“Going down the street I saw furniture stores half-in and half-out of the buildings,” Pickett said.
Pickett then asked what any president of six successful homegrown businesses would: “Where does the furniture come from?”
He was surprised by the answer.
“One of the guys answered, ‘If you want high quality furniture you buy from Thailand and if you want cheaper goods then you buy from Vietnam. We don’t make them here,’” Pickett said. “I asked him why they did not make furniture in Cambodia and he said, ‘Well, they wouldn’t buy those products. Cambodians think Cambodian goods are too cheap.’”
The responses came from a People for Care and Learning employee during an observation trip to Cambodia. The ‘observation’ component of the trip surprised Pickett. He thought he was travelling to Cambodia to help build a city.
“Well, they really don’t want us to go and take the jobs the Cambodians can do,” Pickett said. “The reason PCL sends observation trips is so people see what they are doing and the needs they have. Once you see the needs you can see additional ways to help.”
Eventually Bienvenido Raneses heard the questions Pickett was asking. The two began to discuss the matter. Picket told Raneses he would give PCL two older tape edge machines for a start-up mattress factory.
“There is no need for the machines to sit here,” Pickett said. “The money we would receive on the open market is not worth selling them. ... If we can give them to this cause, and it seems to fit with their desire to put people to work, then it is a good decision.”
Raneses said he would talk to His Excellency Governor Kep Chuk Tema about the venture. He was excited and he felt the governor would be, as well. Pickett was more than happy to give a tour of his factory during the Cambodian delegation’s week long stay in Tennessee.
The delegation spent Monday touring the factories of Whirlpool and Amazon.com. A change came over them as they walked through the much smaller MurMaid factory. According to witnesses, their eyes lit up and they began to talk excitedly about plans for a factory in Cambodia.
“I think they became so excited because they were seeing something they could accomplish in their country,” Pickett said. “They have gone to both Whirlpool and Amazon, and recognize those factories would have to be started by an outside force. A mattress factory is doable, it’s not high-tech.”
Pickett was satisfied the governor was talking about one day building a mattress factory. He was surprised when he was presented with building plans.
"I was taken aback a bit when I saw that PCL already has the plans drawn up to open a mattress factory, they are even tentatively calling it MurMaid Mattress, which I think is awesome," Pickett said.
Both parties were changed by the PCL trip last March. Reneses was able to present a doable project to the governor. Pickett began donating a portion of every iCool bed sale to PCL. It takes $1,000 to finance the building of one house in PCL’s Build A City project. By Pickett’s estimate, sales have allowed money for at least five.
Pickett’s reasoning is, “To whom much is given, much is required.”
The trip to Cambodia was originally taken by Pickett on an impulse. For years he felt the tug to participate in something bigger than himself.
“When [Hurricane] Katrina hit I wanted to go down and help, but I never did. I’ve always felt the tug, but I have never acted on it,” Pickett said. “... Jake [a PCL employee] off the cuff said, ‘Hey, you wanna go to Cambodia with us?’ I told him, ‘Yeah, I think I would.’”
Last March he flew from California to South Korea to Cambodia. The experience was unforgettable. Pickett said he will be returning in March for another observational trip. By his next visit the factory is expected to be constructed and ready for employees. Pickett will spend some of his time in Cambodia training employees and making sure the mattress factory is off to a sound start.
According to the International Sleep Production Association, Asia is the fastest growing market for mattresses and other sleep-related products. Pickett said he saw Cambodians sleeping on slabs of concrete and makeshift cots of wood.
People for Care and Learning and Pickett hope a factory will provide much-needed jobs in Cambodia. Another positive side effect just might be a good night’s rest.
For more information, visit buildacity.org or the PCL website at peopleforcare.org. MurMaid factory is located off Georgetown Road.