Relief Bed International Gives Scott Smalling New Purpose

Relief Bed International designed to provide sleep products to consumers—and those in need

 The Smalling family enjoys sailing and spending time in the mountains. Pictured (from left): Scott; daughter Sharky, wife, Carolyn; and son Hunter.
The Smalling family enjoys sailing and spending time in the mountains. Pictured (from left): Scott; daughter Sharky, wife, Carolyn; and son Hunter.

BY DOROTHY WHITCOMB

At 49, Scott Smalling has moved through more chapters in his life than most people do in an entire lifetime.

Now the founder of Relief Bed International and managing member of Relief Products LLC, Smalling began his career at IR Specialty Foam, his family’s business. Launched as Industrial Rubber Supply in 1946 by his grandparents, Ralph and Dorothy Smalling, the Fife, Washington-based company fabricates open-cell and closed-cell foams, as well as latex. Smalling took the company’s helm in 1997, after his father, Jay Smalling, retired. Although he still holds a majority share in IR Specialty Foam, he no longer plays an active role in its management.

The ComforPedic and Simmons years

It’s the direction Smalling’s story took while leading his family business that prepared him for subsequent chapters. “In 2002, I became fascinated by what Temper-Pedic was doing,” he says. “I felt that I knew foam as well as they did and began thinking about starting a new company.” A year later, he founded ComforPedic. To go head to head with Temper-Pedic in the premium memory foam market, Smalling developed his own foam, which, he says, “speeded up recovery time and opened up the cell structure to increase airflow and reduce heat.”

By 2007, annual sales had grown to $10 million and Simmons and other top manufacturers were interested in purchasing the company. Smalling sold to Simmons (now part of Atlanta-based Serta Simmons Bedding Co. LLC) and worked there as president of specialty sleep and as chief of specialty innovations until 2014.

BRIEFLY
Name Scott Smalling
Title/Company Founder of Relief Bed International and managing member of Relief Products LLC
Location Tacoma, Washington
Education Smalling earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.
Family Smalling and his wife, Carolyn, have been married for 23 years. They have a 17-year-old son, Hunter, and a 14-year-old daughter, Sharky.

While at Simmons, Smalling led three efforts, in particular, that further advanced his professional storyline. First, he created a mobile showroom to take newly launched products directly to retailers throughout the country. “It was an innovative way to get retailers excited about our new products,” he says. “Over three years, I traveled 100,000 miles to 65 cities in 37 states. We saw hundreds of retailers and thousands of RSAs.”

Second, while on the road, Smalling formed partnerships with local bedding and furniture retailers to do Simmons-sponsored “extreme makeovers” of nonprofits, including women’s shelters and fire stations. YouTube videos chronicle the excitement that new ComforPedic and Beautyrest mattresses brought to the grateful recipients.

Third, Smalling took a personal interest in ramping up Simmons’ disaster relief efforts, inspired, in part, by natural disasters that swept through the South in 2011. “I became very involved in tornado relief in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where we donated 200 beds,” he says.

Smalling notes that he led a strong period of growth for the ComforPedic brand while at Simmons. He ultimately left the company when Simmons announced a desire to position its foam category under its flagship brand, Beautyrest.

A business with a bigger mission

A noncompete agreement with Simmons kept Smalling out of bedding manufacturing for a time, but needing to stay active and engaged, he launched Blue Ocean Strategies, a consulting company that specializes in creating unique marketing strategies. It was in that capacity that he was invited to speak at a Business as Mission conference about humanitarian efforts in the business arena. Business as Mission is a global organization that seeks to leverage Christian values in business.

Relief Bed International has donated Relief Bed sleeping mats to an orphanage in Uganda.
Relief Bed International has donated Relief Bed sleeping mats to an orphanage in Uganda.

“As I listened to other presentations, I knew what I wanted to do next,” Smalling says. “I wanted to use my mattress expertise to create a company with a product that included a donation of beds for people who needed them.”   

And thus, less than a year after leaving Simmons, Relief Bed International, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, was born, with a mission of helping both the chronically homeless, as well as those displaced from their homes by disaster or tragedy. “We understood from the inception that we would need to partner with organizations that were best in class to bring this vision to life and to make it a sustainable venture,” Smalling says.

He first teamed up with Therm-a-Rest, a Seattle-based producer of outdoor and travel sleep products, to design and manufacture the Relief Bed, a portable foam and air self-inflating technology that measures 72 inches by 20 inches with built-in pillows. The pads weigh less than 2 pounds and can be compressed and tightly rolled for easy transport. They are water-
repellent, UV-resistant, insect-resistant, and both insulate and cushion the body. For $149, shoppers using the RBI website (www.reliefbed.com) can buy a Relief Bed and donate another to someone in need around the world. (Without an accompanying donation, the pad can be purchased for $99.)

Two other sleep products also come with a “buy one/donate one” option for consumers. Tri-Fold, made of high-density polyurethane foam, folds into a cube for easy storage. Its “buy one/donate one” price also is $149 ($99 without the donation). The twin XL Relief Mattress is designed for homeless shelters and has an all-foam construction. Its “buy one/donate one” price is $349 ($199 without the donation).

To date, RBI has donated 1,573 beds (through the “buy one/donate one” sales and other donations) to homeless shelters in the United States through partners like the Salvation Army and gospel rescue missions. Company representatives will be traveling with their key international relief partner, World Vision, later this year to Zambia, Africa, to donate Relief Beds to rural medical clinics. Smalling’s goal is to donate 10,000 beds by the end of this year.

Online sales are part of RBI’s “Buy One, Change a Life” campaign that also includes partnerships with various bedding and outdoor retailers and a promotional tour designed to raise awareness about homelessness and the importance of sleep. Harkening back to his days at Simmons, Smalling and company intern Jose Arreola are hitting the road in a 70-foot truck and trailer fully wrapped in RBI’s “message of hope,” Smalling says. Along the way, they will stop at large public events and homeless shelters. Smalling hopes to be able to generate enough interest during the tour, which began on Memorial Day and runs through Thanksgiving, to fund donations of 5,000 additional beds. Tour sponsors include Purple (WonderGel LLC), Reverie, Technogel and Therm-a-Rest.

 Scott Smalling (right), founder of Tacoma,Washington-based Relief Bed International, and company intern Jose Arreola are traveling around the country to raise awareness about homelessness and the importance of sleep.
Scott Smalling (right), founder of Tacoma, Washington-based Relief Bed International, and company intern Jose Arreola are traveling around the country to raise awareness about homelessness and the importance of sleep.

During the tour, RBI also will stop at retailer partners to highlight their participation in RBI’s campaign and promote the purchase of mattresses that the retailers have linked to bed donations. Smalling’s formula is simple: He brings a cause marketing campaign, which includes point-of-sale materials and public relations support, to the retailers. They, in turn, select a bed or beds in their regular lineup that they want to promote and then donate Relief Beds to their local homeless shelters when those beds sell.

Smalling points to the success of Roby’s Furniture & Appliance, a five-store chain in Oregon, as a case in point. “When they linked a nationally branded mattress at $999 and above to Relief Bed, sales (of the linked product) went up by 30%,” he says.

Smalling adds: “Research shows that 88% of consumers, given the opportunity to make a difference with their purchase, will chose the product that allows them to do that. What the industry needs to understand is that RBI is not a charity.” Smalling’s ultimate goal is to use his organization to lift all boats, from those he is serving to the industry in general by giving the consumer a positive reinforcement to purchase.

Relief Products LLC is the final piece in Smalling’s plan of business-related giving. Founded in conjunction with RBI, this for-profit business produces and markets other sleep products.

For instance, the 11-inch bed features phase-change gel memory foam and a zippered cover and retails for $2,499 in queen size. The company also offers Motion, a power base ($1,699 in queen).

“The company helps to pay the bills and generates more donations,” Smalling says. “So far, we have 10 retail partners in the Pacific Northwest, all of whom incorporate the ‘Buy a Bed, Change a Life’ concept into their presentation.”

Although he has accomplished a great deal in just one year, Smalling sees it as just a beginning.

“At any one time, there are about half a million ‘unsheltered’ homeless people in the United States,” he says. “My goal is to bring awareness around the importance of better sleep for those challenged with homelessness to our industry and, ultimately, to the consumer.

Another side of Smalling

A surprise. Scott Smalling loves movies—“The Sound of Music” in particular and “chick flicks” in general. He’s a big fan of Julie Andrews and was thrilled to meet her at a film festival three years ago. “I’m also a big crier at the movies,” he admits.

Valued advice. “The best advice I ever received came from a 15-year-old friend who encouraged me to accept Jesus Christ,” he says. “I’m not a Bible thumper, but Christianity is the cornerstone of my life.”

A blessing in disguise. Smalling has spent his entire life dealing with the combined effects of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. “ADHD, directed properly, is a gift,” he says. “It makes you very energetic and creative and, when focused on huge endeavors, helps feed and calm the ADHD monster. Because of the ADHD, I also can’t obsess for very long. You’ll find that many creative people have these gifts.”

Capt. Carolyn. The Smallings are a sailing family. The first time Smalling met his wife, Carolyn, she was living aboard and restoring an offshore sailboat, which she planned to “single-hand” (go alone) with her cat to Tahiti. Smalling pleaded with her to stay and promised to take her to Tahiti someday and sail around the islands. Smalling and family love to sail in the San Juan Islands in the northwest section of Washington and southwest section of British Columbia, which he calls “the most breathtaking area in the world.”

Ranch hand. When he wants to relax, Smalling spends time working at Mountain Haven Ranch near Mount Rainier in Washington, a place his family call home. “We are celebrating our 20th anniversary on our property and have done the majority of the work to develop it ourselves.” Smalling loves to mow what is equivalent to seven football fields of groomed area, finding the process “medicinal” and saying it opens his mind to new ideas.

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