CKI Solutions was founded on a bedding invention and continues to innovate
Sam Montross didn’t set out to launch a bedding accessories company when she created her first product, the Twin Doubler. At the time, she was looking for a way to solve a challenge at a ski-in, ski-out rental property that she owned: namely, turning two twin beds into a king-size surface so the property would appeal to a wider range of visitors.
“After some trial and error, I came up with a system featuring a filler pad and two adjustable safety straps that quickly and safely converts two beds into a comfortable king,” Montross says. “It’s fast and easy to set up and folds up for compact storage when a king bed is no longer needed.”
Recognizing there probably were lots of other households, resorts, time-shares and vacation rentals that might like the flexibility of converting twin beds into kings, Montross created a company in 1996 to market her patented invention. She named the company China Horse Inc., inspired by a visit to the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan, where “so many of the pieces of art featured horses as a symbol of strength, vitality, beauty and good fortune.”
“When I started my company — as one person selling one product — I got lucky very early when we earned a spot in the Improvements catalog, and that relationship got us into the SkyMall catalog, where we were soon seen by millions of travelers each week,” Montross says. “The SkyMall exposure jump-started our business.”
In the early years, catalogs were a key market for the company, which changed its name to Cadence Keen Innovations, doing business as CKI Solutions, in 2001 when Montross moved the company to its current headquarters in West Palm Beach, Florida. Over the years, it expanded its distribution to include a mix of hospitality and cruise line customers and then, most recently, furniture and bedding retailers. The company debuted its newest bedding accessories line to retailers at the Winter Las Vegas Market in January 2018.
“We had an excellent market and opened up a number of new accounts in the U.S. and other countries as a result of our showing,” Montross says, adding that she opted not to exhibit in Las Vegas this year to focus her attention on product development.
“We will definitely go back again when we have new items to show,” she says.
From hotels to homes
Today, CKI Solutions’ line includes the original product, now called the Easy King bed doubler, the Bed MadeEZ bed-making kit, the EZ3 Knight Mattress encasement, the Sleep Defender pillow protector and sleeper sofa encasement, the Dream Line mattress topper, and the Sleep Supreme mattress protector.
The Bed MadeEZ, a pair of sturdy, recyclable bed-making tools that separate, lift and hold a mattress for easier bed making, originally was developed for the hospitality industry, but also has proven to be a big hit with consumers, according to Montross. “Why should hotel staff be the only ones benefitting from this helpful tool?” she asks. “Homeowners need it, too.”
The ergonomic tool lifts and holds even the heaviest mattress, is made in the United States and comes with a lifetime warranty. “Many consumers find the weight of today’s mattresses makes it challenging to effectively make the bed,” Montross says. “In fact, the process often can cause back and shoulder pain.”
California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health adopted new workplace safety regulations last year to protect housekeepers in the hospitality sector from injury by requiring the use of a bed-making tool.
In addition to these core products, CKI Solutions is rolling out several new items. They include Pure Poly, a new version of the Sleep Supreme mattress protector with a stylish double-knit top; the industry’s first zip-on, zip-off interchangeable encasement for hotel use; and the ComforZip pillow, a fully adjustable pillow filled with cluster fiber.
“By unzipping the sides, you can adjust the ComforZip pillow’s firmness and comfort levels to whatever feeling is best for you,” says Steven Gordon, president and head of sales. “It’s a great pillow for guests, and the filling won’t lump up when you wash it.” Prior to joining CKI Solutions, Gordon was the key designer and national sales manager for Melannco, a family-owned business known for its photo albums.
CKI Solutions offers other products, including the Lock-N dissolvable laundry bag, that are tailored to the cruise and hospitality sectors. Designed to break down and vanish in hot water, Lock-N bags provide a safe, easy way to handle and wash soiled, contaminated or infectious linens and clothing without touching them.
“I’m an inventor, so I’m always looking for new ways to solve problems and make things better and easier,” Montross says about the range of products she and her team have developed. “It’s a passion I’ve had ever since I was young.”
An entrepreneurial spirit
Educated at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, Montross started her career at Popejoy & Fischel, an ad agency in Dallas. She managed the firm’s business development for five years, then launched her own visual communications company called Visual Talk, where she taught businesses how to effectively use PowerPoint and other multimedia tools. After three years, the idea for the original Twin Doubler emerged, and Montross launched her current company.
“Having always had an entrepreneurial spirit, it has been exciting and challenging to gain an understanding of the needs of our hospitality and retail customers, as well as the many different manufacturing processes and materials that go into the products I have developed,” says Montross, named by Hotel Management magazine as one the most “influential women in hospitality” for 2018. “Some of the patents I hold have not yet been introduced to the market. I also love working with other inventors to help them succeed in the marketplace.”
For Montross, the key to success in all of the markets her company serves is education.
“The stores that have done the best with our products are the ones that take the time to educate their salespeople about the role accessories play in creating a quality sleep experience,” Montross says. “Take the Bed MadeEZ kit: Millennials don’t care about making their beds, but they do care about allergens and health. If a salesperson can help a shopper understand that connection — that our kit makes it much easier to make your bed and change your sheets, which in turn reduces the strain on your back and enables you to keep the bed fresher — they have a very good chance of making a sale.”
Similarly, Montross says, when a retailer puts a point-of-purchase card showing the benefits of the Easy King bed doubler on a pop-up trundle bed, that simple promotion often ends up leading to increased sales of both the trundle bed and the accessory. “The consumer sees right away that the bed can serve a double purpose beyond just being a trundle for their kids,” she says.
In the past few years, CKI Solutions has been working hard to increase its sales reach in the retail home furnishings and bedding segments. In addition to showing at the Vegas market, the company is on the lookout for new sales representatives to service the retail channel, as well as companies seeking a new source for quality mattress and box-spring encasements.
“We’re looking for skilled reps who understand the needs of bed manufacturers and retailers and the role our accessories can play in improving the sleep experience,” Montross says. “We want to increase our reach with sleep shops and other stores that do well with accessories that add value to the bed purchase.”
The way CKI Solutions’ products are shown in a store varies greatly from location to location. In some cases, the company’s protectors and other accessories are spotlighted on a special display rack in a high-visibility area; in other locations, its products may not be on the floor at all.
“Every store is different,” Montross says. “Some stores use posters or other POP to promote the line instead of actually showing products.”
One leading furniture chain, for example, doesn’t have the Easy King bed doubler on display, but will introduce the product as an option to customers buying pop-up trundle beds for their kids or two twin beds for a condo. “They’ll point out how easy it is to transform those beds into a king if a king bed itself isn’t going to fit in their space,” she says.
In some cases, CKI Solutions’ products are given away by stores rather than sold. “If an older couple is concerned about their ability to lift up a new premium mattress because of its weight, a store may give them one of our bed-making kits for free,” Montross says. “They save a $5,000 sale and they also solve a potential problem for the customer.”
Network of trusted sources
In sourcing its products, CKI Solutions relies on a tight network of trusted third-party producers with expertise that matches the particular product being made. For its Bed MadeEZ tool, for example, CKI relies on Nylacarb Injection Molding of Vero Beach, Florida, a leading injection molding company.
The International Sleep Products Association’s biennial EXPO has proven to be a particularly important venue for identifying new manufacturing partners. “If I have an idea for a new fabric application, we’ll shop the ISPA EXPO to see which textile companies might be in a position to help,” she says. “One thing we love about the bedding industry is how friendly and interconnected everyone is despite being fierce competitors.”
With all the products it sells, CKI Solutions aims to ship orders within 24 to 48 hours. Several of its partner factories warehouse CKI’s products on-site for immediate fulfillment, and the company has its own warehouse in Charleston, South Carolina, where it maintains stock of everything in its line.
“If a cruise ship or hotel needs a custom size, that might take a little longer to ship, but in most cases, all orders are arriving soon after they are placed,” Montross says.
While hospitality remains the biggest part of CKI Solutions’ business, Montross sees strong potential for its products in the retail channel, both domestically and internationally. The fact that the company’s products are “battle tested” through rigorous, daily use by hotels and cruise ships gives prospective retailers and consumers confidence about their durability and utility.
“A number of stores reached out to us after our showing in Las Vegas,” Montross says. “We’re selling a lot of our products to stores in Taiwan, Australia and the United Kingdom, as well as a number of other markets, such as India.” In the United States, brick-and-mortar and e-tail customers include Comfort House, City Mattress, Jordan’s Furniture and the Sleep Shop.
CKI Solutions’ bed doublers and other products also “can be found in some of the most famous hotels and cruise ships in the world,” Montross says. Those customers include Badrutt’s Palace and Little Dix Bay, both run by Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, plus Disney Cruise Line, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, HEI Hotels & Resorts, Holland America Line, Interstate Hotels & Resorts, Loews Hotels, Seabourn Cruise Line, and W Hotels.
CKI Solutions also has a new partnership with Malmo, Sweden-based Hilding Anders, a group of 26 bedding brands, operating primarily in the Asian, European and Russian markets. In the United States, CKI Solutions markets one of Hilding Anders’ bed frames in collaboration with Biscayne Bedding in Hialeah, Florida. In turn, Hilding Anders sells some of CKI Solutions’ products to its retail and hospitality customers in Europe and Asia.
Keeping up with growth
With the addition of Bryan Costello as operations manager in 2018, CKI Solutions’ ability to expand its business into new markets has increased substantially. Costello’s broad role at the company includes oversight of worldwide logistics and inventory analysis, as well as vendor management and negotiations.
In addition to helping CKI Solutions keep up with its double-digit revenue growth in recent years, the company needed “someone with international logistics (experience) to serve the 70 countries CKI Solutions does business with,” Gordon says.
While some of CKI Solutions’ products can be found on Amazon, the company isn’t pursuing direct-to-consumer sales on its own and has no plans to do so.
“We want to protect our retailers, not compete with them,” Montross says. “Besides, we feel very strongly that demonstrating our products is the best way to sell them.”
To support retailers’ in-store education efforts, CKI Solutions has created a series of short product videos available via its website and on YouTube. The videos provide a quick overview of each product, highlighting key features and benefits in a way that “both entertains and informs,” Montross says.