Call it a classic case of moonlighting.
After a decade working for a locally based mattress company, John Neal had an idea he could no longer sleep on.
His new startup, Luft Beds, arose this month in Richmond to capitalize on the new trend of direct-to-consumer online mattress sales made possible by manufacturing technology that can squeeze and roll mattresses into boxes for easier home delivery.
“I always thought the industry was ripe for disruption, I just didn’t know in what form or fashion,” Neal said.
A 37-year-old native Richmonder, Neal launched the company as a side gig to his job at Richmond-based Symbol Mattresses, where he’s done everything from building product on assembly lines to product development, marketing and sales.
Luft uses new packing technology while offering traditional-style mattresses that can compete with other direct-to-consumer brands like Casper and Leesa, which lead the new industry segment with their foam mattresses.
One of Luft’s main products is a spring- and coil-packed mattress that can be stuffed and shipped as compactly as foam mattresses. Once packaged, Luft mattresses fit in a 20-by-20-by-45-inch box.
Luft’s beds are manufactured in a Symbol contracting factory in Watertown, Wisconsin, where new machinery allows Neal to produce non-foam mattresses with price points comparable to Casper and the like.
“A Luft mattress for $850 would probably be about $1,300 on a retail floor,” he said. Luft mattresses sell from $400 to $1,050. It sells twin size up to California king.
By selling only online straight from the factory, Neal said he wants Luft to cut into the market share of new brands and old titans like Serta and Sealy.
“Consumers are marketed big-brand names like Serta and Sealy, not the product,” Neal said. “We’re product guys. Ours are more handcrafted than foam mattresses. We’re building products for consumers, rather than retail spaces or marketing.”
Jerry Epperson, a mattress industry expert and founding partner of Richmond-based investment banking firm Mann, Armistead & Epperson, said the new crop of online mattress retailers has done well finding their target demographic, but that segment is at risk of being oversaturated.
“We’ve seen changes in the market. Foam mattresses have taken over a significant market share,” Epperson said. “They’re aimed at a young consumer who can sleep on anything.”
Neal said he began prototyping products for Luft a year ago, and received his first orders earlier this month. He said he’s leased a small office near Willow Lawn.
“I want to market Luft regionally in Richmond and around Virginia, and grow it,” Neal said. “All of our products are made to order, so there’s not a lot of fixed cost.”
Reid Collier of Order Design Co. helped Neal develop the brand, and Adam Mead of Yogg helped with marketing. Neal said he’s funded Luft with help from investors. He declined to specify how much capital went into starting the business.
Correction: An editing error in an earlier version of this story had the measurements of the mattress box in feet, instead of inches.