We’ve expanded our executive interview series into other sleep product companies and are thrilled to start with Kevin Chon, Co-founder of Coop Home Goods. We’ll be chatting about their wildly popular pillows, Kevin’s background in the textile industry, and their upcoming product lines/expansion.
Also, when you finish reading, enter to win the Coop Eden Protector/Pillow bundle!
It looks like you have spent a long time in textiles before designing and manufacturing your first pillow for Coop. Can you take us through the formation of the idea to get into the sleep space?
I spent about 10 years in apparel and textiles, and it really gave me the foundation for product development and manufacturing. We supplied many of the major international fashion retailers and department stores. One of the main frustrations was that these large retailers kept pushing the manufacturers for lower prices and were willing to cut corners in order to maximize their profit at the cost of quality for customers and profit margins for manufacturers. In the end, customers ended up with subpar products in the stores for higher prices than they should have paid. My desire was always about making better products for the customers, which retailers ultimately didn’t care to do. I see this practice extend into so many industries, including the sleep industry!
Often, when we couldn’t lower the price any more to meet the retailers’ price points, they ended up taking OUR own design and giving it to a foreign factory to produce. You can’t really bite the hand that feeds you, so a lot of suppliers take this kind of abuse without any recourse.
On one phone call, a buyer kept asking for ridiculous prices, and I told the buyer, by asking me for those prices, you’re asking me to use sweat shop labor! They were not very happy with my response, and that was a pivotal point where I was done working with these retailers. I started looking into the direct-to-consumer model/e-commerce.
I was really tired of the culture of fashion, so we were looking into a different industry to pivot into.
Sleep products had always interested me. I got my first memory foam pillow in high school, and I fell in love with this new “NASA” sleep technology. In fact, I made my own mattress when I was in college. Memory foam was the hot ticket, and I was a poor college student so I sourced different components to build my own memory foam mattress.
Coop Home Goods was founded by yourself and your sister, Jin. What are the pros and cons of working closely with a family member?
I’m very fortunate that Jin and I get along for the most part. We are very different, which can lead to disagreements, but it also helps us look at situations from different perspectives. She used to be a lawyer, which also helps us look at things from a legal perspective. I’d say generally I am more of the gas pedal and she is more of the brake pedal, so we balance each other out. I focus more on the marketing side, and Jin focuses more on the operations side; however, we are open to give and receive input across all aspects of our business. I don’t think I could do this without her and am thankful to have someone at the end of the day that I can completely rely on and trust. We also agree that disagreement and arguing isn’t necessarily bad, and that as long as we do it in a healthy way, it will actually help us make the best decision for our products, company, and team.
Every person is not created the same, and may require a different size/firmness level on their pillow for proper spinal alignment. Would you walk our readers through how they would be able to uncover what the ideal configuration is for them, as well as the actual physical process of configuring the pillow?
One thing we embrace at Coop is the uniqueness and individuality of each person, and we get excited when our customers take the step to invest into the eight hours of posture that most people ignore. The name of the game is alignment and support—and back sleepers, side sleepers, and stomach sleepers all need different setups.
In general, side sleepers need a medium/high loft pillow, back sleepers need a low/medium loft pillow, and stomach sleepers need a low loft pillow.
When you also consider the different height, weight, and width of people, you realize that one size doesn’t fit all. Our pillows allow you to remove or add loft by giving access to our proprietary fill, which takes care of the alignment side. The shapeability of our pillows also allows you to shift support to certain areas i.e. the cervical region.
We are so used to sleeping in our old misaligned positions that we may feel aligned when we really aren’t.
The best way to set up your pillow is to ask a friend, spouse, or partner to observe you from the side of the bed and to let you know if your neck and head are tilted up, neutral, or tilted down.
If you don’t have anyone to help you, you can use a mirror or even a cellphone to take a selfie to determine your alignment. Once you realize you need to lower or increase the support to reach alignment, it’s a simple matter of adding or removing fill.
Once you reach the ideal height, I like to shift some fill to the cervical / neck region for some extra support in that area.
It’s important to listen to your body and what it’s telling you; however, it’s also important to realize our bodies are sometimes so used to misalignment and bad posture that true alignment can actually feel weird at first, and it can take a week or so to get used to new sleeping positions.
Being able to wash your pillow is a huge plus for the consumer. What are some of the issues that someone would experience if they used a pillow for multiple years without being able to wash it?
Some of the issues people might encounter from not being able to wash their pillow are dust mites and a buildup of other allergens. I have really bad allergies and when they kick in, I wake up feeling foggy, cranky, and sluggish. Another big issue would be basic hygiene. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ll drool sometimes, and a basic pillow case does not prevent it from soaking and staining the pillow. Over time, the dust mites, allergens, dead skin cells, and drool build up, which has the potential to create an environment that may trigger acne for some people. Not cool.
In fact, there was a study that showed that after two years, one-third of a pillow’s weight is made up of dust mite, dust mite feces, dead skin, and bacteria.
At one point the Coop pillow was the top selling pillow on both Amazon.com and Amazon.ca. How were you able to market the pillow at Amazon so well, and are you still seeing a good percentage of your customers coming from Amazon?
First off, I have to thank our team. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are. We’re all about innovation. The pillow industry was “asleep” and was enjoying the fact that it was dominated by a few big corporate players. Cutting out the fat in production and marketing, and not having a retail middle man limits our creativity, allows us to provide a higher quality pillow with more features at a reasonable price.
Consumers are becoming more and more educated and are no longer settling for “good enough.” We had good timing, with a great product. The rest was just a fanatical obsession with customer service. We don’t outsource our customer service, so when you call us, the phone across from my desk rings and one of our team mates picks it up. We have a rabid fanbase on Amazon which we are super thankful for.
We continue to have great success on Amazon, although we are facing increasing competition and a lot of knockoffs. I want to make sure to educate consumers about the subpar quality of some of the other products that are on the market now. Specifically, most of the pillows on the market that copy us are made of scrap trash foam leftover from other random foam products. They get picked up from the floor, swept into bales, and shredded for use in pillows without being sanitized, which is not a good thing.
What is the most common misconception that consumers have when shopping for a pillow?
A lot of people think that pillows aren’t that important in their sleep experience and have just assumed that the budget poly fill pillows at the big box stores are good enough. However, the reality is that you spend 1/3 of your life on a pillow, and the pillow is what cradles and supports arguably the most important region of your body – your head.
Secondly, people have blindly trusted the production quality and standards of the products they are using. I’ve been all over the world, visiting factories in the USA, India, China, and South East Asia and have been appalled at some of the factory conditions that are producing bedding products. Educating yourself on where and how your products are made is really important. Lastly, one size does not fit all. Companies produce one size because it’s easier for production, less complex, and creates more profit – they don’t think about the customer and their needs first and that is what makes Coop Home Goods different. We design products around the customer.
You have come a long way from the Coop Original pillow, as there are now seven different pillows offered on the site. What advice would you give to the consumer to ensure they find the best model to meet their needs?
I think the first place to start is identifying your sleep position and if you like a softer, down-like pillow (Eden Pillow) or something with more support (Original Pillow). Also take into consideration whether you’re a hot sleeper or not, as our Eden Pillow is designed for greater breathability, which can benefit hot sleepers.
Once you identify what type of sleeper you are, we have specific support pillows for side sleeping (Knee Pillow, Body Pillow) and back sleeping (Four Position Support Pillow). You can always call us to talk to our customer service who can recommend a setup as well.
The Coop product set is beginning to span much further than pillows, with items such as mattress protectors, dish drying mats, and even natural deodorizers. What spurred the idea to foray into some of these different items?
We’re really into listening to our customers and their feedback. We actually do consistent customer surveys, and we ask them what they would like to see, how we can make our products better, etc. If it seems like we can improve on existing offerings on the market, we will go for it.
With the said new products, and launching products for use outside of the bedroom, what can you tell us about the overall product strategy for Coop over the next 12-18 months?
Although we have a few other home good products, as a brand we’ve decided to double down on the bedroom. We really want to provide better sleep products designed around the end user, and we realize there’s still a lot of areas of the sleep experience that we can innovate on. Once we have the bedroom fully dialed in, we may pursue into other areas of the home.
Taking a look at this ‘fundane’ category such as bedding, eye glasses, razors, or any household products that have exploded in the online sector over the last few years, do you expect to continue to see growth of consumers purchasing these types of products in the coming years?
Absolutely. I think consumers are tired of “good enough” products available at typical retailers, and companies that can innovate and provide a better product and customer experience will continue to gain market share. So many walls and barriers are falling down with technology and the internet, which is great for the end user and for startup companies. At the same time, copycat companies won’t last because the importance of branding and innovation will continue to gain importance as competition stiffens. Exciting times!