Sometimes, the best way to ensure a job is done well is to do it yourself. So believed Andrew Kerry, when he opened The British Bed Company back in July 2012. The new factory, from the man behind e-tail success story Mattressman and the Snuggle Beds brand, is the final component in a completely vertically-integrated company, adding an in-house manufacturing arm to what was already a successful e-tail – and retail – operation. Paul Farley finds out more.

Formed in 2000, at the tail-end of the dot-com bubble, the Mattressman transactional website went on to grow year-on-year. In 2005, Andrew opened the company’s first bricks-and-mortar store, in Norwich. Mattressman was restructured in 2007 to accommodate its rapid growth, and, in 2009, the company was ranked 6th on the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 roster of fastest-growing private companies.
Today, Mattressman employs just over 100 people. The company holds 8000 mattresses in stock at any one time, ready for next-day delivery. It also runs nine stores, and is looking to open four more by the end of the year.

However, the company’s most significant move this year was establishing its own factory – The British Bed Company was officially opened on 13th July, and quickly passed the 100-a-day mattress mark, as production had started earlier in the year. It was created to give the company a solid manufacturing base, lend it extra credibility, and to support British production and its East Anglian locale. “This factory has been been opened in an area where there’s no existing mattress industry,” says Andrew.

“We’d been thinking of doing this for a couple of years. After the administration of some high-level players last year, a growing number of bed manufacturers started to disrupt Mattressman’s supply chain. This became increasingly problematic, and I started to think that a lot of them could be disappearing soon.

“If you have two or three Big brands being produced in one factory and it gets near Christmas, the limitations quickly become apparent – the factory can’t support everybody. Luckily, we have enough business coming through Mattressman to feed our new factory.

“The aim of The British Bed Company is to get our mattresses in stores on the high streets up and down the country – and, obviously, Mattressman is a great starting block. It’s also about being self-sustaining. Now, I can safely stock up for Christmas? – when everyone orders twice as many products, and you have to have two or three times as much stock to ensure you meet that demand.”

The factory was opened with great fanfare by Andrew, assisted by the MP for Norwich North, Chloe Smith. Following the ceremony, local media representatives and businesspeople were given tours of the facility.
Run by ex-Millbrook Beds operations manager, Bernie Roland, The British Bed Company factory currently fulfils part of the Snuggle Beds brand output, as well as an increasingly diverse roster, including a range of pocket-sprung mattresses in various spring counts. Andrew asserts that the bulk of the components are British-made.

The establishment of The British Bed Company is a significant step for Mattressman, which started life on a computer in a shed. Andrew quickly discovered that transport companies were not well equipped to handle mattress deliveries without suitable packaging, so he developed a telescopic box which could be adjusted to suit different sizes, and worked through logistics provider Nightfreight to meet demand.

As time went on, business “went up like a rocket”, Nightfreight went on to work with an increasing number of mattress suppliers, and Andrew continued to make the company fit for business by applying the latest technological developments to its infrastructure.

Ensuring the software was up to date was no real challenge for a man who enjoyed programming ZX81 Spectrums when he was younger. Neither was the shift to retail – Andrew had sold carpets, blinds and beds since the age of 17, and had “always been a bed salesman”.

“Online, you can hide behind a brand,” says Andrew. “Indeed, you are not a brand if you only operate on the internet – you are just a pay-per-click business. Someone needs comfort when they order from you online. You’ve got to have a store you can trade off – stores and websites really do work well together.”

In 2005, Andrew opened the first Mattressman store, in Norwich, and worked hard to make his “typical independent” part of the local community. Having the online channels in place meant that the Mattressman’s stores were not restricted to the traditional marketing methods of the time – such as the Yellow Pages – although the reach of the internet in the UK was nowhere near that of today.

The company’s public presence grew with the opening of further stores in East Anglia, and a short-lived foray into concessions with Focus, which “was doing really well before the chain’s closure”. Andrew believes that he template for these concessions remains a valid option for future expansion.

Mattressman operates through nine stores at present. “Our stores perform well, and the return per ft2 is excellent,” says Andrew. “I wouldn’t want to do the large store approach. You have to roll out lots of stores to be able to cover the rent when it kicks in. Our approach means we have the flexibility to close stores that aren’t working.”

Behind the scenes, a well-oiled system ensures efficiency. Every product is held in stock, and sales from the internet are first routed to stockists. A customer service score of 9.1 on customer review website TrustPilot reflects the reliability of the company and the quality of its product.

“We run our own transport in East Anglia for London and Lincoln for those ordering before 4pm,” says Andrew. “Next-day delivery means the customer has very little time in which to change their mind and cancel an order!” The company’s 10 Mercedes Lutons form part of a flexible delivery fleet, and can be swapped out for a one-man freight delivery service when required.

“The main effort was always to make Mattressman a nationwide brand,” concludes Andrew. “Our concept is very good – I’ve sold enough mattresses in my life to know that – and the backup is there.

“I always said to my fellow directors that I was going to start a brand some day. I just needed to wait for the right time to come. Mattressman’s success was thanks to knowing the product and the internet, reducing bottlenecks, and thinking both logically and outside the box. Now we’ve got the factory, we need to seek the best materials, stay competitive, learn the manufacturing pitfalls, and move on quickly.”

www.britishbed.co.uk