Photo: Courtesy of Tuft & Needle.
Unlike most of our daily essentials (telephones, the Internet, even clothing), mattresses haven’t changed much in our lifetime — they’re still made of the same old springs, foam, and cotton or synthetic fillers as always. And, that awkward and unchanged process of buying a new bed (laying on it in a showroom while a salesman hovers overhead, getting it up to your fifth-floor walk-up, or scheduling a delivery when you’re supposed to be at work) explains why you’ve seen the rest of your furniture update over the years while you've slept on the same mattress since college. There's no definitive rule on how often you should change your mattress, but the Better Sleep Council (vaguely) recommends "evaluating" it at least every seven years. Archaic though it may be, showroom shopping feels like a necessary evil; after all, purchasing a sleeper without stretching out on it at least once is akin to buying a car without a test-drive, right?
Two self-described tech nerds are trying to upend that industry practice and get us all to think about adding mattresses to our Amazon shopping carts, instead. "I was a minimalist bachelor who literally didn’t own anything,” says JT Marino, a co-founder of would-be mattress-industry disruptor Tuft & Needle, “so my wife and I decided to put some of the money we received as wedding gifts toward a really good mattress." He goes on to explain that due to his pragmatic nature, he does tons of research before any major buy, but couldn’t quite find information he found trustworthy for this one. “Finally, out of frustration, I purchased an expensive $3,200 [mattress], figuring price was some reflection of quality. The first night I slept on it I felt fine, not great, but I just sucked it up and every morning was reminded of how disappointed I was."
The Better Sleep Council estimates that the average person spends a third of their life in bed, which starts to make even $3,200 look like a good investment. But, buyers’ remorse on such a big-ticket item can just make you feel like a sucker.
Marino and Dahee Park, his college friend and cofounder of Tuft & Needle, put together a mattress-shopping (and owning) hate list. It wasn’t short. "We wanted to see if we could solve about a third of those things,” he says. And, if they could? “Maybe we could build a business.” There was only one problem: “We knew nothing about making a physical product, or the materials and components of a mattress, or even what they were called." So, over the summer of 2012, the pair went to work disassembling JT’s disappointment-inducing $3,200 one. "We started to reverse-engineer it like we did with software, and we priced out all of the components, and it came to just over $300. We were shocked, but triple-checked and then started a business." Consumer reports says the markup on mattresses is closer to the 30 to 50% range, but that still leaves plenty of room for someone to come along and do it cheaper.
Photo: Courtesy of Tuft & Needle.
In December of 2013, Marino and Park launched with just $6,000 of personal savings. And, to say they are undercutting the competition might be an understatement: a queen mattress — made in America of 100% recyclable materials including sustainably grown cotton and a foam core that’s poured right in Southern California — costs $400. To compare, currently on 1800mattress.com, the cheapest queen-sized TempurPedic mattress (another brand big on foam not springs) is listed at $1,499. And, you can’t jump around on those before buying them, either.
Tuft & Needle only offers two models, a 5-inch and 10-inch thickness, in all the standard bed sizes, ranging from $200 to $600; a price that includes free FedEx shipping within the U.S. The company’s after some of that corporate philanthropy that’s brought so much attention to brands like Warby Parker, too: For every hundred mattresses it sells, one is donated to charity. If within 30 nights a customer isn’t pleased with their T&N mattress, the company will float return costs and suggest that they donate the mattress to charity rather than shipping it back.
"We started Tuft & Needle because it was a no-brainer,” Marino says. “We were from outside of the industry, one we definitely thought was boring. We intentionally didn’t want to advertise because we wanted the mattress to sell itself, so that if it [was not] a good product, it would fail.” As for the vox populi on whether the product has failed: “We only sold two in the first month. But, let’s say our customers are definitely spreading the word." In fact, theirs is now the number one mattress brand on Amazon. It would seem people really don’t want to spend their Saturdays fake-lounging on display beds, after all. Or, we just really love free shipping.