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Bedding entrepreneur pitches the pluses of customization

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 12, 2010 08:00 AM

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Last year, Evan Saks was working for a Stoughton mattress company that was in a precarious spot: it was the New England franchisee for Dial-A-Mattress, which had just been through bankruptcy proceedings. As soon as Dial-A-Mattress was purchased by a new owner, the Stoughton company's franchise agreement was revoked, and it went out of business last fall.

But Saks, who comes from a long line of mattress merchants, had an idea for a new start-up: what if you could design your own mattress online, and have it delivered to your home within two weeks?

With funding in "the low six figures" from of a group of angel investors, and a collaboration with the Boston Web development shop MaintainNet, Saks launched Create-A-Mattress last Memorial Day weekend.

Customers can select the size of their mattress; the type of support (like traditional coils or pocket coils, supposedly better at isolating movement); the mattress thickness; an optional "Craftmatic"-type adjustable base; and mattress covers made out of bamboo fibers or organic cotton. There are about 1,000 possible combinations of features. Special feature sets, like the "bad back package," include things like memory foam, quadruple layers of thick latex, and "upgraded zoned coil systems."

A label on the lower right edge of the mattress can also be customized; one recent shopper had it imprinted with the phrase "Where the magic happens."

The site claims its prices for its finished mattresses, which start at $370, are at least 20 percent lower than retail.

Unlike Dial-A-Mattress, which relied on heavy radio advertising to attract customers, Saks has been focusing his marketing efforts on search engine advertising, and a YouTube channel he plans to expand. He's also experimenting with Facebook advertising. (Saks concedes that he did test some radio spots in July, when airtime is especially cheap.)

"We're trying to attract folks who might have some idea of what they want, and say, look, you can get exactly what you need to fit your budget, but take the confusion and the deception out of the showroom environment, where you get overwhelmed by choices," Saks says. "For most people, it's impossible to tell the difference between the $500 and the $1500 mattress." (And you can just guess which one the typical salesperson would rather sell you.)

Create-A-Mattress' product is made in the Boston area by a "major brand manufacturer" — in the mattress industry, that means either Sealy, Simmons, Serta, or Stearns & Foster — though Saks says he can't disclose which one.

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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