The New Mattress Professionals

By Charlie Wells The mattress industry is having its Silicon Valley moment. With flashy marketing and names like Eve and Casper, Leesa and Keetsa, mattress startups are trying to reinvent mattress selling, offering fewer products, simpler pricing—and none of the industry’s traditional holiday-weekend discounts. The new companies say the millions of dollars in venture-capital funding they have attracted are a sign that the established mattress industry is ripe for disruption. And consumers, for better or worse, have even more purchasing options in their pursuit of a good night’s sleep.The startup brands bring together peer-to-peer selling techniques and new media platforms, to turn their customers’ enthusiastic social media posts into cheap but effective viral marketing.“This is basically the Uber of mattresses,” says Brett Hogan, a 29-year-old self-described “early adopter” in Austin, Texas who ordered a mattress online from Leesa, in Virginia Beach, Va., after talking to friends and doing some online research. Mr. Hogan says he discovered he is a “hot sleeper,” and that other memory-foam mattresses tend to trap heat. He was sold on Leesa’s claim that it keeps users cooler at night. He ordered a $990 king-size mattress and a few days later got a “surprisingly small” box delivered to his front door with the mattress stuffed inside. The last thing Mr. Hogan, who works at a human-resources technology startup, and his wife wanted to do was to spend their Saturday or Sunday afternoon in a mattress showroom with an up-selling salesman. Besides, Leesa, like many of the other new brands, offers a 100-night trial period: If customers don’t like the way they sleep, they can return the mattress. Other marketing tactics customers seem to like are the new brands’ simplified websites, social-media marketing that can involve answering people’s questions about products and in some cases, offering to pay customers $50 for each person they refer. And many customers are taking part in a form of social-media promotion—the unboxing video, which in this case shows what happens when someone unboxes a memory-foam mattress and the rolled up foam grows like a shriveled-up sponge hit with water. Scores of videos show people posing with freshly unboxed mattresses from brands like Leesa, Casper, Eve, and Yogabed. A video might include a link to a referral code, so that the video creator can get their $50. “This is the Mary Kay model, digitized,” says Matt Mattox a vice president at The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va. “I’m sure it was a happy accident, but a great byproduct of the way these mattresses are packaged is that they really expand when you open them, and people want to share that experience.” A queen-size mattress from Casper costs $850, shipping included, with a 100-night free trial and a 10-year warranty. Leesa’s comparable queen-size offer costs $890. Both companies allow customers to return their mattresses for a full refund and free pickup during the 100-night trial. Other companies such as Tuft & Needle, Eve, Yogabed, Endy, and Keetsa offer similar products, price-points, and return policies. Mattresses are a lot like men’s suits, says Michael Silverstein, a senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group, who specializes in consumer buying and retail. You can spend a few hundred dollars or a few thousand, but quality won’t rise in lockstep with price. “The market for beds is a very large one, with a high degree of dissatisfaction. With the right marketing, the right product design, and the right set of functional benefits, a startup founder could make a lot of money,” he says. Money is pouring in. In February, Casper said sales exceeded $20 million in its first 10 months of operation, a spokesperson said. Investors in Casper range from established venture-capital firms to actor Leonardo DiCaprio, singer Adam Levine, and hip-hop artist Nas, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Venture Capital Dispatch blog.Mattress sales are growing online, even outside the specialty startup boutiques. Big retailers say this is because consumers are getting comfortable making large purchases online. Now there are so many mattress startups, it is hard for consumers to choose between them. Kylie Ledbetter, a 27-year-old lifestyle blogger from Houston, and her husband had an old mattress they needed to replace, but they felt overwhelmed by all the choices. With the brands’ 100-night return policy in mind, they ordered two twin mattresses—one from Leesa, one from Casper. “What we concluded was that the Casper might possibly be better for people who weigh less, such as myself,” says Ms. Ledbetter. “In comparison, my husband is able to sink further into the Leesa than I am.” Ms. Ledbetter and her husband ended up keeping the mattresses for more than 100 days and so couldn’t return them. But Ms. Ledbetter says she got $250 from Casper for five referrals, and she still receives $50 each time her Leesa mattress code is used, so that her Leesa mattress was effectively free. Another tactic the new mattress brands are using is celebrity endorsements or associations. Pope Francis was expected to sleep on a memory foam relaxed firm queen-sized mattress by West Port, Conn.-based online luxury mattress startup Saatva’s Loom & Leaf division. The pontiff visited the Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary near Philadelphia last weekend, according to Stephen Dolan, the seminary’s chief financial officer. Mr. Dolan said the mattress was donated but declined to comment further and referred questions to the company. Saatva chief executive Ron Rudzin says he is “simply honored and blessed” by the news. Stuart Carlitz, chief executive of Bedding Industries of America, which manufactures Saatva mattresses, says he was approached by representatives from the World Meeting of Families, who asked if he could supply a bed for the Holy Father. The World Meeting of Families is sponsored by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family, and the pope delivered mass at the meeting on Sunday. Mr. Carlitz says he donated the Saatva mattress, which retails for $999.Basketball player Jeremy Lin, model Kylie Jenner, and actor Mario Lopez have shared their excitement over Casper purchases by posting pictures of their recently arrived boxes on Instagram. They received tens of thousands of “likes.” Philip Krim, chief executive of Casper, says these celebrities weren’t paid to post on behalf of the company. Ian and Abby Corry made an unboxing video soon after receiving their Casper mattress in the mail. The Tampa Bay, Fla. couple had just returned an uncomfortable mattress they bought on the cheap from a department store’s Black Friday sale. Mr. Corry, 25, had seen lots of mattress review videos, and figured that as a videographer, he might as well give it a shot to share their experience and help others trying to navigate the new marketplace.The couple’s review of the Casper is almost entirely positive—Mr. Corry says this is in part because he and his wife had such a negative experience with the department store mattress. The couple, as all Casper customers are, was also offered $50 for each person, up to five, that used their Casper referral code to buy a mattress. Now, the video has received over 34,000 views on YouTube and the couple has earned $250. “Casper isn’t paying us to sponsor its product,” said Mr. Corry. “We were just amazed to see the thing go viral.” Write to Charlie Wells at

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