On Selling Luxury Mattresses
Hi there - I’m Marc Werner, founder, and CEO of GhostBed and Nature’s Sleep. We sell mattresses, frames, pillows, and bedding with one goal in mind: make better, higher-quality products at a more affordable price for consumers.
Since 2001, Nature’s Sleep has been a leader in the mattress space—and it all started from a real need. After 3 neck surgeries, I just needed a comfortable pillow to sleep on! Today, GhostBed dominates the direct-to-consumer marketplace with our lineup of products that range from affordable classics to top-of-the-line innovations.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship has been in my blood since the day I was born. My grandfather founded Werner Ladder Company in the early 1900s, after many years of serving in the military. When he joined the company, he invented the aluminum and fiberglass ladder, which helped it become a household name.
You won’t find success overnight. But every job that you do, a connection that you make, and part of the business you can learn will lead you in the right direction.
So I spent my childhood around that environment and saw my grandfather and dad working hard and doing great things. My grandfather always said that “Profits follow quality”; when you do the right thing and make quality products, you’ll be rewarded in the long run. Safety, quality, and durability are all paramount when you’re building ladders, so that was ingrained in me.
I’ve always been an inventor, too. As a kid, I watched my dad develop the fiberglass ladder, and I was always really interested in learning about the different materials. I worked a few jobs outside of the family business before coming back into it. I co-founded a software company that eventually sold to Microsoft, and I invented the digital bathroom scale at another company. When I came back and joined Werner, I ran the polymer division, so I was right there in the factories playing around with all of the materials.
So you could say—I didn’t just wake up one day and become an entrepreneur. I spent years learning, thinking, and inventing. It’s all those years of experience that have brought me to where I am today.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
The inspiration for Nature’s Sleep truly came from my own need. Growing up, I had always been an athlete and was a runner for many years. Over time, all that running wore down my neck and back—so much that I ultimately had to have 3 major surgeries. I just couldn’t find a pillow or mattress that was comfortable for me… so I decided to invent my own!
It was a natural transition, because of all my experience working at Werner and being around all the polymers and materials there. At that time, memory foam was just starting to get popular. I started thinking about how I could incorporate this up-and-coming material into mattresses, in the same way, that my family approached ladders. The utility was the same—you’re still climbing up something—but they improved the product by incorporating stronger, higher-quality materials.
From there, I started by creating a pillow, and then eventually mattresses and toppers. I made the products out in my garage and converted my living room into a showroom. I brought customers to the house to sell the mattresses… and it grew from there.
After years of selling Nature’s Sleep products to brick-and-mortar retail locations, that’s when the eCommerce world was starting to heat up. So I took what I’d learned and started thinking about how I could enter that space. It’s a much different goal—since customers don’t have the chance to test it out in a store, you need to offer something that would make the majority of people happy. Most people like a medium-firm mattress, so I started playing around with latex as a top layer, which is a bit firmer than memory foam. I worked with my manufacturers to build out about 50 different samples and we finally landed on what’s now the GhostBed Classic, which is a nicely balanced mattress that’s still one of our top sellers to this day.
A big part of our success early on was because we were approaching the industry differently. Traditionally, mattresses were a made-to-order product. You couldn’t have much inventory on hand, because it would take up a lot of space. With memory foam, you can vacuum-pack the whole mattress into a small box, which made everything easier: shipping, warehousing, storage. That was important to me after years of selling and shipping ladder—they take up a lot of space, and we always joked around that we were “shipping air.”
I also knew it would be important to set up a national distribution system, so we have warehouses all across the country. Because of that, we’re able to have inventory on-hand, and also ship much faster than our competitors. That was a huge change to the industry— that wasn’t how it was done in the past. Now, more companies have caught on to this… but it took a while to get there.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Overall, we’re doing fantastic. We’ve grown a lot over the past two years, and almost doubled the size of our team—but we’re still relatively small and nimble. For me, the key is putting together an expert team. I’ve been able to bring people on board that have the right expertise in the right domains, and I lean on them. We have experts for every part of the business and work with a lot of outside vendors and contractors to fill the gaps. This has helped us immensely as we made quick decisions and launch new products.
I’m also always looking for the next great thing. I’ve been fortunate to build so many connections over the years, so I’m able to work with manufacturers across the globe to find the latest and greatest technology. I’m always looking for new ways to make our products better, cooler, and more comfortable. Just like my family reimagined the ladder, I’m constantly thinking about how we can make our mattresses better. After all, everyone needs to sleep and everyone needs a mattress.
Our latest launch is our Venus Williams Collection, which has been so exciting for everyone involved. Venus collaborated with us to design the lineup, and every product will have a focus on recovery and rejuvenation. We’re using an exclusive technology that helps your body recharge and recover as you sleep, and it’s been so great to have Venus part of the process.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The values and high standards that were ingrained in me from an early age have been key. I’ve always worked hard and I’ve always had an eye on the quality of our products, and that’s a big part of where we’re at today. I’m very intense about every little detail, and that’s why we have such loyal customers who spread the word about us—word of mouth is a huge driver for us.
But another thing I’ve learned is that there’s no substitution for long-term experience. I’ve been able to work at several jobs and learn about everything from chemical science to product design to finances. And because of that experience, I can make decisions quickly—because I know how materials work together and what makes a product great. I’ve been able to learn this over time.
I was fortunate to have been surrounded by my family business growing up. But anyone can get out there and earn that expertise.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We’ve had a great experience with Shopify for our site and Klaviyo for our email and SMS marketing, which drives a ton of revenue for us. We’ve seen 200x ROI from our welcome series alone. We’re able to see how our customers interact with our messaging and make quick changes when we need to.
Affirm has also been a fantastic partner for financing. A lot of customers are looking for financing options, especially if they’re buying higher-ticket items like our bundles, which include everything you need - mattress, our Adjustable Base or All-in-One Foundation, pillows and sheets.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’m like a vacuum for information, especially business books and industry news—one favorite book that comes to mind is “Freakonomics.” But other than that, I read anything I can get my hands on. It’s really important to me to pay attention to the market and the industry, so I know what’s going on. That way, as things change and evolve, you’re ready to respond and change as needed.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Do and learn as much as you can. Just get out there and try things. You won’t find success overnight. But every job that you do, a connection that you make, and part of the business you can learn will lead you in the right direction. I’m in my 60s and even with all of the experience I have, I’m still learning every day.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We have a lot to be grateful for with the growth of our business, the addition of several new team members, great new products, patents, and the awesome new long-term partnership with the wonderful Venus Williams.
You’re Going to Have Bad Days & Good Days
I tell every new hire that I interview, is that you’re going to have good days and bad days. I only really care about the good days. So don’t worry about the bad days, it's going to happen but tomorrow will be a new day and hopefully, it will be a good day.
My co-founder and wife, Donna Werner manages HR
We are now hiring for:
- Full-Time Customer Service
- Full Time Operations & Logistics
- Part-time remove E-commerce copywriter
Check our LinkedIn job pages:
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
Get our 5-minute email newsletter packed with business ideas and money-making opportunities, backed by real-life case studies.
- 4,818 founder case studies
- Access to our founder directory
- Live events, courses and recordings
- 8,628 business ideas
- $1M in software savings