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Sleep sells: how mattress companies woke up to the science of slumber

Simba’s founder, Steve Reid can’t resist. “It’s a traditionally sleepy sector,” he chuckles, describing the mattress industry. Though perhaps it isn’t nowadays, thanks in part to organisations like his. Reid is the co-founder of Simba, a company that calls itself “Europe’s leading high-tech sleep brand”. Launched by Reid and co-founders James Cox and Andrew McClements in February 2016, in just two years it has sold more than 200,000 mattresses, received tens of thousands of five-star reviews and a Product of the Year award.

Simba is one of the “bed in a box” brands – which include the likes of Casper, an American company, and Eve, a British startup – that have changed the way we buy mattresses, and in the process, stolen a 5% slice of the market from the established players. It’s a trend that shows no signs of slowing: predictions see the newcomers holding 20% of the market in the next three years.

Where shopping for a mattress once meant a trip to a showroom to lie on multiple beds in a shop or department store, having to make your mind up after a few awkward moments under the glare of showroom lights, the bed in a box idea aims to make the whole experience more convenient. Simba’s mattress – like others based on the same concept – comes compressed in a box, delivered to your door and easily carried into your bedroom.

And unsurprisingly the bigger, more established players in the industry are taking notice: the bed in the box concept has since been emulated by Hyde & Sleep, a brand from bed specialist Dreams.

But for Reid, the method of delivery isn’t the only way the newcomers are shaking things up. He argues that there’s too much choice and unnecessary confusion when it comes to mattress shopping, with consumers feeling like they need to find “the one”. He claims the technology behind Simba’s mattress means it’s effectively a “one model fits all” creation.

“When we looked at the mattress sector, and the way that the incumbents were selling them, it smacked of needing disruption,” says Reid. “It needed someone to come along and say: ‘It doesn’t need to be that way’.



Simba say its mattresses undergo vigorous testing, and its designs informed by data. Photograph: Simba

“That old traditional mentality of popping down to your local bed store or department store has changed dramatically,” says Reid. “If you walk into any mattress showroom, you have got a sea of white – it’s a bland experience, it’s a sea of products that are very similar because the incumbents in the sector haven’t had to innovate their products. And if there’s no one looking to disrupt and say ‘that’s not right’, it continues.”

Simba, which sells its mattresses via retailers including John Lewis and Furniture Village, as well as through its own website, is being backed by Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Drinks and Richard Goldstein, of the family that founded Superdrug. To date it has raised £58.5m investment.

But it has plenty of competition, with several other businesses such as Casper and Leesa working on a similar basis – direct sales to the consumer, delivery straight to your door, and the option to return the mattress if it doesn’t work out.

Mattresses are big business at the moment – it’s thought there could be as many as 100 boxed mattress companies in the US. So why the sudden awakening when it comes to investing in our sleep? “A decade ago, it was: ‘Are you tired or are you not tired?’,” says Reid. “The awareness of sleep as a part of our health has rapidly expanded, and when it comes to that buying decision it’s much more considered in terms of the benefits you’re going to get. ”

Simba currently uses the largest bank of body profiling data in the world (10 million people) to inform its designs which include the five layers of spring and foam within its Simba Hybrid mattress, and the Nasa-backed thermal technology in its pillow to keep sleepers at the right temperature.

But like any disruptive company, it needs to keep innovating.“For us, you can’t bring out a product and expect it to stay ahead of the curve.”Future plans for the “sleep experience” factor in everything from light to temperature; from an in-house nutritionist advising on what people should eat to “power down” at night, to a resident psychologist who helps with product development. This may well be an extension of Simba’s brand into the lifestyle space. After all, the “holistic sleep experience” goes far beyond selling you something to lie on, says Reid.


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