ENTREPRENEURSHIP among those in their early 20s is nothing unusual these days. But opting to start a business in the mattress line may come across as rather odd for a couple of 23-year-olds, particularly so when they knew nothing about mattresses.
However, Winson Chong and Joey Tan, founders of Joey Mattress, thought they couldn’t step away from a problem they encountered while shopping for a mattress.
“Basically, the mattress shopping experience sucked. Salesmen are pushy and the prices are very high and there are so many confusing options, ” says Chong.
Surely, others felt the same.
“So we wanted to improve that, ” he adds.
And the time seemed right for some shake-up in the industry, they note.
“This is a traditional industry and not a lot of young people would go in. I feel like there should be some innovation in this industry but no one is actually doing it. That’s why we see an opportunity, ” says Tan.
The duo set out to introduce the e-commerce model to the sector – because, why can’t mattresses be sold online? – and change the shopping experience for consumers. They allowed customers to try the mattress at home for 99 days and offered an easy return and refund policy.
Apart from just changing the business model, they also decided to develop their own product.
Chong laments that there was no suitable mattress out in the market. The one he ended up with gave him back pains that led to visits to the chiropractor.
“You buy a mattress after trying it out for five minutes at the showroom. That’s not enough. And if you find that you don’t like it after one month, there’s not much that you can do about it. You can’t return it.
“We wanted to develop our own mattress (instead of sell other people’s mattress online) so that we have more control over the product. And a mattress is quite a heavy investment. I feel like I need to be confident in what I am selling, ” shares Tan.
But going into production required capital and expertise, both of which they lacked.
In early 2018, they came up with a business proposal and started knocking on manufacturers’ doors to see if there were any takers willing to back their ideas. No one took them seriously.
But through a stroke of luck, they found an established manufacturer who was open to the idea of trying something new. The manufacturer invested in their start-up and gave them access to their network of expertise, enabling them to carry out research and development (R&D) work to produce their own proprietary mattress.
They focused on producing only one type of mattress.
“We want to make the experience easy and enjoyable for customers. We don’t want to give them a ton of confusing options. We prefer to just give them the best option, ” says Chong.
Naturally, R&D work involved a lot of sleeping. They tried out different mattresses and studied various materials used in making these mattresses. They also followed friends and family on mattress shopping trips to get behind what it is that people are really looking for in their mattress.
Well, it boils down to comfort and support, he says.
They finally came up with the J-foam and leveraged on their investor’s operations to produce the new mattress for them.
The fact that they have direct access to a manufacturer is an advantage for Joey Mattress as they are able to keep costs low. Once the mattresses are produced, Chong and Tan manage the online sales and delivery.
By March this year, they were ready to push their product out to the market.
“I expected the market to take longer to accept this idea. But turns out, quite a lot of them are receptive of the idea (of buying mattresses online). Once we had the exposure, we started gaining trust. What surprised me was that many Malaysians actually want to support local startups, ” says Tan.
By the end of July, they had sold over 30 mattresses – exceeding their expectations. And customer feedback has been positive so far.
“That was a real confidence booster for us, ” notes Chong.
Currently, Joey Mattress caters to the Klang Valley region but they hope to expand to other states by year-end when they can expand their lorry fleet.
Chong says they are also looking into further improving their product and to expand their range. For example, he hopes to add in removable covers for their mattress. They have also received requests to develop baby-sized mattresses. He also foresees opportunities in other products such as pillows and other sleep-related items.
But those are far off plans.
“The R&D work for one product takes a long time. There’s such a huge knowledge gap between what we know and what is right (for a product). It’s such a traditional industry and I think a lot of the existing manufacturers have been doing things the same way, like they know where certain things are supposed to go. But they may not have actually tried those products, ” adds Tan.
Tan notes that the local mattress industry is very competitive and many of them are trying to innovate.
However, she believes Joey Mattress has a first-mover advantage.
“It’s hard for others to imitate our business model because branding online is hard and it takes time. We are still a pioneer in the industry. And going online requires you to be transparent in your pricing, which a lot of established players may not want to do, ” she says.
She also thinks there is a sizeable young adults market – their main target demographic – to help buoy the company’s growth.
Although new to the market, Chong and Tan are aware that selling mattresses is a long-term game. After all, the product has a 10-year warranty.
“We are here to stay. And we are excited about what’s ahead. Hopefully, after becoming Malaysia’s favourite mattress brand, we can look at the region, ” mulls Chong.
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