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Friday, Dec 1, 2023

Firm Delivers Bed in a Box

Rick Swartzburg wants to get you into bed. Preferably a bed with a mattress or pillow made by his company, Relief-Mart Inc. in Agoura Hills. The company is one of the top sellers in the sleep business through ecommerce giant Amazon.com Inc. And it has become a pioneer of custom-made pillows and the “bed-in-a-box” concept of selling a mattress sight unseen over the internet. It’s all part of the growth trajectory for Relief-Mart. The company brought in $9 million in revenue in 2015 and increased it to $14 million last year, said Swartzburg, the principal and vice president of product development. “Projections are projections, but we are on track to possibly double that this year,” he added. About 70 percent of the company’s sales are through the Amazon website. Its Snuggle-Pedic brand memory foam body pillow ranked as the No. 3 bestseller in that category as of May 5 while the queen-size regular Snuggle-Pedic memory foam pillow ranked at No. 25 with 75 percent of the more than 7,000 customer reviews giving it five stars. Amazon strategy Success on Amazon came from better customer service and product quality than the competition, Swartzburg said. If other manufacturers offered a five-year warranty, Swartzburg would offer one for 20 years. If competitors provided a 30-day trial, he would offer a 90-day trial. Relief-Mart as well began to offer free customizations and modifications to its pillows if it did not suit the needs of the buyer, a feature that Swartzburg claimed is unique to his company. “All those things together were what it finally took for us to take off on Amazon,” he explained. The future of the company is focused on the “bed-in-a-box” strategy. Because the mattresses are foam, they can compress down to an economically feasible size and weight for direct shipping to the customer. The bed-in-a-box Snuggle-pedic brand mattress and pillows are sold by Relief-Mart through Amazon while subsidiaries handle the sales of premium products like the Air-pedic adjustable mattress and the Temp-flow memory foam mattress with a patented system for displacing of body heat. Relief-Mart sells its Snuggle-pedic king size mattress through Amazon for less than $1,000; queen size Snuggle-pedic mattresses are available through Amazon for $749, while a similar size Air-pedic or Temp-flow mattress can be in the $3,000 range. Having the two product lines is helpful in serving the different types of shoppers looking for sleeping products. The “bed-in-a-box” shoppers favoring Snuggle-pedic are looking for support and comfort while those going for the premium brands like having a showroom to go to for the in-store touch and feel, Swartzburg said. According to figures from the International Sleep Products Association in Alexandria, Va., U.S. adult-size mattress shipments topped more than $6.7 billion in 2015, the most recent numbers the trade organization had. That was an 8 percent increase from the $6.2 billion in 2014. Queen-size mattresses accounted for 40 percent of shipments in 2015, the most of the eight standard sizes. Mary Helen Rogers, spokeswoman for the association, said there used to be one person in a family who would buy a mattress, but today’s retailers see everyone from millennials all the way up to baby boomers. “They have different shopping experience expectations; thus, you see an increase in the online shopping options,” she said. Stiff mattress competition Though its future is focused on the bed-in-a-box, that business model is not new. A Tennessee company called Bedinabox.com has been selling mattresses online since 2006. A Bloomberg article on the phenomenon said the online mattress startups – Casper Sleep Inc., Saatva Inc., Leesa Sleep LLC and Helix Sleep – have about 5 percent of the market share. The concept’s popularity has forced giant mattress maker Tempur Sealy International Inc. to take notice and come out with its own bed-in-a-box called Cocoon, although the Bloomberg article called it “a little late to the internet party.” Rogers said intensive marketing programs by the startups is certainly a reason why the concept is popular. “Crafty marketing and a lot of consumer awareness has definitely elevated the intrigue of buying your mattress online,” she said. Even some of Relief-Mart’s online startup competitors, such as Casper and Tuft & Needle have already racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. “We are already planning for that because we think we can take off in that (bed-in-a-box) category,” Swartzburg said. “We are just getting started.” The ISPA’s Rogers said a lot of science and technology goes into designing a competitive sleep surface. Companies have research and development departments that are focused on how to make a mattress better, she said. Additionally, consumers today want what they want and they want it now, Rogers said. “If you are going to be a successful manufacturer, you have to listen to the needs of the consumer and you have to be able to provide it in a timely fashion,” she added. Chiropractic past For the 47-year-old Swartzburg, sleep products are a second career. He had been a practicing chiropractor when the internet began to gain traction in the late 1990s and he began to dabble in designing websites to provide information on health-related issues and recommending products to relieve back pain. For a period, he did consulting work with a mattress manufacturer. In the meantime, he had developed, along with a bio-chemist, a pain relief spray that he sold through a website he started in 2001. After leaving the consulting work with the mattress maker, Swartzburg decided to design his own. In 2003, he went part-time with his chiropractic practice and spent the remainder of his time with Relief-Mart, becoming the principal of the company while his father, Jim, was the president. Product development, however, remained his focus. “I kept the title (vice president of product development) because that is what I do best,” Swartzburg said. “It is my specialty.” For the next 10 years, Relief-Mart grew with the sale of the pain relief spray, supplements, and back and neck supports. In early 2008 Swartzburg received a patent for a memory foam mattress that reduced pressure points in the joints and had a novel way of increasing airflow circulation to reduce heat by using both holes and grooves in the foam. “I was thinking this is something that is the real deal and not just a gimmick,” he said. As excess foam began to collect in the manufacturing plant and Swartzburg could not get a recycler to take it, he put the extra foam into pillows. That product line started for the holiday shopping season in 2014. In the area where the pillows are made are boxes containing different types of foam. One type is springy, another is denser, and still another is lighter and fluffier. “We make different types of mixes depending on what we want to do,” Swartzburg explained. Next door to the manufacturing area is the new showroom, containing all the different types of mattresses and pillows that Relief-Mart and its subsidiaries make. While selling on Amazon has been good for business, having the showroom made good fiscal sense and gives people a chance to see that Relief-Mart is a real company and not some intangible organization, Swartzburg said. “We don’t have any hidden agendas or anything like that,” he added. “We are a family-run business that is happy to show the world what we do.”

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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