Pure LatexBLISS: 'Virtual' venture finding real success

Kurt Ling and Joe Hunt, founders of bedding company Pure LatexBLISS, think they have found a simple solution to providing high–quality products to a market where price matters and both retailers and consumers want to maximize the return on their investment.

Although Ling’s the first to admit that “simple” isn’t synonymous with “easy,” he says the company they launched in August 2009 is well on its way to success.

‘Virtual’ by design

Pure LatexBLISS is a sales and marketing enterprise that contracts with other companies to manufacture and ship its line of all–latex beds and sleep accessories. It has no manufacturing facilities of its own. Ling and Hunt, who are on the road four or five days a week, lease office space in Atlanta for the mailing address and boardroom it provides.

The Internet, Ling says, provides all the infrastructure Pure LatexBLISS needs to run efficiently. Ling calls Skype, a software application that makes use of the Internet for voice calls and video conferencing, his company’s “most valuable tool.” He also uses Freeconferencecall.com to link as many as 20 people at one time for conference calls.

Retail sales associates can access information about all Pure LatexBLISS products at Blissipedia.com, a website modeled after Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia. The site is designed to provide quick answers to customer questions about materials, construction and comfort options. It also provides more in–depth product information, links to company videos on YouTube and an archive of the daily tweets that Ling and Hunt send to retailers.

“Putting everything on the Internet is one of the biggest ways we have to connect people and build the brand,” Ling says.

Pure LatexBLISS Vegas.JPG

Deeply involved: Pure LatexBLISS founders Joe Hunt (left) and Kurt Ling take part in all facets of running their company, including answering customer phone calls. Their line includes four collections of all–latex beds.

Pure Latex BLISS bed

Running lean

Ling and Hunt stay connected to the needs of dealers and consumers by spending time personally responding to calls on the company’s consumer and toll–free retail partner assistance lines seven days a week.

“I take customer calls on rotation, as does everyone on our team,” Ling says. “It keeps us in touch with what’s going on and helps us plan for the future. The average customer–care call is 25 minutes long and we never try to shorten them. Our intent is to build friendships and relationships.”

Both Ling and Hunt are industry veterans who come from corporate backgrounds where senior executives don’t spend a lot of time answering calls from consumers or retail sales associates. Ling was at Maytag Corp. for 13 years before joining Simmons Bedding Co. in 1995. In 2005, he founded Customer Kinetics, a consumer experience company that he still runs. Hunt was with Simmons before joining Ashley Furniture, where he was vice president of bedding.

They say their decision to run Pure LatexBLISS as a lean company—they had only one full–time employee in the beginning—has been both exhilarating and exhausting. Although the company has since added six full–time employees, Ling says no one has time to spare.

“I find myself in the middle of absolutely everything—some of which I have high skills to deal with and some of which I have no skills to deal with at all. Things come up daily that no one has the skill set to deal with,” he says, laughing. “Everything changes every month because our business changes. That’s beautiful because it’s energizing, but it’s also wearing.”

If Ling and Hunt occasionally wonder what they’ve gotten themselves into, they say they have no misgivings about the product or value they offer. Ling calculates that by operating as a “virtual” company, Pure LatexBLISS has fixed costs that are 30% lower than its competitors. And those savings are passed on to dealers, he says.

Results at retail

Retailers seem to be listening. To date, Pure LatexBLISS has opened several hundred accounts in the United States alone.

“Because we offer limited distribution, there are already 18 states with enough distribution so that we can’t open other retailers in those states,” Hunt says.

It was early support from retailers that convinced Ling there was a market for the type of beds he wanted to produce.

“When we talked to retailers, we had hands–down enthusiasm,” he says. “When we built the beds, people who had been in the industry for 30 years were blown away.”

Part of the appreciation for the beds comes from the way they are marketed. The brand’s website, www.latexbliss.com, “looks more like a website for an upscale spa or high–end cosmetic line than a mattress company,” Ling says.

The Pure LatexBLISS product, Ling adds, is “for bedding enthusiasts for whom the bed is a throne and the bedroom the most important room in the house.”

“Going to bed at night should be like taking a minivacation from the world,” he says. “Our beds deliver on that promise.”

The latex line

Pure LatexBLISS launched its product at the Las Vegas Market in September 2009. The company has played outside the all–latex arena but has focused exclusively on all–latex products in its second year.

“About 95% of our business comes from all–latex beds so we’re going with that,” Hunt says.

At the most recent Las Vegas Market, Pure LatexBLISS rolled out the World’s Best Beds collection. The first model—Hunt says there will be more—is a 12–inch mattress made from four layers of Talalay latex. The mattress has a suggested retail price of $3,000 for queen size. The company offers a companion latex–enhanced, split–queen foundation, dubbed the World’s Best Foundation, for $1,499 in queen.

The Latex Light collection is the company’s entry–level offering. The beds include a 1–inch polyurethane support base and a synthetic Dunlop–process latex core topped with an inch of Talalay latex. A queen size has a suggested retail price of $1,499.

The company’s Natural Talalay Latex collection features four mattresses, ranging in height from 8 to 12 inches. The mattresses have Talalay latex cores and pressure–relief layers over a 1–inch polyurethane foam stabilization base. Suggested retail prices are between $1,899 and $3,299 for queen size.

The All–Natural Talalay Latex collection is for the “greener” buyer, Ling says. The three models feature Oeko–Tex certified, all–natural Talalay latex in the core and pressure–relief layers. Retail price points range from $2,599 to $4,299 for queen size.

Pure LatexBLISS offers removable pillow–tops designed for use on their own mattresses, as well as other manufacturers’ beds. The company also provides foundations, pillows and mattress protectors.

The company contracts with supplier Latex International to assemble its products at facilities in Shelton, Conn., and Wichita Falls, Texas. It uses WG&R Mattress Factory in Green Bay, Wis., for the same purpose. The company has domestic distribution centers in Jacksonville, Fla., and Phoenix.

Product destined for the European market is assembled in Harrogate, England, and distributed through a center in France. The company has permanent showrooms in High Point, N.C., Las Vegas and England.

Ling, who projects that Pure LatexBLISS will post $50 million in annual sales within five years, is encouraged by his company’s beginning.

“Sales for our first year were twice what we projected and our takeoff internationally was much stronger than projected,” he says.

LatexBLISS pillows

Beyond beds: In addition to latex mattresses, Pure LatexBLISS offers removable pillow–tops, foundations, pillows and mattress protectors.

European foothold

François Duparc, the company’s general manager for France, Switzerland and the Benelux region, introduced Pure LatexBLISS in France a year ago. An exclusive agreement he negotiated with Maison de la Literia, the 200–shop chain that dominates the French bedding market, ensures a high profile for the brand in that country.

Pure LatexBLISS expanded into Belgium at the end of 2010. Duparc hopes to open more than a dozen retail accounts there during the first quarter of this year. The company plans to expand into Holland and Switzerland during the first half of 2011 and into Germany in 2012.

“Latex is well known in Europe and contributes about 20% of sales to the overall market,” Duparc says. “The problem with latex here is that there hasn’t been a lot of innovation. Talalay latex provides something new to say to retailers and customers.”

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