Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Joe Nashif and I operate US-Mattress.com. We are an online mattress retailer shipping all across the US and we also have some stores in Michigan. We specialize in selling name-brand mattresses, like Sealy, Serta, Tempur-Pedic, and Beautyrest, but we also offer many other brands like Nectar and other lesser-known names. We have a great team of dedicated folks helping to take care of our customers no matter where they live.
Our business is very competitive and it would be hard to start an online mattress company today. We were fortunate to get started when nobody was selling mattresses online. Today, we have competition from online giants, big brick and mortar retailers, and newer, direct-to-consumer brands. We generate $750,000 a month now, one customer at a time.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My journey to becoming an entrepreneur began while working at one of the Big Three auto companies in Detroit. I was a low-level white-collar employee for over 10 years. I had a wide variety of jobs working in sales, service, product planning, and other staff positions. I was able to learn a lot but also became very frustrated trying to get ahead. My performance reviews were always good, but I was not moving ahead and it really bothered me.
The other thing about working at the auto company was that I could do my job in about 2 hours a day. So I could keep my performance up at work when I decided to pour myself into the online business out of my basement. It was important to me to keep a safe steady paycheck while trying to get my business off the ground. My first online business was an online appliance company. There was nobody selling appliances online at that time so I was the first. Basically, I worked with a retailer as a partner to put up products on a website I built and they started to sell.
Nobody wants to shop at a bad retailer and consumer reviews will let people know if you can be trusted.
I was able to leave my day job in a few years and the appliance business led to the mattress business.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The first website was created on a Yahoo Store website. It was super easy to create a retail website that looked professional and had a lot of powerful business tools. We stayed on that platform for many years.
When the website was created, I partnered with a retailer to list appliances (and then mattress products) on the website. We started with about 20 items and waited to see what happened. And after a couple of days, we got our first sale. Then more sales came in every few days and grew from there. As the sales came in we worked on all the back end to get the orders to the customers and grew that capability as well.
The business was started with about $1,500 on web-related costs before sales and profit started to come in which we used to fund further growth. It was important to me not to invest and lose a lot of personal money, I was very cautious about that.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Building the website took about 3 months. I had to conceive a layout and point of view to present products. I also needed to organize the products and information in a way that would make sense to consumers so that took a lot of time as well.
Once the site launched we started getting web traffic immediately, although it was very small. This was coming from organic traffic. After a few days, we got our first sale. Then more sales continued to trickle in averaging less than 1 per day for about a month. Sales continued to gradually pick up and in about a year we were doing about $20,000 per month.
The costs at the beginning were a monthly website fee of about $300 if I remember correctly. And then some other small costs like office supplies. Basically, it was a lot of free self-labor. Between my day job and this startup, I was working about 70 hours a week with no vacations for about 2 years.
US-Mattress.com in 2008
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
When the business model was working (web traffic, sales, etc.) it then made sense to begin advertising on search ads to drive more sales. So we started very small to test the ROI on ad spend and get that working at a positive return.
From there, it has been an ongoing effort to tweak and monitor the key inputs into profitable growth; improving conversion rates, getting qualified traffic, and watching the ROI of the ad spend to stay within what the business can afford.
The ad landscape is continually changing; Google and others continue to bring out more tools. Competition comes and goes. Consumer behavior evolves on where and how people spend time online or searching for information. It is important to stay current because what works today will gradually become outdated tomorrow.
As a retailer, the other key part of the equation is having great customer service and maintaining a good reputation. Nobody wants to shop at a bad retailer and consumer reviews will let people know if you can be trusted. Customers keep us on our toes and we keep getting better to stay relevant to increasing customer expectations.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We run a profitable business by working on the details. With a lot of customers and orders, there is a lot of detail in our business. So we need a strong team and good systems and processes. It’s easy to make a lot of little mistakes and go out of business.
We receive a couple hundred thousand visits to our website each month and most of our sales are online and ship across the nation. We have a robust fulfillment network for delivery and a strong in-house team for customer service and operations.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is how important it is to have a good team. You’ll always hear that but it’s more than just happy talk. There is only so much you can do in a day. And there is only so much you can know. So it stands to reason you need help with both and that’s where the good team comes in.
With this lesson in mind, I can see the impact on much smaller businesses where the founders do too much themselves and limit their growth. And I can see in much larger businesses where the founder has done a better job working with a team.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We were very happy with Yahoo Small Business for many years and I recommend them starting. We’ve since moved our website to Magento to have more control over our website and we’ve been happy with them, too.
More recently our teams have been using Slack and Google docs to get our work done and they’ve been a big help.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I always like to keep up with business news reading the Wall Street Journal and watching CNBC and Bloomberg as well as general news.
On top of that, I read a couple of business books a year. I really enjoy hearing from business leaders when they talk about how they run their business. I like to try and pay attention to pick up tips on how they do things.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Starting this business has been a lot more work, and more demanding than I ever would have imagined. If I could have easily quit at times I probably would have. It is really hard work to build a business, but keep going and working hard is a key component. Things will not be easy for most people. There are the super successful, quick to riches stories in the news, but they are very few and far between.
So be ready to work hard, over the long run. Determination will carry you. I should also mention, you need to be ready to pivot and adjust to reality because if you don’t adapt as necessary the hard work won’t be enough and you’ll eventually fail.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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