Dragonflies were everywhere on the day that Brian Croft's family buried his brother. "Everyone talked about it afterward," Croft said of the funeral, held about 13 years ago. "It was in a cemetery in the corner of New Hampshire, and there had to be thousands of dragonflies. Mom said that was my brother's spirit there with us. And for the next three or four months, we saw them everywhere we went. They seemed to follow us, so we always just said that it was my brother helping us through."
So when Croft was trying to come up with a logo for a new mattress business, it didn't take long for him to spot another dragonfly. He knew the name would be Joplimo, inspired by Joplin's old nickname and from a painting that hung in the former Trio's restaurant (now JB's Downtown Joplin). So he had a J drawn, and he had four ovals representing different mattress lines.
"There it was staring back at me," Croft said. "A dragonfly."
Using a business plan of custom manufacturing and local construction, the young company has branched out across Missouri and Kansas. Since 2010, it has opened stores in Springfield and Shawnee, Kansas. And it's already rebuilt one store destroyed by the 2011 tornado. And in a way, it's because of Croft's brother, Jeffrey.
Though Croft, 33, has spent his career working with mattresses, what motivates him is how his brother was denied a mattress on the day he took his own life. Jeffrey, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, had tried to check into a mental care facility but was turned away because there were no beds available. He killed himself that night.
"Any time you go to a place like that, there has to be a bed available," Croft said. "The one time there wasn't was the day he went. Wrong time."
Brian said he and his brother, a year apart, were typical brothers. They played sports, including basketball and baseball, and spent a lot of time together.
But growing up, it was clear there was a difference between him and his younger brother, Croft said. Jeffrey went in and out of different programs and placement centers, and he found himself on different medications.
"We started to find out when he was 12 that something was wrong," Croft said. "When you have bipolar syndrome and you're a kid with changing hormones, there just wasn't a lot of research on that at the time. He was overall a great guy with a great attitude. We were best friends and best enemies. He passed so young that we never got to see what he would become."
After the funeral, Croft went on to engineering school, where he got his start working with mattresses. He worked his way through college by working for a mattress store while earning his degree in mechanical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.
He went into a Mattress Giant store, originally to look for a cheap mattress for his apartment. After seeing the prices were out of his budget, he said that he needed a job to afford that. He and his roommate filled out applications and eventually got jobs.
"We thought we were hired for the warehouse," Croft said. "We got called in, where the lady who hired us said we had the worst sales results in the history of the company. The manager was fine with us working the warehouse, but after that bad review, we realized what our job was and got some training."
Croft stayed with the mattress and bed business when he was hired by Leggett & Platt in 2007, where he was in charge of sales and marketing for adjustable beds.
But a New Year's sermon in 2010 made him think about his brother again.
"The message was to think about how you spent your last seven days, and if your life ended today, did you spend those days wisely," Croft said. "I've always been in the mattress business and went to school for mechanical engineering, but I didn't know in my soul why that was until I realized that I was in the business of helping people find beds. That's the one thing (Jeffrey) needed. So I told my wife that I decided to quit my job, and we're going to start a business. And 10 percent of what we make would help get beds to other people."
Mattresses are sold differently at Joplimo, Croft said. Instead of keeping a large stock, each mattress is custom made in Springfield, using components manufactured by Leggett & Platt. And mattresses are made to last longer than the five- to seven-year trend used by other mattress companies, Croft said.
And the company sticks to a low-pressure sales model, ensuring that sales staff are well-educated in furniture sales.
Croft said all those details result in a higher quality product: Mattresses aren't stacked and left in a warehouse, where they can get squashed or the embroidery can unravel; sales staff can answer questions more accurately; and customers can customize their mattress with different covers or support options.
And because the mattresses are made locally, Croft said he offers customization options after the sale -- within certain limits customers can have tweaks made to a mattress after trying it out.
Most importantly, the company has kept up its 10-percent model, he said. The company has provided beds for Watered Gardens, Souls Harbor, Ascent Recovery and others, and has given donations to other agencies -- Croft estimates around 40 to 50 groups.
One of the first opportunities to give happened early in the company's history, Croft said. After two weeks of operation, a customer came in looking for eight twin-sized mattresses and asked for the lowest price point possible. Croft said the man said he'd already spent a majority of his budget on lumber building bunk beds.
"He said it was for Table Rock Freedom Center, a Christian reform organization that helped teens get past substance abuse," Croft said. "Once they were clean, the program helped them stay clean, so it could be a life or death decision."
After running some numbers, Croft found that exactly 10 percent of planned proceeds covered the cost of the eight mattresses. So he donated them.
The man became teary-eyed, Croft said, and said that his daughter had been in the program, which had saved her life.
"It was a very validating, confirming moment," Croft said.
The model is working, but it hasn't been easy, Croft said. The tornado destroyed its first retail location, where one employee survived the storm. Because he was in the process of getting the Springfield store open, Joplin employees were able to work at that store, enabling him to keep everyone on staff and working.
But the company is poised for growth, Croft said. It has a plan to expand further across the Midwest into Branson and St. Louis, Overland Park, and in other states such as Oklahoma and Nebraska. Over the next five years, Croft hopes to have as many as 30 or 40 stores in several states -- more dragonflies across the Midwest.
Croft credits his company's growth with how it has been able to keep giving.
"Because we gave even when we probably couldn't give or when we felt tested, we've made it through some challenging things," Croft said. "When you start out, you have a lot of ambitious plans, then life has its own plans. We've been lucky in some ways, not in others, but to have this growth with the same principles we started business with is great."