Saturday, May 18, 2024

NC trend: Bedded down

At least a dozen different companies sell mattresses online, but Christy Durbin’s Staya Sleep offers a customized mattress made possible through ties with N.C. furniture makers. She is pictured with her product at a pop-up shop in December.


By Rebecca Logan

Christy Durbin can credit lack of sleep for her current business venture. Like many, the Charlotte woman was  waking up in the middle of the night, blaming her mattress. Like many, she had settled on a mattress that compromised between her sleep preference and her husband’s. And like many, she is not a fan of mattress shopping.

But unlike most, the former executive at digital-marketing company Red Ventures has an MBA from Harvard and experience managing her own companies. Enter Staya Sleep, the company Durbin founded last year. Staya Sleep promises luxury mattresses that can be customized and delivered to doorsteps in boxes.

The company is among more than a dozen that have popped up across the country to compete in the bed-in-a-box market cracking the $14 billion traditional U.S. mattress industry. In 2014, New York-based online retailer Casper cut through the dozens of styles, dizzying discounts and high-pressure salespeople with its one-sleep-fits-all mattress that arrived on doorsteps in a box about the size of a dorm fridge. Last year, Casper reported $200 million in revenue. Still don’t understand the mattress-in-a-box craze? Watch one of the countless viral “unboxing” videos on YouTube as mattresses unfurl and expand in dramatic fashion.

“Everybody sleeps,” Durbin says. “There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the space. And there’s opportunity now — with compression — to bypass that middleman.”

Staya Sleep mattresses are made of individually wrapped steel microcoils combined with layers of foam. They are sealed in plastic, compressed, folded and rolled into boxes. A queen mattress is about $1,000, roughly the same as Casper’s. Both offer free shipping, 100-night guarantees and free returns. The difference is Durbin’s collaboration with North Carolina’s storied furniture manufacturers, though she declines to name names, and Staya Sleep’s universal or customized options. There’s no extra charge for customization, which involves entering left- and right-side height and weight ranges as well as preferences for soft, medium or firm mattresses.

Traditional mattress manufacturers who have long relied on brick-and-mortar stores downplay the potential of the mattress-in-a-box. But they aren’t ignoring it. Lexington, Ky.-based Tempur Sealy International Inc. last spring launched Cocoon, its bed-in-a-box contender. “We view bed-in-a-box online as a niche market in a relatively small segment of the broader industry,” CFO Barry Hytinen said during a recent earnings call even while noting that Cocoon sales are ramping up in the U.S. and expanding into Europe. “The vast majority of consumers continue to prefer testing beds in store and buying from retailers.”

Mattresses, like cars, once seemed internet-proof, but younger consumers seem to be shaking up such notions. While millennials are getting much of the mattress-in-a-box press, Durbin says she’s been surprised by how well the idea has been embraced by affluent shoppers in their 50s. “When I was starting out in business, it was all about skimping on sleep. How do you do more with less?” she says. Now, “We’re selling sleep. And sleep is in.”

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