BY DOROTHY WHITCOMB
When George M. Mathew, president of Latex Global, left a thriving sales and marketing career with a large electronics security company to enter the mattress industry, he was certain of only two things: He believed that the market for certified organic and natural bedding was growing in North America, and he knew where to source the product.
For several years Mathew, who lives in San Francisco, had been helping out when executives at Duroflex, which is based in India, presented their products at U.S. trade shows and markets. Mathew has ties to the company through his father and brother and knew it and its products well.
Duroflex began offering its organic latex and rubberized coir mattresses to North American manufacturers through Coco Latex, its export subsidiary, in 1992.
“At that time it was a very small player and made no impact on the U.S. market. It was hard to get traction,” says Mathew. “In 2008, I was finishing an MBA program and (learning about) the growing interest in the U.S. for green initiatives. It was then that I began to understand the central role that Duroflex’s products could play in this.”
A year later, Mathew quit his “day job” to launch his own Dublin, California-based company, Latex Global, as a provider of organic and natural latex bedding to the North American market. The company, which is owned entirely by Mathew and his family, continues to source all organic product through Duroflex, while tapping into other sources for non-organic products.
“I knew I’d have to start from scratch to build an infrastructure and promote the company,” he says. “In the beginning I was a one-man show.”
Mathew’s strategy was to develop the West Coast of the United States first. He hired Los Angeles-based independent sales reps to focus on small and medium accounts, while he cultivated national accounts. To augment their efforts, he contracted with mattress-industry consultants to provide leads to potential customers.
Mathew was very clear about the type of manufacturers with whom he wanted to work. “I only wanted established, serious companies,” he explains.
Latex Global’s market debut came at the 2010 ISPA EXPO. EXPO gave him the exposure he needed, he says, and presenting a company that was based in the U.S. gave him greater access and trust in the domestic marketplace.
By 2011, the company had added 25 accounts to its client roster and was beginning to gain traction with manufacturers of all sizes. That year also marked another name change for the fledgling company.
“I changed the name of the company to Natural Mattress Components (to reflect) the fact that we had begun to import organic cotton fabric and bed linens,” explains Mathew. “Latex Global became a subsidiary, but remains our bread and butter.”
Mathew is straightforward about the difficulties he has encountered along the way. Distribution problems plagued him from 2010 through 2011; his first warehouse proved to be poorly located, causing fulfillment delays.
“We were selling a lot, but losing time and money,” he says.
He addressed that problem by partnering with Commerce, California-based Enriquez Materials and Quilting. In addition to providing warehouse and distribution services at its 250,000-square-foot facility, the Enriquez sales force has also been enlisted to represent products from Natural Mattress Components.
“It’s a work in progress,” says Mathew. “We’ve been educating the Enriquez sales reps (to ensure) their product and application knowledge. Warehouse operations also had to be looked at. Latex is a bulky, delicate, luxury product that needs to be handled carefully.”
A second distribution center is scheduled to open late this summer in High Point, North Carolina.
“Some of our largest customers are located on the East Coast and we want to expand our reach in the east by having this presence,” Mathew says.
The company offers six sizes of Dunlop latex mattress cores. All are molded without lamination and are available in mono-zone and multi-zone constructions. Mathew notes that his company offers the cores “in all feels and densities.”
Molded toppers are also available in all six standard sizes.
“Molding creates a more durable product because (each piece) has skin on all sides,” Mathew explains.
Latex Global recently began offering three sizes of pillows in both standard and contour constructions. Although pillows make up less than 5% of Latex Global’s current annual sales, Mathew says that “the demand exists, and we are considering developing an independent pillow line.”
The company’s product lineup also includes rubberized coir cores, which can be layered with latex foam for additional support and breathability, or used as insulation in innerspring mattress constructions. Rubberized coir, which is also a common component in crib mattresses, is created, Mathew says, by spraying natural coconut fiber with latex.
Mathew has recently begun offering Global Organic Textile Standard-certified organic cotton bed linens through Natural Mattress Components. Later this summer, “a natural and organic ticking line” will be added, he says.
Latex Global’s longstanding relationship with Duroflex ensures a steady supply of certified organic products to his North American customers, Mathew says. Duroflex has produced latex rubber and coir for more than 50 years, and holds all major and relevant certifications for both materials and processes.
“We collect latex from 2,000 acres of plantations,” says George L. Mathew, chief executive officer of Duroflex and a close family friend of George M. Mathew. “We have trained the farmers to cultivate (organically)… and our finished products are tested at every stage.”
Duroflex produces about 1,000 mattresses daily, which it sells to about 4,000 retailers in India and exports to Europe, Southeast Asia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. The company’s “green” story, which moves through all phases of manufacturing and waste treatment at its seven production facili
ties, resonates strongly with Latex Global’s customers, George M. Mathew says.
“Duroflex’s exports to the United States and Canada through Latex Global are now greater than those to Asia and Europe combined,” he adds. “At this point, our growth is straining their resources and we are looking for additional sources of organic product.”
Mathew projects that Latex Global’s annual sales in 2014 will grow by 30% over the year before.
“Given our current infrastructure, we can’t grow more than that,” he says. “But if I could get the product in a timely fashion, we could grow by almost 75% in 2014.”
This growth, he believes, is fueled by key advantages that he has over other latex providers.
“My biggest advantage is that I’m here,” he says. “Overseas suppliers are a big problem for many manufacturers. People know who I am, and they know how to work with us. I take full responsibility for the product if something goes wrong. I am the product.”
Mathew also believes that he and his team bring a high level of competence to relationships with manufacturers.
“I have an engineering background and my team has over 30 years in the bedding industry,” he says. “We work with our customers to offer solutions. I focus only on latex, and I can tell them what to do or not, based on the materials being used. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. They’re getting service that they’re not paying for, and I’m getting an inside perspective on their needs.”
Mathew listens carefully to his customers. He knows that he needs to build his capacity for additional natural products and is searching for additional suppliers and fabricators in India.
“Our customers are also telling us that we need to start (fabricating) in the United States and (accomplishing that) is part of our plan for 2015,” he says.
And he doesn’t rule out establishing a Latex Global manufacturing facility in Asia or the U.S. at some point in the future. It is, he says, the most secure way “to take full responsibility and ownership of the product.”
For the last five years, George M. Mathew has literally worked day and night to create a company that can reliably provide what he describes as “the best natural and organic mattress components to value-driven and quality-minded mattress manufacturers in North America.” It has been a journey full of “heartaches and triumphs,” he says, but one that has been well worth the making.