Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?
Hi, I’m Mike Schaefer, Owner and President of Soaring Heart Natural Beds located in Seattle, WA. Soaring Heart hand-crafts and retails all organic beds and bedding. We believe breathable, all natural fibers create the best sleep environment and go out of our way to source the best raw-materials we can find.
I’ve always wanted to run a sustainable, green business that works hard to leave our planet better than we found it. You won’t find any petroleum derivatives, plastics, synthetics or added flame retardants or fumigants in any of our products. We only use organic cotton, wool and the latex from rubber tree plantations that has all been independently certified to confirm to global organic standards.
For more than 35 years, we’ve been building great beds and we believe you won’t find better products and customer service anywhere. Our team of crafts-people loves what we do. We hand-sign every mattress and offer a 20 year warranty so that you can rest assured we stand behind everything we make. Today about 25% of our business is online, with the balance coming from one of our two Seattle-area stores.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Soaring Heart started as a futon manufacturer - marrying traditional Japanese bed building techniques with western sleep habits. We began by learning how to build a great mattress - and then honed our skills by leveraging materials such as latex or innersprings in our beds.
We soon learned the importance of developing stringent product specifications, allowing us to be completely transparent to our customers about what they were sleeping on, as well as comply with a myriad of ever changing health and safety regulations.
The idea of “going organic” with our product line grew out of the conclusion that we had reliable access to great quality raw materials. Global organic standards now exist, certifications can be independently tested, and the natural options we’ve found for complying with stringent safety regulations have been both time and laboratory verified. Because of the support of our suppliers, our bottom line today includes both profit AND a commitment to a healthy planet.
Keeping toxins out of our homes is also a huge part of our quality commitment. Given that we spend almost ⅓ of our lives in bed - we believe everyone should know exactly what they are sleeping on. We are genuinely interested in what our growers can do to produce the best products - and we want to support their commitment to growing (and processing) their best. We may not be a supplier’s biggest customer - but we aim for buying the best they can produce.
We care about every step in the process between growing our raw materials, building our beds and great sleep. We’re lucky to have customers who appreciate our efforts - and can tell the difference in their sleep because of it. We may have had the idea to build a better bed - but it’s our customers who validated that all our effort was worth it.
Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.
Building a great mattress not only takes great raw materials - it takes great patience. Our sewing teams hand-craft our organic cotton mattress encasements to assure consistent firmness and breathability. Our bed builders then assemble our mattresses with specific layering of organic wool, cotton and latex requested by our customers. Finally, our packaging and delivery crews work hard to assure everything leaving our certified organic manufacturing facility arrives freshly wrapped at your door.
/ Visiting our latex supplier in India - we work directly with our raw materials suppliers.
To maintain ongoing compliance with all health, safety and organic standards, we keep daily logs of all the products used in building a bed. This means we can trace our cotton back to a field and harvest date, our wool back to a rancher and processor, and our latex back to a rubber tree plantation. We are independently audited each year, and we submit our mattresses to independent labs for fire testing and toxin evaluation on a tightly prescribed basis. The good news is that because we only use certified raw materials (cotton, wool and natural latex), there is very little to test for - and that keeps our processes and testing as simple as possible.
We love going the extra mile!
Describe the process of launching the online store/business.
We’ve been around long enough that our web presence was launched just as the internet was launched! Like everybody else, we started with the basics - lots of information about our products and services and eventually transitioned into a full fledged on-line store. Today we use a cloud-based web shopping platform (Shopify) and have a sales staff person dedicated to managing our ongoing social media presence.
While we create an annual marketing and promotional calendar, we monitor our online traffic daily with “stand-up” meetings as needed to adjust our messaging as needed. We are committed to at least twice monthly blog and social media posts and email blasts to our mailing lists. We have live chat for our online shoppers and try to keepup with social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as much as we can (which is never enough!).
We plan regular “re-launches” of our website to keep our look and content fresh. Whether it’s improved navigation, better product photos, new offerings, or updated content - there’s always something new we want to offer our e-commerce shoppers.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our big “aha moment” came a few years ago when it became clear that consumers have become more comfortable buying big ticket, personal items like mattresses online. Initially we focused on products like pillows and sheets/towels - today our e-commerce focus includes all of our mattress lines. While we have always stood behind everything we make - keeping our 30 day comfort guarantee and 20 year warranty policy competitive is critical to the on-line shopper who is very concerned about return/exchange policies. The good news is we are fortunate to have an infinitely small return rate - people who want custom organic have very few shopping options, and the time they spend finalizing their orders is time well spent.
Another key service to online shoppers: free shipping. While this may seem like “old hat” to most e-commerce players, it made a huge difference to our sales and customer services. Similarly, implementing online chat has helped us connect with real-time shoppers who expect personalized answers to their questions. More than 80% of our sales come from past customers and their referrals. We have always worked hard to make sure people purchase what they want and are happy with their choice, and we believe that featuring testimonials is a critical component of our on-line credibility.
/ Mike in the cotton fields.
We have a monthly meeting to review all our online traffic, sales and promotions. We now have several years of data to set goals and test ideas for driving growth. One key conclusion we’ve made is to be sure and sync our online messaging with our brick and mortar advertising (about ⅓ of our advertising/marketing budget is e-commerce focused). We benchmark ourselves with several other e-commerce sites (not all in bedding) to be sure our messaging is fresh and relevant. We use consultants to set our annual plan/goals because of their broad exposure to e-commerce trends.
We’ve made a lot of mistakes - and look forward to making more. Personally, I hate e-commerce messaging based on “yet another unbelievable great sale.” While I firmly believe our custom, hand-crafted brand has nothing to do with yet another discount, I’ve come to realize that nothing grabs a busy e-commerce shopper like a promotion. We used to lead with “why organic” messages - now we lead with a sale - and then once we have a shopper’s attention, we teach them about organic! We also lead with a photo - and save the text for someone who’s willing to give us their attention. Leading with text just gives an ecommerce shopper a good excuse to move on fast.
We follow up with every sale asking for feedback and have an app that also follows all abandoned carts to understand where/why someone stopped in their shopping process. Nothing is more important than connecting with these shoppers to be sure they are happy with their purchase or on-line shopping experience. It takes time, and often there is a concern to address - but that’s what customer service means to a growing business.
How is everything going nowadays, and what are your plans for the future?
While it may seem counter intuitive to an e-commerce program - we opened our second brick and mortar retail store in 2013, and are game to open another one. People love to find our shop and browse the range of sleep products we offer. Feeling fabrics, testing pillows and stretching your back in a new bed are all experiences tough to replicate on the web - but the real-time customer feedback we get in our stores helps us to keep trying!
Today there are many statistics about “living organic” or building a non-toxic, green home. We are fortunate to have decades of experience supporting people with these goals and are grateful to be of help for folks looking for the type of options we can provide.
/ One of our great bed-builders at work!
We are continuing to invest in our e-commerce platform. First through hiring dedicated staff to monitor our daily interactions. Second to set and monitor our quarterly and monthly initiatives to test new e-commerce messaging in ways that grow our connections. Third, to bring in new consultants or apps to give us better insight into our market and outreach. Lots of plans - but they all take time and effort to test well.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I think the most important task for a business owner is to stay focused on what you do best - and what your customers expect from you. Keeping up with the competition is impossible, and any great idea you may have is going to be copied by someone else with more money, a better advertising budget, or bigger audience. Keeping your customers coming back will both warm your heart and grow your future.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We’ve also just implemented bill.com for paying our bills and invoicing our wholesale partners. We use Gusto for processing payroll. We love being able to access all our data anywhere with a wifi connection.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Every year it’s something new - basically I ask my leadership team to share anything they’ve seen/heard or read that we all could benefit from sharing. Could be a funny article about sleep, could be a sales management book - just always different and quick.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Mentors have been my greatest asset. I have tried to meet with 4-5 “experts” in their field for lunch at least once a quarter. Folks who understand marketing, have experience running retail stores or e-commerce, leaders in inventory management or product development. Having access to people who have actually done what you are trying to do has been vitally important to our success (and being appropriately patient with the process)