Using screen time to catch some downtime: The digital mattress industry

In 2014, during my annual trip to New York City, I went to see Arianna Huffington give a talk to promote her book Thrive at Columbia University, where she spoke passionately about the importance of sleeping at least seven to eight hours per night. Smiling to myself, I wondered how many of the candidates we’ve placed in the past two decades have really achieved that!

In the two years since then, the relaxation and self-care industries have blown up. Fitbits and Apple Watches track activity by the second, and products such as Bellabeat’s Leaf and a whole myriad of iPhone apps can provide a thorough analysis of our sleeping patterns. The athleisure market has grown nearly eightfold since 2014, now thought to be worth US$270bn globally, and there are now more yoga and barre studios across London than I ever would have expected – with exercise as another core recommendation from the former editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post. Many experts believe that increased ‘screen time’ and the blurring line between work and home life are keeping people from getting enough sleep – which, in some ways, makes the latest trend in the sleep industry particularly interesting.

The new wave of mattress retailers – online pureplay startups – has changed the dynamic of the industry entirely. Once relegated to out-of-town showrooms with prices marked up as high as 500%, the mattress industry has now moved to a sexier, digital format in which customers can order a bed during their lunch break from their cell phone and have it delivered to their home the next evening, rather than taking time to drive out of town to a retail park. Advertisements for these companies have been popping up everywhere – newspapers, Facebook, London underground stations – sending the industry in the same direction as tech giants such as Deliveroo and Uber. A cursory search on Google shows that as many as twenty companies are operating in this sector between the UK and the US, proving that one of the last industries to resist being converted to digital has finally caved in.


One of the companies to launch into this market has been Simba, which was formed earlier this summer through a combination of industry veterans the McClements family, James Cox and Steve Reid, and backed by innocent founder Richard Reed. Targeting the £1bn UK mattress industry, the company is aiming to make the process of buying a mattress simpler for customers by eliminating all choices – other than single, double, queen or king – with a single model that features over 2,500 patented conical pocket springs. According to James, the traditional road to buying a mattress is “expensive and confusing for the buyer” – and it shouldn’t be, especially since people spend a third of their lives in bed.

One of the main changes that companies like Simba are bringing to the industry is that of delivery. Using an industrial compressor, mattresses are fitted into cubical boxes that can be delivered up narrow staircases in cramped city apartments and gone are the days of driving back home with a mattress tied to the roof of a car! Simba, along with other companies like Casper, Saatva, Tuft and Needle and eve, also offer customers up to one hundred days to test out the mattress to make sure that the one-size-fits-all configuration really does lead to a better night’s sleep – although they’re sure that it will.


According to one industry expert, the decade or so after a recession is the best time for a mattress retailer: consumers unleash several years of pent-up demand as they are finally able to move into new houses and apartments. And the industry, oddly enough, is the perfect one for the digital realm. According to James Newell of Institutional Venture Partners, the vertically-integrated, direct-to-consumer model is exactly what venture capitalists look for in a business – and exactly what today’s startup world is made up of.

Steinhoff’s recent acquisition of Mattress Firm, which in turn acquired Sleepy’s, Mattress Pro and Sleep Train, shows that the brick-and-mortar mattress industry might not be headed anywhere soon. Like buying a car, mattress purchases require a test-drive (or a short nap in the store) for customers to be sure that they are comfortable committing to such a big-ticket item. But as BMW’s recent foray into ecommerce has proven, even the industries known for pushy salesmen and commission-based pay are not safe from the digital revolution.

In an industry in which customers make their purchases only once every decade or so, a few hours of making decisions saved might not seem like such a big deal. But in the words of one of the UK’s most well-know retailers, “every little helps” – especially when it means that those hours can go towards using the mattress rather than looking for one, the next time one of my clients mentions the exhaustion that comes with running great businesses, I know where I’ll be pointing them to! | @MoiraBenigson | @TheMBSGroup