Canadian startups duke it out in the Peak Mattress era

There's no rest for smaller mattress-in-a-box brands as they aim to stand out in a crowded market.

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Many mattress-in-a-box brands, including Haven Mattress Co., use Instagram to promote their products. This photo is part of an Instagram Story by an Edmonton-based boutique owner promoting Haven.

Challenger mattress-in-a-box brands find themselves in a, well, challenging industry against O.G. heavy-hitters Casper and Endy.

With a low barrier-to-entry, the DTC mattress-in-a-box category has become flooded with entrepreneurs looking to cash in on this modern gold rush. In fact, CNBC reports that a whopping 175 companies currently exist, with little to no way of telling them apart.

The ease of entry means brands that have slick marketing may be able to convince Canadians to buy a mattress from them once, but if there’s not a strong product to back it up, many of them will not be around for the long haul, says Haven Mattress Co. CEO Scott Amis.

“The cost to entry is a blessing, but it’s also a problem,” says Amis, who launched his mattress-in-a-box company in 2016. “You get a bunch of college grads who say, ‘Lets get a bunch of polyurethane and put a cool logo on it and get some hipsters to talk about it.’ And, yes, that for sure will sell in the short term, but the reorder rate on that product probably is not going to be that high.”

While leaders Casper and Endy have, and continue to, spend big on everything from online marketing to pop-up shops and OOH ads, smaller Canadian upstarts often operate on shoestring marketing budgets. Haven, for example, has found a unique way to differentiate itself through its product offering, creating a vegan mattress and putting the trendy selling point front-and-centre in its messaging.

“We use plant-based foam. In 2016, that wasn’t on people’s radar but, you know, as you build it [they will come],” says Amis. “We’re an upscale brand, more expensive, but we’ve found people don’t mind spending more if that money is spent on ingredients.” (Indeed, the company was ahead of its time as American superstar Gwyneth Paltrow’s trendsetting Goop newsletter recently lauded vegan mattresses.)

Haven also tapped the power of a Canadian super couple to help get the word out about its brand via an ongoing partnership with Bryan and Sarah Baeumler of HGTV Canada fame. Partnering with the stars of several home-and-garden themed reality shows “is really smart targeting for us because the demographics of [HGTV] shows tie into folks who are getting into this bed-in-a-box marketplace,” notes Amis. Haven mattresses were featured on HGTV’s Island of Bryan TV show (where the couple restores a rundown resort) and the Baeumler clan have popped up on Haven’s Instagram page recently in posts promoting the vegan mattresses.

Goodmorning.com (known as Novosbed before being renamed in April) has also focused on its product being a unique selling point, creating several mattress brands, each targeting a different customer segment via price and product functionality/performance. The Edmonton company’s six brands are Douglas, Brunswick, Logan & Cove, Juno, Recore and Novosbed. The Douglas is by far its no. 1 selling brand as its price point ($799 for a Queen foam mattress with a cooling gel foam) is slightly lower than other Canadian competitors, such as Endy which sells its Queen foam mattress for $850, making it accessible to a wide range of Canadians, says Ashley Fisher, a spokesperson for Goodmorning.com.

And because most consumers do their own online research before deciding which mattress-in-a-box brand to buy from, reviews are key, adds Fisher. There has been a glut of too-good-to-be true reviews in the industry and having verified customer reviews has been a main focus for the brand. Many of the brands consulted for this article agree that an influx of fake online reviews have caused them to put a focus on finding (and promoting) real customer reviews. Most brands feature hundreds of reviews on their sites, with Goodmorning.com’s top seller Douglas brand, for example, now noting if someone is a “verified reviewer,” while Casper states on its website that “This user received an incentive for writing a review” in a bid to be more transparent with customers.

Meanwhile, Quebec-based mattress-in-a-box brand Fleep has taken the direct-to-consumer experiential route, bringing its canopy beds to an immersive experience at Quebec City’s Furie la nuit this summer. And like most upstarts, Fleep focuses primarily on SEO, SEM and social media marketing to get the message out about its brand  which comes as no surprise, as the category is currently in “a superpower arms race,” with the war for market share primarily being waged online via pre-roll, influencer marketing, reviews, and of course, search ads, notes Haven’s CEO. Indeed, if you search any of the mattress brands, big or small, ads for rivals brands will inevitably be near the top of the search list, as will videos and stories with titles like: “Endy vs. Casper Mattress Review.”

As for the future of the mattress-in-a-box category, Nathan Nielson, the co-founder of another Canadian mattress co., Hamuq, says he’s seeing a lot more consolidation lately, with Canada’s Endy, for example, being purchased by Sleep Country Canada last year in a deal valued at $88.7 million. The mattress-in-a-box has officially gone mainstream, he says, predicting that legacy mattress retailers will continue to buy up startups as a way to keep up with modern buying habits.