand, I knew that everything there is all in English language,” he told the Samoa Observer.
“I did not know how to speak English at the time and I definitely did not know how I was going to look for a job in New Zealand.
“But I got the chance to go to New Zealand through my wife. So we went there and stayed in Napier and I was able to get a job for about six months picking apples.
“It was very hard but when I got to New Zealand, I said to God, ‘when I was in Samoa, I had never held a cash of $300 or $500, so I wanted to know how heavy it is to be holding this amount of money’.
“This is what I asked God, but I couldn’t because I am not a smart person and I come from a poor family.”
Sala and his family later moved to Australia and it was there that he started learning how to make beds.
“My wife’s uncle had a job offer for me and that was making beds,” he said. “Before I got that job, I told God that whatever job you provide for me first, that is the job I want to make as my own and I will die working on that job.
“I started working at the company called A&H Beard in Sydney, Australia in May 1998 and in the beginning of the year 1999, the company wanted me to go take up a course so that I can get a certificate from doing all of these.
“I knew how to make beds but they wanted me to get an official certificate and to extend my knowledge.
“And so I went to that course but the people doing the course had to help me out because I did not understand English and I had an interpreter so that was how I communicated at my work as well as my trainer at the time.
“I was taken to all divisions when they have short staff because I was a fast learner and I had that eagerness in me to work harder and learn more. Even though I was very weak in English language, it did not stop me.”
Everything fell into place in just a year for Sala.
“I completed that training and had my first certificate at the end of the year and I was appointed as a supervisor at the time. I was looking after the workers and my pay at the time was the same as those who have been working five to 10 years in the company,” he said.
“So in the beginning of 2000, the company appointed me to come and look after their New Zealand branch, so I took that opportunity.
“It was all God’s planning and I had moved up fast. I had only been with the company for a year and a half and here I was getting promoted, but my English was not good.
“I started off as a bed maker and after a year, I was basically running the company in New Zealand.
“So I had been working at the company from 1998 to 2006, but whilst working there in 2003, I started planning to buy a business.
“I bought some machines that makes beds and left it at home and then was hired by another company called New Zealand Bed Company in Auckland and I worked there until 2009.”
In 2007, Sala’s dream came true.
“In 2007, I opened my bed business and it started at our garage at home in New Zealand,” he said.
“It was called ‘Lutu Beds and Repairs’ and in 2013, the name changed from Lutu Beds and Repairs to Sleepwell and then we moved to Otara where we are right now.
“The reason behind the name Lutu Beds and Repairs only the island people know, but Sleepwell is an international name and it’s from India and the United States of America, so it a well-known bed factory in the world.
“I would knock on people’s doors and I had won two awards from the bed show that was held in New Zealand. So that’s how it started.”
The company in New Zealand was successful, but he still wanted to help the people of Samoa.
“Partnering with Samoa Stationery and Books (S.S.A.B.) was very hard,” he said.
“Tofilau and Aumua are not easy people to convince for partnership.
“I gained their trust when they bought one bed from us in New Zealand, hence why we started connecting.
“There were a lot of people who asked us and it wasn’t easy we were looking at S.S.A.B. and we found that we have the same goals and same needs in the business.
“We put God first in all that we do as well and I think that’s what made it easy for us to work together and come on board together.”
According to owner of S.S.A.B. and one of the directors of Sleepwell International, Tofilau Fiti Leung Wai, it wasn’t an easy decision.
“We have to be careful with whom we partner with and it should be people we know and trust,” she said.
“We found George as someone who’s got a good heart similar to God’s heart, he has an open mind and that is what we want from our partners because in any business, we need people who are open minded.
“So he’s a very hard working person and that is our similar trait and it’s the same with him and his company as well.
“At the moment we are finalising an agreement with potential distributors of all our beds overseas.
“The main focus and aim of Sleepwell International is to export beds overseas.
“We have found some potential markets in the islands like in Tonga, Fiji, Kiribati, American Samoa, New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii.
“So far business is going well, it’s just the access to finance but we are working with the National Bank of Samoa to hopefully fund the venture and their initial response is positive.
“We have made a lot of beds as well as lounge seats and church pews. So far, business is going great.”