Mattress manufacturer and retailer wants its key mattress components to rival memory foam
BY DOROTHY WHITCOMB
When Neal Van Patten founded Spindle Mattress in 2013, he had two goals clearly in mind. His first aim was to produce high-quality latex beds that could be sold at lower price points than have long been the norm for the category. Offering those beds in an e-commerce environment, he believed, would help him reach his second—and very ambitious—objective: to raise awareness about the virtues of latex among consumers so that it becomes a popular alternative to memory foam.
“I want to elevate latex. I sleep on it and have an affinity for it,” Van Patten says. “We may only be able to do half of what Tempur-Pedic did for memory foam, but we do want to make it a more prominent product.”
Van Patten knows he has a long road ahead of him. The analytics he relies on for shaping and growing his business, including Google Trends, tell him that latex, at least as a material for mattresses, is just a blip on consumers’ radar screens.
“There’s a lot you can do with the data that Google provides, which goes back to 2004. Latex pales in comparison to memory foam, and gel has taken it over in searches,” he says. “The good news is that it’s stable. The bad news is that it isn’t trending upward, but that’s an opportunity for us.”
Van Patten has structured Spindle, which is based in Acton, Massachusetts, to take maximum advantage of that opportunity. As Kim Novick, director of marketing, puts it: “Neal’s vision is to make great mattresses and sell them at kick-ass prices—a term we actually use—in an e-commerce environment.”
‘Zappos.com of mattresses’
The company offers one latex mattress style in six sizes (twin through California king). Named Abscond, the 10-inch mattress consists of three layers of natural Dunlop-process latex wrapped in a cover made of organic cotton and wool. The latex layers can be configured to create five comfort levels (extra soft to extra firm). A body mass index chart and questions about sleep position point buyers to the best comfort level for them. If a shopper remains uncertain, she is encouraged to call customer service.
“We like to think of ourselves as the Zappos.com of mattresses,” Novick says. “It’s not uncommon to be on the phone with a customer for 40 minutes to an hour listening to her needs.”
Van Patten adds, “We work with customers to get the right components. If we can’t engineer it right, with our experience, then the customer won’t be able to.”
When the mattress arrives at the home, buyers assemble it themselves, layering the slabs of latex into the cover, following detailed instructions provided by the company. Spindle’s layered, interchangeable-slab construction makes it easy to service any customer who is dissatisfied with the comfort of her bed after the sale. The company offers a 365-day comfort adjustment, charging a $150 flat fee to ship a new latex layer. The customer keeps the original layer in case she changes her mind.
The bed’s components are shipped in boxes—the pieces for a king-size model are packaged into three containers—making a Spindle mattress a bit easier for consumers to move than a fully assembled latex bed. By offering its products through e-commerce, Spindle addresses another consumer concern about latex mattresses—price. A queen-size mattress retails for $1,349, which Spindle touts on its website as being $1,000 below comparable latex mattresses offered by other retailers. A 7 ¾-inch, solid-wood foundation is available for $199.
Selling latex over lifestyle
“We’re more than a marketing company. We’re an integrated manufacturing company,” Novick says. “We buy directly from our suppliers and our foundations are built by Amish carpenters in Pennsylvania.” Spindle purchases its latex from Mountain Top Foam in Mountain Top, Pennsylvania. Covers are made from organic cotton and wool sourced from Woolgatherer Carding Mill in Montague, California.
“We didn’t set out to make a ‘green’ mattress and we don’t make claims about that but, as a company, we are committed to sustainable manufacturing techniques and corporate responsibility,” Novick says.
Van Patten adds, “We don’t cater to the organic market. They can come along for the ride, but that’s not our marketing focus. Our focus is on making a great bed that’s really comfortable.”
To that end, Spindle has kept its marketing message focused solely on the product.
“We’re trying to be really transparent in what we do and to treat the customer with respect,” Novick says. “We’re not trying to sell lifestyle. We don’t make claims about waking up refreshed and pain-free. All of our messaging is about the simplicity and comfort of latex—and that quality can be affordable.”
Spindle eschews traditional advertising, focusing instead on spreading its message organically through the Internet. Van Patten’s perspective on marketing has been shaped by entrepreneur and marketing guru Seth Godin, and he draws on Godin’s precepts when he says: “The model of interrupting people is dead. Noise doesn’t work. You can’t yell at people to get their attention. So we sell to people who want to hear our story or are interested in our mattress. We are there when they want us.”
The website—where information is presented simply and directly—is the company’s primary tool for engaging with potential customers. Spindle is launching a new website that is designed to be even more user-friendly. A more robust content marketing component is expected to draw additional customers to the site, where they will find a new comfort calculator. “We created an algorithm that spits out firmness when you input your height, weight and sleep position,” Van Patten says.
The new site also will help the company address the needs of its core demographic more effectively. “Our customers run the gamut, but tend to be from 35 to 65 years old and skew toward first-generation immigrants,” says Van Patten, who speculates that recent immigrants may arrive in the United States with more awareness of and experience with latex mattresses than other Americans.
Social media, including Facebook and Twitter, also help Spindle get its message out. Online marketplaces, like Etsy, Rakuten and Wayfair, offer additional channels for purchasing the product. The company displays a handful of mattresses at its headquarters and occasionally opens the showroom to consumers, but has no plans to open brick-and-mortar stores.
Speaking directly to customers
Servicing all of its customers is at the core of Spindle’s business plan. Van Patten, whose family owns W. J. Southard, a Syracuse, New York-based factory direct that has been in business for four generations, has a deep understanding of the dynamics of the mattress industry. Before starting Spindle, he worked for the family business, as well as another mattress major.
“When you deal directly with a manufacturer, you get great service,” Van Patten says. “But, overall, I see a disconnect between manufacturers, retailers and customers.” Spindle’s goal, Van Patten says, is to reconnect customers with the product “by building relationships instead of trying to get something out of them.”
At the moment, Spindle is servicing its customers through a very lean operation. In addition to Van Patten and Novick, there is only one other full-time employee, Jim Buckley, an operations manager who works in packing and shipping at the company’s 6,000-square-foot facility.
“It’s critical for a startup to hire great people who are multiskilled and willing to roll up their sleeves and do anything,” Van Patten says. “And we can grow the business three to four times and still stay in this place, which was built with that end in mind.”
Growth definitely is on Van Patten’s mind. “By year two, we’ve exceeded our sales projections by 50%, but now that the bar is set, we need to do a lot more,” he says. “Complacency can erode sales. Over a five-year period, we need to have three to four times more sales than we have now in order to actually grow and build the business.”
To propel growth, Spindle will need to move out from under memory foam’s vast shadow by continuing to build awareness about the virtues of latex. “Latex is still considered a niche product and Spindle has limited brand recognition,” Novick says.
Van Patten is confident that the company has the resources with which to reach its goals. “We control our own fate,” he says. “We own everything and can turn on a dime, if we have to, to create a better experience for customers.”
The story behind the name
When naming the company, Neal Van Patten wanted an original, memorable and easily Web-searchable moniker that was tied somehow to mattresses or sleep. Spindle is a nod to several things, including “sleep spindles” (brief bursts of activity that typically occur during Stage 2 of sleep), the use of spindles in fiber and textile production, and, as Van Patten says, “A spindle is used for stacking, like a CD spindle or a spindle used for stationery. Our cover acts as a spindle to stack layers of latex in and holds them in place.”
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