“We Live And Breathe Mattresses”: Brooklyn Bedding Perseveres
The family-owned company builds its mattresses in a massive southwestern facility.
Brooklyn Bedding might sound like a local company, but its origin story is anything but. One of the brothers behind Phoenix-based outfit traveled halfway around the globe, first to see factories, and then to buy a machine. The goal of these travels was to manufacture mattresses at home, and to be the bedroom equivalent of an L.L. Bean snow boot. The 25-year old company isn’t afraid to adopt new platforms to promote branded videos. The company has history: family ties, global competition and literally defacing foreign imports to understand their design. Quiddity spoke with Brooklyn Beddings’ CEO John Merwin about bed-in-a-box’s rising popularity, a trip to China, and quality control.
How does your company’s heritage help you build trust with your consumers?
We’re not a one- or two- or three-year-old e-commerce company. We've been in the space, the industry, for 25 years now. We have a factory and actually build our own mattresses. We live and breathe mattresses, so the quality sets us apart from some of our competitors.
If you claimed one other brand as an ancestor, which would it be?
I’m a big fan of LL Bean. It's well over 100 years old, started in a garage. It's still privately held. The family still owns it. The quality and value or their product is phenomenal. That’s something we strive for.
How do consumers generally learn more about your brand’s heritage?
Our website and our employees at brick and mortar retail stores. Most of our employees have been with us for well over 10 years, and then just word-of-mouth referrals.
Have you recently connected your history to any sort of contemporary trend?
The acceptance of the bed-in-a-box. There used to be surveys out there, where people would say buying a mattress is worse than buying a car because of the high-pressure, in-store salesmen. There’s now acceptance of people willing to purchase a product online.
How recently did you make that shift, and were there any turning points that indicated to you that this was a promising direction for Brooklyn Bedding?
It was probably 2008-2009. My wife was an early e-commerce shopper. By 2009, she just did not step foot in a store. One night, she said, “Why aren't you selling any beds online?” I explained to her that they are really big, and they're hard to ship. I think she was on Overstock or something like that and said, “look, they have mattresses for sale.”
The bed-in-a-box started coming in from China, and so I started to pay attention to it a little bit more. I flew to China and bought a couple containers of mattress in a box and bought them in and eventually tried to sell them online.
I didn't want to be an importer. I had already invested heavily in the equipment. Deep-down, I’ve always wanted to make my own product.
Eventually, I got to a point where I wanted to do it myself. I took a trip overseas to Italy and found a machine that would compress the mattresses and put them in a box. It was about $135K. We just took a leap and bought the machine hoping that people would buy the product if we put it online. Once we got the machine, we launched the product on Amazon. After a couple months, we finally sold one. The next day, we sold another one. Then a couple reviews came in. It just kind of snowballed from there.
That's fascinating. Could you tell me more about the trip to China?
I bought a couple beds online [from China], and opened a box in our factory and would tear them apart, to try to figure out how they were doing it. They were very, very, very expensive. At the time, we were small so we didn't have a lot of buying power with our vendors. I would bring my vendors in and show them, tear the bed apart to say, “Here it is. Here’s what I paid for. I can barely build a bed for that price. What are you guys going to do about that?” I kind of got stonewalled right there, and they just said, “There’s not much we can do.”
So I decided I’d go to China. I called around and found a gentleman who was heading up, bringing these mattresses in. I told him, “I want to go to China and see what it's all about and possibly buy some mattresses.” He took me to three or four different Chinese factories. I did buy three or four mattress. Once I bought those mattresses in, my vendors came back in, saw I was purchasing Chinese mattresses, and the prices got a little bit better.
I didn't want to be an importer. I had already invested heavily in the equipment. Deep-down, I’ve always wanted to make my own product. I didn’t really have a choice in that moment. Once I brought that stuff in, the vendors started loosening up a bit and shuffling pricing. When you're importing, you'll sell through one side—it's an inventory nightmare. It was hard to manage.
The trip to China was awesome. We toured a bunch of different factories. They were very basic, and they have a lot of inexpensive labor. To compress a mattress, you need three our four guys. It was interesting to go over there and see the way that they were doing it. If we fast forward to today from when we first started online, today we have a state of the art 150,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, and we do all the manufacturing in Phoenix.
Why was manufacturing domestically important to you?
I could control so many different things. I can control my quality. To a certain extent, I can try to control my cost. I had employees. If I were just to become an importer and have someone else building our product, I lose a lot of control over everything.
Which social media platform, if any, are you focusing on to share your company’s story?
Our brand video is shared across multiple social media platforms: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. That's really what we've been focusing on. It's approaching two million views now.
What one detail of your founding story has resonated most with consumers?
Perseverance, probably. We faced a lot of adversity and a lot of disruption. So we've had to be creative in how we approach it, and the whole time keep our customers’ needs at the top of our focus.
What other consumer trends have influenced your company?
Just the consumer’s acceptance. That just continues to grow. We started selling mattresses online in a box six years ago, and there was kind of a stigma towards it being a lower-end product, not equivalent to a higher-end tempurpedic. Fast-forward to today, and now you do have consumers out there who are writing questions on our chat, and they’re looking at higher price tickets, and they are comparing us to a top-of-the-line tempurpedic. Because we're direct to consumer, we feel like we can put out such a great value. We are cutting out a middle man. The key is acceptance.
Interested in learning more about Brooklyn Bedding? For more information check out their website.
Writer & journalist based in NY.