When a popular trend is dominating your category, it might seem like your only choice is to follow suit. But you can also double down on what makes you different and serve a smaller segment of your market better than the competition.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll hear from Mike Schaefer and Louis Hess who bought a mattress company that was founded in the 1980s and tripled its revenue while going against the mattress-in-a-box trend.
Soaring Heart handcrafts exquisite organic mattresses and bedding from only the finest materials.
There’s a place for those and they’ve really made the mattress industry more efficient for folks who don’t need to buy organic and custom. I don’t aspire to have a product for everybody in the country, but for people who really care.
Tune in to learn
- The role of your website when driving customers that are ready to buy to physical stores
- What questions your salespeople and customer service reps should be asking
- How to train salespeople when you have highly educated customers
- Store: Soaring Heart
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Product Review (Shopify app), Tidio (Shopify app)
Felix: Today we’re joined by Mike and Louis from Soaring Heart. Soaring Heart handcrafts exquisite organic mattresses and bedding from only the finest materials and was started originally in 1982 and based out of Seattle. Welcome, Mike and Louis.
Louis: Hi, thanks for having us.
Felix: Yeah, so tell us more about your roles at the company.
Mike: So I’m Mike Schaefer. I’m the owner of the company and I bought the company from its founders in 2011 and I’ve got a really strong commitment to handmade products as well as organic and environmentally sustainable footprint for all aspects of our business. So that’s just kind of where we are today and we’re 8 years into and we’ve got all kinds of stories to share in the next umpteen minutes that we’ve got together.
Louis: And my name is Louis Hess. I’m the director of sales and marketing here at Soaring Heart. So just oversee all our sales channels and make sure people are getting what they ordered quickly.
Felix: Awesome. So, Mike, you mentioned that you have a passion for handmade products and organic products. Have you started businesses in the past? What’s your background before you came into purchasing Soaring Heart?
Mike: Well you know it’s kind of funny. I was a regular Shopify story. I was a technology guy before I started deciding to get into retail. I got into retail and I just didn’t like a lot of things like my eCommerce platforms so I was really happy that you guys were just around, well by 2011 you had tools that we could use and we jumped on board right away.
Mike: So I have a manufacturing facility, right? We have seamstresses and bed builders and delivery guys. We have two brick and mortar stores in the Seattle area, and then we have the web channel. So we have lots of different kinds of things going and obviously, we want to talk about the web channel and everything we do online with Shopify. But, as I say, my background was really in technology and trying to find great ways to shop online.
Felix: Got it. So what made this purchase, this acquisition attractive to you? What did you see about Soaring Heart that made you realize that you wanted to buy the business back in 2011?
Mike: Great products. I mean, really, that’s what it’s all about. You gotta be in business with something you really like to sell, that you … we had what? 30 years of great customer testimonials and a wonderful reputation in the market. So the brand was already out there. The reputation was already out there. My feeling was just it needed a stronger marketing message and a bigger market. More people could benefit from our product if they just knew about us and knew how to buy it, so there you go.
Felix: Yeah, that’s a good point where a lot of people when they look at acquiring a company, acquiring a business … maybe not an actual company with assets and the retail location, but just maybe a smaller eCommerce brand, they are thinking about what kind of value can I add myself that will justify the purchase and actually increase the value of the business? So when you looked at Soaring Heart, how confident were you? I guess maybe a better question is what made you confident that you had the pieces to take it to the next level?
Mike: Well, there’s just a variety of things. I mean, do you have all the legs of the table? And lots of times you don’t. But you need to have great products. You need to have great salespeople. You need to have a great branded marketing. I think all of those things kind of float. Some days you’re really strong on your sales team, sometimes you’re hiring new people and you’re much stronger on the message.
Louis: I’d like to jump in here, too. I think what Mike really brought to the company is he has an outstanding vision around that organic message, the handmade message, and just really committed to defining the company along those lines, and just does a great job of driving the vision towards the future of making sure that we’re always goal oriented and trying to be better, make things better, you know to find the finest material. He literally scours the globe, you know traveling-
Mike: I like to travel.
Louis: Looking for a new supplier, and so I think that that’s just something that’s probably too close that he might not even see ’cause it’s just part of him to be driven and vision-oriented so-
Mike: And I think that’s a good clarification too, Louis. You’ve gotta have a product that you believe is valuable in the market. And the mattress industry, not that I ever expected it to be so disrupted in the last few years but there’s a lot of venture capital investment in our industry to try to change the way consumers shop for mattresses. There was no such thing as the online bed-in-a-box. There was no such thing as all these startup companies. Even in 2011, it’s all been happening really in the last 3 to 5 years, at most.
Mike: So a lot of disruption and I think it’s really helped us stay focused on handmade, organic, certified organic, trusted environmentally sustainable products, which a lot of these all polyester, all bed-in-a-box, packed in China and shipped over here … hey, there’s a market for that. That’s clear, but we are not competing in that market. We are sticking to our vision, we’re sticking to our guns and I don’t want to have 100 mattress stores on every street corner in every city. I really just want us to have the best product that we can build. And that’s a different kind of vision than a lot of people that jump into competitive online spaces like this.
Felix: Right, like you mentioned you guys were already in the game. The business was started in 1982 so you guys were already well into the game of selling mattresses before the disruption started happening. What was your reaction at that time? One day when Casper started coming out and marketing heavily, a lot of venture capital came into the space. What did you guys foresee at that time?
Mike: Part of me had to just kind of step back and laugh kind of going “Really? These guys are raising …” you know I think the first round of venture capital for Casper was like 9 million dollars. The industry was all abuzz that they basically had one product and they were gonna spend that 9 million dollar on advertising. And I thought “My God, we’ve been in business 30 years. There is no way I’m ever gonna have a 9 million dollar advertising budget and that I’m not gonna go get a budget, investors … ” You know, I think we have 500 different products on our website. Maybe that’s a problem. Maybe we should only have 2 or 3, but just wow. If you guys think you can come in here with one product and all this money and … and they are. They’re making money left and right. But they’re also suing each other.
Mike: I think the lawsuits started in 2016 where you know, “you’re faking your testimonials, you’re stealing my market share, you’re saying bad things about our product,” and I’m just like “My God. It’s all the lawyers and the bankers that are in here and …” You know, anybody can buy any kind of bed they want, but I truly believe there’s a huge, huge benefit to great sleep by buying a product that people build with care. And you just don’t see that in the marketplace. And you certainly don’t see it in this megastore, mega brands, that are all about marketing pizzazz.
Mike: So I’m really happy we got 2 people that build beds, I got 3 people that sew, you know? We are not trying to have 100 people in the back room cranking out beds with big machines, ya know? I kind of laugh, but I think a machine as a sewing machine, ya know? So we’re not a business model that a lot of people understand.
Louis: And I think from a marketing perspective for Soaring Heart, it’s hard to ignore the major bed-in-a-box brands and those online to customer beds, but I think the key that I always end up focusing on is that by offering multiple products like we do, and we truly believe that people need a customized sleep system, and that sleep is important and that it’s something that you should think hard about, and that you should invest in the good materials. Whereas a lot of those bed-in-a-box models are the opposite message that sleep isn’t important, everybody’s the same. Here’s the one bed that everyone can sleep on and yeah, I think we’re just kind of at odds with that message, that we want people to be comfortable and get something just for them.
Felix: Right, so at the time you purchased, when the Soaring Heart acquisition happened, was there already online presence? What was the work that was put into building the eCommerce side of the business?
Mike: Alright so I’m gonna age myself because I’m gonna presume a lot of your audience was around in 1998 when we opened our first website and remembers what it was like to even pretend to do online shopping in 1998. When we opened our first website and I have lots of funny stories that I got from the old owners and the old staff. I love things like the way back machine where you can go back and look at old websites. But it’s one thing, in those days it was more just getting out information about your store so that people could read online. And we didn’t even start trying to sell anything online until 2 years later, like the year 2000. In that time, and I’m just trying to remember what Visa card security was like, and how you’re processing sales online. I mean, my God, the kinds of things that could’ve gone wrong, but it’s probably good we were small and not doing a lot of business online in those days, right?
Mike: So, until you guys came along and offered us a solution that we could afford that gave us more functionality than we even dreamed about trying to find and leverage on our own. We didn’t really have a lot of tools to support our customers. And then once you guys started offering tools that we could just give a better shopping experience to, our web sales changed dramatically. Now maybe you can say that it isn’t all tools, it was also consumers jumping in and feeling a lot more comfortable buying items online, but for a lot of businesses in those days, really the website was just a tool to get people into your store. And I think really we were pretty committed. Our mattresses have always been foldable, they always have fitted in a box, we’ve never had to worry about these giant square un-foldable mattresses showing up on somebody’s door.
Mike: So we were maybe particularly suited to an online shopping experience better than we knew until these other guys started showing up and saying “Wow look how cool it is to ship a bed in a box?” We thought “Well, God, we’ve been doing that for years. We’re just maybe a little slow. We didn’t think about getting a million dollars to advertise that. We just didn’t know any other way to ship the mattress.”
Felix: So speaking of that. Speaking of selling online, or being the website is for information or for sales, what about today? Are most of the sales coming from the physical retail or is it shifted over to eCommerce these days?
Mike: We’re still…like I said, we have 2 stores and the website so our … I’d say a third of our business is the website, but the stores…I mean, we really love people to lie in our beds and try it. And it’s not like we…yeah, we have 4 or 5 standard versions, but we custom build beds. We build to what you want. So it’s better. We love it when people have the opportunity to come in and tell us about what part of the bed needs to be softer, or what kind of chemical sensitivities they have. That pushes us to build the best we can and lots of places can’t do that custom work.
Felix: So two-thirds of the business then is in physical retail. How does that customer journey begin? Do most of them just walk into the store or most of them will do their research, find you guys online, read more about you online, then come to the store?
Louis: Yeah, absolutely. Most of the time when people find their way here, they’ve spent a lot of time on the website. They’re very well educated. They’ve already bought into the vision and the ethic and that’s why it’s hard for us to quantify web sales a lot of the time because the website is a great starting point but every couple weeks we have someone flying in from either LA or Boston or somewhere that wants to buy our bed and just wants to come try it out and it’s a good excuse to come to our beautiful city. So, you know, a lot of things happen over the phone, too, while we’re both working the website in tandem. So it’s a critical tool to the business. Just not every conversion takes place in our shopping cart ’cause there’s … a lot of people just want a little more information and want to connect with-
Mike: Yeah, I mean I would say we really study those online analytics. One of the things I noticed even when I bought the company way back in 2011. Our customers, our shoppers, spend a lot of time on our website reading the text. We’re a text heavy website. But you know, if you’re shopping organic, you really want to understand what organic means in our industry and why our certified organic products are certified. What does that mean? And it’s not an easy thing to explain to someone who cares. And someone who cares wants to read the details. They want to see our certificates. They want to look at the certification websites and so there’s just a lot more, I don’t know what to call it, stickiness or curiosity so our customers, my God they can run circles around us with the kinds of questions they have, but we love it. You know an educated consumer is just the best thing.
Mike: So yeah, we have people … I think the average is still when somebody comes to our website they’re there for 10 minutes. And we know where they are in the website and what they’re looking at and a lot of it is that organic information.
Felix: [crosstalk] Yeah that’s-
Mike: Pictures count. Don’t get me wrong. We love our lovely pictures. Pictures bring people in but then they want the details.
Felix: Right, so how do you know what kind of information, what kind of education you should be giving to your customers? How did you guys learn about what kind of content to produce?
Louis: I think the customers led the way on that. Spending a lot of time on the phone and hearing the same category of questions, often times it just makes it really easy. Like obviously that’s not clear enough and keep moving things around until hopefully, it’s clear what everything means. Like Mike said, what do our certifications mean? Why do we hold the GOTS and GOLS certifications as opposed to others that are out there? Where our materials come from, how they’re processed. It’s all about the-
Mike: Yeah, I mean, I have to laugh because I come at it as the owner from the supplier’s perspective, and I get to meet our producers. So if you meet sheep ranchers who produce organic wool, these are special people. They are not just ranching sheep because they love their sheep. Of course, they love their sheep but they’re feeding them premium feeds, they’re worrying about the kinds of chemicals and disinfectants and cleansers that they use. They’re really focused on different options to maintain the health of their herd. And they love it when they find a buyer like me who cares about the extra steps they make, so they’re not making money off the wool. You know, that’s the sad part about this.
Mike: So when I go buy organic wool, I learn a lot about the process that maybe every shopper doesn’t want to hear about. I mean I could write and write and write, but you know, it’s not like I wanna put 20 pages of information about this year’s wool buy. But I could. So Louis and the sales team, they get me to back off and say “Hey listen, people really want to know about comfort. It’s nice to have a picture of a cute sheep and all this stuff, but we’re really talking about comfort.” So, you know not overwhelming people with information is part of the process.
Felix: What are some things that’s surprise you? From both sides, what are some things that maybe you didn’t expect the customer to care about then once you put in that kind of content, that kind of information everyone was super excited or became very helpful in the sales process? Do you have any example of any kind of content like that?
Mike: For me, I think one of the surprising things that I’ve learned in the last few years, and I knew it from my personal experience as well. People have just horrible sleep experiences. And I think just having folks like our sales team listen to the kinds of challenges people have with their sleep and talk about how our … we’re not doctors. We can’t solve people’s medical problems, but we can certainly understand what’s the difference between a mattress that’s too soft or off-guesses. You know there are mattresses that you buy from bed-in-a-box stores that you open them up and they say “Let this air out for 2 or 3 days before you sleep on it.” And I’m like, “How do you know that 3 days is enough? Should it be four?” This is just … I wouldn’t put my kids on something that you were told not to sleep on for 3 days ever.
Mike: So I’m fortunate that I have lots of customers that feel the same way, right? So that kind of information is something I didn’t expect was gonna be so compelling to the consumer. But there is just a tidal wave of bad sleep hygiene. The need to teach people about how to turn off the computer, get rid of the blue light in your house, have time for your kids to decompress. ’Cause otherwise we’re all just gonna be bouncing off the walls the rest of our life anyhow. So trying to talk about great sleep is just another thing that we probably could do more of but that’s what we talk about with people when they come in to shop.
Felix: So your education is not just around the particular product, but just, in general, their problem. Your product is a part in the solution.
Louis: Yeah and I think something that was surprising for me to see is like when we started writing some blogs that were based off of the frequently asked questions like “How long they get traction for.” Like we wrote one that’s called “What is a Shikibuton Anyway?” ’Cause it’s a thin Japanese-style mattress that we make and sell here that people are very curious about and to this day, it always pops up in the top because people are curious about those things and want to learn more and it’s just like “Oh wow, yeah, there’s a lot of people out there that one question probably represents 100 people scratching their head wondering the same thing,” so …
Mike: Yeah, people just don’t realize how much polyester fabrics or plastic fillers are used in our household products. And so, where does some of this plastic stuff from polyester fabric come from? A lot of it yeah might be recycled carpet or something like that but I don’t want recycled carpet in my mattress. So we benefit from pretty much every mattress we sell. We pick one up and take it to a recycling place and there’s times I’ll watch ’em tear those mattresses apart to recycle and go “Oh my God, whoever thought that would be inside of a bed?” Right?
Felix: Yeah. So does that mean, are most of the customers that become your customers, are they the ones that are initially uninformed where you’re kind of the first ones to break the bad news to them or is it the customers that come in and they’re like “Yes, I already know that there’s terrible chemicals in every other mattress out there. That’s the reason I came to you.” What’s the kind of break down between the two? Is there a benefit in spending … especially if you don’t have … let’s say you’re on a budget. Is it worthwhile to invest in customers that don’t know anything yet and your job’s kind of to be the first person to introduce them into the market, essentially?
Louis: Well I think that that’s what the website does a great job of is even if a customer is new to the concept, it provides a good survey of what the mattress landscape looks like in our organic space and most of the time on the sales floor people are educated. They want organic. We have a store in Bellevue, Washington that’s on a street where we get a lot of walk-by people who may not know the story but that’s where our salespeople do a great job of educating them of what’s going on. We definitely don’t try to emphasize negative points. They just … we reinforce why we’re here and why we believe in it and why we think sleep is important and then if people ask us about the bed they sleep on it’s just like “Yeah, well, we know what’s in it and if it’s okay for you that’s alright” but it’s not-
Mike: I mean I get what is comfortable sleep? One of the biggest challenges in comfortable sleep is heat. People are too hot or too cold. One of the challenges with polyester fabrics is that they reflect heat. So we’ve never used polyester fabrics. Now, did we do it out of thinking it was not gonna reflect heat? No, we did it originally because it’s not organic. But then when we started hearing from our customers that “Wow I sleep so much better because you have breathable fabrics.” And so that ability to have breathable fabrics that wick moisture from your body, it improves the sleep experience.
Mike: So our issues, yeah we might believe in organic, but the driver is caring about comfort and that’s just something you don’t find when you shop at a megastore with people that sell brands that they’ve never been to the factory that they can’t go and talk to the suppliers and understand the difference between an organic fabric and a non organic fabric, and the kinds of fire barriers or chemical fire retardants that so many places use. There’s just a lot of choices that consumers have these days and education helps.
Mike: So I hesitate sometimes to have too much text on the site but I think the navigation tools that Shopify gives us … hey, if somebody doesn’t want to read all the text, click here and go off to the things you do care about. So I’m really thankful that the navigation has improved so much in the last few years and I’m confident you guys are gonna keep making it easier for the shopper so it makes our job a lot easier.
Felix: Right, so you mentioned a blog as a way that you’re able to educate the customers. What other ways on the website do people come in, kind of consume content, and learn more about the products, the problems in the marketplace, and your solution?
Louis: Yeah, we try to have a little bit of everything. We have a little bit of video, imagery, bullet points, infographics, links to other sites, the same information just said differently, worded differently. So, we try to give something for every type of learner. Recently we tried on our homepage catering three different messages for three of our-
Mike: Shopper profiles.
Louis: Shopper profiles, so trying to speak specifically to people with either pain issues, a luxury shopper, or the people who are more into the eco message. So just trying to tailor the message in a way that people will hear it and want to consume it. And we are on the website every day changing little things and moving stuff around to just keep tweaking until we feel like we’ve got something that’s really, really working.
Felix: Yeah, for anyone obviously out there listening can’t see this, definitely recommend checking out their site. I can see you guys breaking it down by what you’re saying about pain allergy relief, people looking for luxury, then, of course, people that are looking for sustainability. So I think that’s really cool that you’re able to represent all of that on the site itself. So when you think about how to put all this together and design the site, how did you know what kind of profiles existed? How did you know what kind of customer profiles you should include and should address on the site?
Louis: A lot of research. I mean, we have had the University of Washington student group do a deep dive into our database to see what they come up with, anecdotal evidence from the sales team, assumptions about the marketplace, and just a lot of round table discussions, and then narrowing down who do we think we should be talking to? So yeah-
Mike: There’s a couple of observations that I think help any entrepreneur with their business and I think one of the challenges of a web-only business if you don’t get to meet people when they’re in your store. And we love it. I mean we don’t want people to come in the store and buy a mattress in a half an hour. We’re trying to say “Hey, spend two hours. Come back two or three times. Lay on a bed. Take a nap.” So we have lots of opportunities to get to know our customer and every single day our staff creates a little sheet with the kinds of answers that we got to questions. How did you hear about us? Why were you shopping today? Good for us, more than half of our customers that come into the store are here because they’ve been here before or they’re referrals from somebody else. Which hurts my ability to feel confident about all the advertising money I spend but that’s a really good thing to have. And just knowing how to reward loyalty, how to get people to tell their friends. That is just great business practice.
Mike: So having the ability to look at the information that we get every day, every week, every month from people that walk in this door, and then compare that with the kind of information that we get off of the shopping experience online. Whether its SEO analysis or looking at where people drop off the website, or what pages they spend more time on. I think by really … I call it listening to the customer but it’s not just listening, you gotta write down the stuff that you learn and then you’ve got to compile that information and hunt for trends. And that is just a constant, constant effort and you know-
Louis: Yeah, and I’d give a shout out to Shopify here on their analytics. They make it real digestible and really easy to look at things and do it quickly and easily and you know the information’s right. And referring websites, and you have links right to the website that was referring traffic and you can take a look and that makes it a lot easier to identify where your customers are coming from.
Felix: Can you say what is the most important metric to you when you are sitting down and making a maybe large marketing decision?
Mike: You know it’s kind of funny. I like to say that in the years that I’ve been doing it I have a process that works and all these great insights. You know, every time we kind of laugh sitting around the table going “Well, alright, we’re doing it on the back of the envelope again” because there’s always changing factors.
Mike: I think the first thing that I always look for is what’s the trend? And so over months, over quarters, over years, what’s happening with the number of hits and the number of conversions? And we’re fortunate. We have lots of hits but you know, like everybody, our conversion rate could be a heck of a lot higher. And so then it’s just kind of a matter of “okay I don’t need to drive more people to find our site.” I mean, we always could do that. But I really need when they’re there to turn them into shoppers or understand are they just looking up our address and coming into the store or what? So, we play around with what could we do to change the conversion rate?
Mike: And I like to think that people aren’t just motivated by sales and discounts but every time I try to do something that’s a less tangible, what I think is more fun, more engaging benefit, the truth is any price discount always seems to drive people’s commitment better than anything else we do. And it’s not like I have a lot of inventory to discount or some reason to give people a deal but it’s like “Okay people like deals.” It gets them to say “This is the month to buy” so we’re gonna come up with deals.
Mike: And you know that’s the kind of messaging that you got to sometimes … the sales team has to knock into my head and say “We need a discount. What are we gonna discount?” I’m like “Okay, I don’t know let’s see what we have.” So we laugh about it but some things I wish we could do different and other things it’s like “Hey that works.” I’m a value shopper myself so why wouldn’t I expect that everybody that comes to our website is a value shopper?
Felix: Yeah, it’s definitely a lot easier to draw people in through the top but it’s turning those visitors into shoppers where the business actually happens so you mentioned deals and discounts being one of the things that you do. Is there anything else? What’s number two? What’s the runner up that seems to drive the most conversions?
Louis: The integration with MailChimp to Shopify works really well. We build that email list every month and being able to send them an informational email just about what’s going on here or interesting events that we’re doing along with later in the month maybe a promotional message or just an educational piece like seasonality, like “Well it’s almost summer maybe we should think about changing our bedding to something lighter or linen sheets” and I think our email list is one of the most valuable marketing assets and the way that we could have the integration to Shopify to have that pop up and people opt into that is just really great.
Mike: Yeah and I think another thing that’s been fundamental for us, I call it customer service but the online shopper these days is just used to fast turnarounds and the best guarantee or return policy that you can imagine. And we really had to scratch our heads and go “What’s the risk involved in guaranteeing a 30-day comfort guarantee or a 90-day return policy” and all this stuff, and the truth is that’s really important to shoppers, because whether it’s shoes or mattresses or jewelry or whatever, everybody expects that “Oh if I opened up the box and I don’t like it I can just send it back tomorrow and it’s not gonna cost me anything.”
Mike: We are really, really fortunate. We have an amazingly low return rate. People who shop organic and shop handmade know that this is just something that we try to ship in 3 days but a lot of times we have to tell people “Listen, it’s gonna take more than two weeks to get this to you because we're gonna build it after you order it.” And people can be patient with that and then when they get it, my God we get beautiful thank you letters and “It was worth waiting for” and all that. But its a different kind of shopping experience and we have to just get people to embrace that sometimes faster isn’t better. Better is better.
Felix: Yeah, I think it’s about expectations, right? Because these type of customers you have, they understand that it’s more of a high touch product, high touch service that’s gonna take time. So what were you doing when you were trying to figure out the calculations for whether you can support this kind of return policy?
Louis: You take a look at the number of returns you’re taking across all channels and what percentage that represents, and then that with shipping both ways on a big mattress is … can be quite a bit. That can eat up all your profit if you have to ship it there and ship it back to just paying attention to the profit margin and the shipping rates and making sure-
Mike: And you know like we were saying, I’m not gonna mention any competitors names, but some of these bed-in-a-box stores, if you have a problem with the mattress they say “Okay we’ll send your money back, would you please donate it to charity or something?” I’m like “Wow I wish I could afford to tell people who are unhappy with our product to donate it to charity.” That’s an admirable thing to do but I can’t afford that. We’re too small of a business, so we really want to make sure that when somebody places an order, they’re getting what they want and they understand that we’re building it to what they’ve asked us to do.
Mike: So I think going that etra mile upfront pays off in customer satisfaction and some of the kind of testimonials that we’ve gotten, right? And so being authentic about it and just letting people know “Hey it really hurts if you don’t like our product. What did we do wrong?” It’s not like “Oh I got a red shirt and I wanted the blue.” For us it’s “Well, why isn’t this comfortable. What disappointed you?” And that’s hopefully a more engaging conversation that brings us closer to the customer and-
Louis: And I think that Mike made the point earlier that we really focus on making a great product which I think is the backbone of our company that it really is a story of making a superior product and that being the driver of your success which is I think important. A lot of other companies are always looking for ways to cut corners or make things cheaper or faster. But just focusing on doing it right and doing it with the best materials results in a higher customer satisfaction rate in the end.
Felix: Right. Yeah, you said to me that working closely with all your suppliers, you are able to know the products and know that they’re being made with the best ingredients that you can find. What does it mean to work closely with a supplier? How do you make sure that you are happy with everything that goes into your product?
Mike: Well for me as the owner, I think the first thing is I visit them. I think this is just kind of one of the perks and things I care about. I’ve been to India. I’ve gone to the certified organic rubber tree plantations where our rubber sap is harvested and I’ve watched it being moved from the tap on the rubber tree to the truck to the processing plant to the mold that it’s cast in and the bag that it’s shipped in, in the container overseas to us. And I know every step of the process and every cleanser or fumigant or whatever else is used in order to get this great product to us.
Mike: And I’ll tell ya, they love … our suppliers love to have people come and visit because most purchasers don’t have the time or the effort. And I kind of laugh because we’re not even, I don’t know, 5 percent of some of these people’s business. And so you look at all of the people that come in and companies that buy and they never have a buyer on site. They never have anyone caring and asking about the processes. So our ability to go that extra mile, these people send us Christmas cards. They send us pictures of their kids. They love the fact that somebody really wants to buy the best product they can make and it keeps ’em on their toes and they’re happy to do it.
Felix: [crosstalk] sorry I was gonna ask so you guys have both products that are custom built and then also ones that are ready to ship as well?
Felix: Got it. What’s the process like for a custom build? If someone places an order, what happens? What’s the next step that happens after that?
Louis: Yeah, so when somebody wants something custom, usually we ask for a template or depending on what the request is, typically it’s just resizing one of our items. So instead of-
Mike: Yeah people with a boat, they want a bed that fits on the curved wall of a boat. We can do that. Or a crib that they’ve … an antique crib that’s been in their family forever and they need a certain size mattress. So we’ll start by what’s the size and the shape and what they’re looking for? They can lay in any of our beds or talk to us about what kind of firmness they want and we pick from our selection of latex’s to build that.
Mike: Everything we build has to pass a fire certification regulations which we do through some amazing organic wool that stops it … it’s a great fire barrier without any chemical sprays or polyester fabrics. So then we just build according to our … I don’t know they’re not secret processes, but our 35-year-old processes that have worked over and over …
Louis: Yeah and the first step is getting the fabric cut for the item. So we take it to the sewing department and we let our lead cutter cuts all the different fabrics, hands it off to our sewing team. They sew the encasements up. It’s then passed off to our bed builder slash assemblers that either stack all the cotton and wool inside there and tuft it by hand or wrap the latex in the wool and get the encasements around the product and put it all in the bag. We write the customer’s name on it and hand it to shipping and off it goes.
Felix: Did you always offer a custom mattress?
Mike: Oh yeah, it’s kind of funny. When the company was started in 1982 it was really more focused on traditional Japanese futons and using traditional handmade processes for making, folding, and restoring beds. All of our mattresses, for example, can be rebuilt at any time. Like if you spill something on it or whatever, we don’t want you sending our mattress to the landfill. We want to rebuild it and send it back to your house to be used for the next 20 years. So we’ve always … everything we build is handmade so when you say “What’s the difference between custom and our normal handmade?” We make a lot of queen-sized beds that are standard queen-sized beds. But if you need something done where it’s firmer on one side or softer on the other or with a different fabric or whatever, we can do all that. So it’s just we’ve been doing it for so many years. We’ve got a great library of how-to manuals that allow us to pretty much feel comfortable doing about anything we get asked for.
Felix: Would you recommend or I guess how would you recommend a business owner to think about whether it is feasible to add these kinds of customizations to their business? What should they be looking at?
Louis: Its capacity-oriented. Obviously custom projects take longer, but I think it’s more attitudinal for me. I just have a really hard time saying no. I want-
Mike: Thank you for that.
Louis: Yeah, we want the customer experience is the end goal. That’s what, no matter what you’re selling or what you’re trying to do, your end result should be an extremely happy customer. So, doing whatever it takes to make sure that you’re going the extra mile and if you know you can do it, then do it. But I know there are some things out there … we do have to say no sometimes and it breaks my heart when people want an item we just can’t make or is just not feasible or they wouldn’t want to pay the price it would cost to produce that item so you know it’s all about making sure that you’re able to do it and do it in a timely manner and just setting expectations. If you say we can definitely do that custom project but it might be 2, 3 months from now …
Mike: I’ll give you another example that’s pertinent in the mattress market these days. Since the bed-in-a-box craze started, the people that manufacture machines to roll pack mattresses … you could take a queen size mattress that’s got a 6 to 8-inch spring in it and put it in a roll pack machine where it gets compacted to less than a foot and a half around and then wow, it goes in a UPS box and off it goes. And those machines cost about 175,000 dollars and you see the people lined up at trade shows of “Wow I just can’t imagine in my business plan. How do I save 175,000 dollars and go get one of these really cool new machines?” That is the last thing I ever want around here. We are never gonna try to get our mattress to be compacted like that. I mean, my God again, you just ruin all the effort that we went through to have a particular type of softness customized for the customer.
Mike: So, you’ve gotta have business goals where you can look at the kind of opportunities that come your way from every salesman on the block and say “Do I really need to invest in that kind of a machine? Do I really aspire to have a company like everybody else has?” And you know why not ask my customer “Hey can you have a bigger box come to your door?” than what you might get out of one of these huge investments in a machine.
Mike: So again, there’s a place for those things and they’ve really made the mattress industry more efficient for folks who don’t need to buy organic and don’t need to buy custom. I don’t aspire to have a product for everybody in the country, but for people who really care, we go that extra mile and that is important to me and it’s a good differentiator for people that shop here.
Felix: Got it. So let’s talk about operations a bit. How large is the team that’s working there today?
Mike: We have 18 employees, about half of them on the sales floor and half of them in manufacturing and shipping.
Felix: When you say that you have 500 products, which is a ton of products, and you have a physical location, people are coming and they’re educated customers coming to talk about the product, how do you train staff to be able to talk about 500 products?
Louis: Well the good news is, is that a lot of the products we carry are ones we make and our inputs are pretty finite. We use organic wool, organic cotton, organic latex, some organic fabrics, and then few other pillow fills like kapok, wool bolus, and buckwheat. So really, it all starts with the material education, like this is what everything is, this is where it comes from, and then the rest of it is “Okay in this particular bed, we stack it this way and tuft it in this way. We put wool felt instead of wool batting so it’s a bit firmer,” and then for our first couple days of sales training here is kind of a dream, pardon the pun. You’ve got to lay on a lot of beds, you gotta test a lot of pillows, you gotta feel a lot of different things and find out what sparks your interest, what feels great for you, so you can speak from experience and …
Mike: Oh and everybody on the sales floor in their week go build a bed, right?
Mike: Hang out next door with our bed builders. I want … we take trip every year to go watch wool and cotton being processed at our organic processor and it’s just like a field trip. So I think a lot of the training … you know, yeah, it’s overwhelming I think the first couple weeks on the job because questions come from our customers that are pretty insightful, but it’s not like we’re fashion where you have 12 different colors of something. Everything here is white. Or really, ivory, right? ’Cause we don’t use any bleaches. But it’s just kind of funny, when it’s all done it might look the same on the outside so it’s all about us talking about the process and the ingredients on the inside.
Felix: Got it. Can you give us an idea of the business growth since the purchase in 2011?
Mike: Yeah, I would like to say we’ve tripled. We’ve certainly more than doubled. I think the organic shopper is really hyperactive these days. People get the value proposition. So we’re really fortunate to have discerning shoppers.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now speaking of when it comes to the eCommerce side of the business, what are some tools that you use either on Shopify or outside …I know you mentioned MailChimp as one. Are there any other apps or tools that you use to run the business?
Louis: Yeah, I mean for Shopify specifically, we’ve used the product review app which has been great to get some reviews on the site. We’re able to offer incentives for customers to leave reviews and you can set the wait times, so after an order is fulfilled wait 45 days then send this email so that’s been pretty great. We have a chat app, Tidio. But that’s been great-
Mike: I love that one because I think more shoppers are text driven these days. They want to chat, they want to … they don’t necessarily want to sit on the phone and talk to you. They want to just ask a question and get an answer.
Louis: Yeah. It's pretty surprising the questions that come through the chat app, sometimes take our sales team back a bit cause it’s like oh wow that seems like “Hey where is my order?” But you don’t see their name or anything anywhere and you’re like “okay, well who are you? I’d love to look that up for you.” So I would have thought it would be more like “Hey where can I find a bedroll on your site?” But the questions get very detailed and I’ve been on there and gone through basically a mirror image of what I go through on the sales floor of walking somebody through each product, telling them what it’s like, giving feedback, and it was like a 30 minute chat session and resulted in them buying a mattress and topper and blankets and all that and it was pretty fun. But yeah, I think that’s the great thing. Any time I have a problem with Shopify, that’s the first place I go is I look for an app that’s gonna solve it and most of the time I can find it.
Mike: I think from my perspective as owner and don’t take this as criticism, you offer us too many choices, so it’s just like okay we’re a small team, how are we gonna prioritize what it is we’re gonna roll out this year, much less the flavor of the month because we’ve gotta pick something, we’ve gotta have some goals in mind, we’ve gotta have a problem to solve, and again, I’m not picking on anything, but part of me, I’m like as owner “Wow look at all the cool shipping apps we could have” and my shippers are like “It’s not that hard. We just put it in a box, put the label on it, and give it to the shipper and off it goes.” And I’m like “Yeah but you could do this and you could do that.” I’m like “Okay, I don’t need a sledgehammer to fix the kind of process improvement opportunities we have” but it really does start with “Okay I’d love to create the opportunity to ”Hey like I love the tools. If we can use the tools let’s use the tools." But the end user is the one that’s gonna use it and validate it and I just gotta have all the legs of the table excited about the kind of things that you guys offer us.
Felix: Awesome. Thank you so much, Mike and Louis. So soaringheart.com is the website. For each of you, what would you say is your stretch goal for 2019?
Louis: Well we’re trying to right now work with … apparently, we’re gonna have to use maybe the theme creators to get it done, but we want to show live inventory on the site, so customers have an idea of what is in stock, what isn’t in stock, so that would be something that we’re-
Mike: My answer’s a lot shorter. I want to double my web sales and I’m gonna have the team do it by better customer service. So that’s my goal. Call me in a year and I’ll tell you how we did, okay?
Felix: Awesome. Will do. Alright, thank you again so much, Mike and Louis.
Louis: Thank you.