Jay Carrasco rode the real estate boom for years, and he rode it well.
He worked for a home builder, earned a good salary and bought a $40,000 pickup truck. He moved around Florida and sold his homes for a profit. Later, he headed west to Las Vegas to open a satellite office for a flooring company.
Then, like so many others in the valley, the recession hit him head on. He lost his job and his vehicle.
Carrasco persevered by keeping a positive attitude and taking jobs he never expected. He now works for Mattress Firm as a store manager, a well-liked salesman whose tangle with the economy didn’t limit his boundless energy.
He earns less money than he did during his construction days and goes without certain luxuries he once enjoyed. But Carrasco is proof that, for all the former contractors, brokers and developers out there, there is life after the building bust — as long as they’re OK with a little reinvention.
Carrasco is a creature of habit. He gets to work by 7:30 a.m. every morning, 2 ½ hours before the store opens. He spends that time online, researching sleep tips and the science of sleep. When he finds helpful information, he pastes it into an email and sends it to Mattress Firms’ local stores.
He’s not pushy with customers but closes plenty of deals. His sales pitch typically includes discussions about diet, acid reflex, breathing problems and the stages of sleep, as well as other issues he says can be affected by a mattress.
If customers buy a bed on the spot, great. If not, Carrasco walks with them to the door, shakes their hand and with a polite smile, tells them to call with any questions.
“Am I doing this all backwards?” he asked. “I probably am. But it seems to be working.”
Todd Ottenschot, an area manager with the retail chain, has known Carrasco for more than two years, since Carrasco joined the company. Ottenschot described him as an enthusiastic and caring person who builds rapport with customers. Carrasco takes obvious pride in his job, he said, helping with product displays even on his days off.
While all of the company’s sales reps email daily sales goals each morning, Carrasco is the only one who sends research notes.
“It’s dedication in a different way,” Ottenschot said.
Julian Carrasco Jr. was born 55 years ago in Visalia, Calif., about 45 miles southeast of Fresno. He lost count how many times he moved as a child — he guesses 20. His father was a ranch foreman and dragged his family around the Central Valley from job to job. They got free housing at each site and at one point lived in a large adobe house with mud walls.
“We just went from place to place to place, and whatever they offered him, he would take it,” Carrasco said.
After high school, Carrasco worked in the grocery business, in a cabinet shop and for an oil company at a water filtration plant.
In his mid-20s, he and his girlfriend had a son, Julian. But she left when the baby was 6 months old.
Carrasco raised the boy as a single dad — dressed him, fed him, slept in the same bed with him. They played chess and looked at bugs and grass under a microscope. By time he was 14, the boy known as “Bubby” was 6 feet tall, weighed 200 pounds and towered over his father.
Carrasco eventually met Jackie Stokes, a divorced New Yorker with three daughters. Their families hit it off, and the couple became engaged. A few days before the wedding, Carrasco was at work when he received word telling him to go home.
His stepdaughters had found Bubby dead from a seizure. He was 14 and had never shown signs of epilepsy.
“He basically just choked and died,” Carrasco said.
The family lived in Modesto, Calif., and Carrasco worked for telephone pole inspection companies. After a year there, they moved to Florida to be closer to Jackie’s mom, who was dying.
They stayed in Florida for 13 years. Carrasco worked as a superintendent for a home builder and managed 20 to 30 construction sites at a time. He lost his job in a mass layoff but quickly joined a flooring company.
Things were good. He and Jackie had a son, Nathaniel, and Carrasco bought a Chevrolet Silverado Z85, a $40,000 pickup that he washed by hand twice a week. He won big contracts around the country for his company. He and his wife moved several times and sold each of their homes for a profit.
Eventually, the flooring company sent him to Las Vegas to open an office here. They even gave him $3,000 in moving expenses.
But that was three years ago, when the recession was in full swing. A few months after his arrival, the company canceled its plans. Carrasco could return to Florida and take his old job but would have to pay his own way back. He decided to stay.
Carrasco looked briefly for construction jobs but found none. His wife saw an ad for a door-to-door water salesman at Sparkletts. He lasted six months before a friend from that company, who had left for Mattress Firm, told him to join him at the retail chain.
Mattress Firm Holding Corp. has more than 1,100 stores nationwide and 21 in the valley.
Like other U.S. retailers, the Houston-based company had a rough time during the recession. But it has emerged strong. Mattress Firm lost $125 million in 2008; last year, it pulled in $34 million in profit.
In August 2010, Carrasco was hired at a store near the Galleria at Sunset mall in Henderson, a competitive area packed with mattress retailers and department stores. The shop struggled with foot traffic, and Carrasco felt the only way to boost sales was to ask customers for referrals.
The strategy worked. According to Carrasco, the store earned about $25,000 a month in sales when he joined. He became store manager in December, and by his third month at the helm, profits jumped to $85,000 a month.
Carrasco now heads a Mattress Firm store at 366 W. Lake Mead Parkway in Henderson.
He landed on his feet, but Carrasco’s life is markedly different from the days of the building boom. He rents an apartment instead of owning a home. After moving to Las Vegas, he fell behind on his $600-a-month payments, so his truck was repossessed.
But overall, he is content. His family is with him. He has a job.
“I don’t make the money I used to make, but I wake up every morning and I enjoy going to work,” Carrasco said. “If you enjoy that, that’s half the battle.”