Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.
Mike Gettis and Ari Herberman know that mattresses lack the cool factor of an iPhone. They understand that even though we spend the same amount of time on our phones as we do in bed, no one is lining up to steal a peek at the latest technology behind springs and padding.
A mattress is "not going to be on your Christmas list or something you get for your birthday," says Mr. Herberman, the former director of business development at Groupon Inc. "But what we're trying to do is actually make it that."
He's referring to Endy Sleep, the Toronto-based e-commerce startup he launched in March with Mr. Gettis, an engineer and co-founder of the online retail-concept developer Overbrands, with a little help from Calgary-born entrepreneur and investor Rajen Ruparell.
The concept is simple. Buy Endy's high-quality memory foam mattress online and the company will deliver it from its Toronto distribution centre to anywhere in Canada and the United States.
On the one hand, the lack of showrooms and sales staff keeps prices low. While a Tempur-Pedic memory-foam mattress might retail for $3,000 in-store, Endy's range from $650 for a twin to $850 for a king. But the business model pushes the buying process into unfamiliar territory for consumers.
"Mattresses are something people traditionally buy in showrooms. They're used to being able to touch and lie down on it and feel it," Mr. Herberman says.
One way Endy compensates is by offering a 100-night trial period. If consumers are unhappy, the company will arrange to have the mattress picked up free of charge.
While the risk-free trial has proven to be a hook for some – Endy made $500,000 in sales during its first week – the company now needs to find a way to grow beyond the initial buzz and convince consumers that e-commerce is the future of mattress shopping.
Toronto-based Endy offers a 100-night trial period. If consumers are unhappy, they can ship the mattress back free of charge. (Kevin Van Paassen for The Globe and Mail)
"How do we get into the mainstream?" Mr. Gettis asks. "How do we compete with the major retailers doing billions of dollars in business?" The biggest uptake has been the university crowd, where Endy has launched a lengthy marketing campaign, and tech-savvy people ages 25 to 45.
Endy also has competition. Last November, New York-based online mattress retailer Casper started shipping to Canada. The company has a hip celebrity factor – Leonardo DiCaprio and Ashton Kutcher are backers – and offers the same 100-night trial and 10-year warranty.
"We're trying to communicate with the people in the middle of the bell curve, to get to the families and the people with cottages and guest bedrooms," Mr. Gettis says. "[We want to] become a part of the mainstream mattress buying process – instead of just being an outlier."
The Challenge: How can Endy Sleep persuade mattress shoppers to switch from brick and mortar to online?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
Ed Strapagiel, retail and advertising consultant, Toronto
When you order an iPhone you know exactly what you're getting. Mattresses are a different experience. You can't test comfort online.
One of the things they could do is look at the lifestyle stores like Bombay or Indigo that don't carry furniture or mattresses right now and see if they could get some floor space to do a pop-up shop, and invite people to lie down on an Endy bed. They can transact everything else online. Or go to a shopping mall and set up a couple of these Endys and really expose the product to a lot of people.
Salma Karray, assistant professor of marketing, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Oshawa, Ont.
Sure, they don't have the hefty price of the mattress stores, but if it's just about price, you'll find cheaper mattresses at Walmart.ca or Costco.ca, and they already have really good brand equity.
I think what they need to do is really define what value they offer consumers – is it about the price? Is it about organic materials? Is it about the quality of the product? The edginess of the product? Is it a social value they offer? They mentioned that they donate proceeds to fight malaria, but what is it exactly that makes them different for consumers?
From visiting the website I don't see a clear value definition for this company, and I think a little bit of work on their marketing would help them define who the group of consumers is they want to target.
Harley Finkelstein, chief platform officer of the e-commerce platform and point-of-sales developer Shopify, Toronto
I think there's an opportunity to not only sell one single mattress but to use big data, Instagram accounts and Twitter feeds.
Instead of waiting for me as a customer to come back to them in five years or 10 years and say we need a new mattress because ours is worn out, maybe Endy could proactively come back to me and say, "Did you know that at this point given an eight-hour sleep cycle on average you've slept on the mattress 1,200 hours, and perhaps it's time to get a new mattress?" It's almost like creating a smart mattress.
Or maybe there's a subscription service, where I pay some money over time and every four years I get a brand new mattress from them and lock in at a certain price.
I think that's the type of experience you're never going to get at any of the big box stores – now it's a personal thing.
THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW
Open a pop-up shop
Partner with a big-box lifestyle brand to set up a unique trial station.
Fine-tune the website
Rather than give as much information as possible on the website, clean it up to focus on their value proposition.
Personalize the product
Use social media and subscription services to turn one-time shoppers into loyal ambassadors.
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Special to The Globe and Mail
Interviews have been edited and condensed.
An earlier digital version of this story incorrectly stated the shipping origin for the mattresses.