We had the pleasure of chatting with the CEO of Layla Sleep, Akrum Sheikh, about the company’s rapid growth, expanding product line, and the evolution of the mattress space. Check out our conversation below and learn more about what they have to offer.
For a chance to win two of Layla’s copper-infused pillows, enter our Layla pillow giveaway!
Introduce yourself and give us a brief history of your involvement in the world of mattresses/sleep products.
My name is Akrum Sheikh. Though my family is originally from New Jersey, I was raised in southern Connecticut. I basically grew up in the furniture and mattress word. My father was in the furniture retail business, and I would spend my weekends/summers in the showrooms, warehouse, and office. I had one year left in my undergrad when I dropped out of college and went to work in the family business full time. I started off a salesman on the floor. From there I became sales manager, buyer, and eventually operations manager. But the most valuable lessons I learned was during my time on the showroom floor. That’s when I got to spend one on one time with the customer. I learned about what customers cared about, what they wanted, and what factors affected the buying decision. In 2014 my brother and I decided that we had enough of retail. We moved to San Francisco to start our own business. But what? Well we figured we didn’t want to sell furniture anymore, but we knew the industry. At the same time, we knew that mattress stores all had the same problem: they overload the customer with too much selection, they mark the product up with ridiculous profit margins, and the salesmen are way to pushy, and aggressive. We vowed to start a brand that would do the complete opposite of what the then mattress stores were doing and Layla was born. One mattress with two firmness options (double sided), low profit margins which equals greater value to the customer, and no salesperson since mattress can only be ordered online.
Layla started in May of 2016 and seems to have exploded since then. Can you tell us a bit about how you were able to see this kind of growth in an increasingly crowded vertical?
It’s the product. There are many great brands in this crowded vertical and I consider Layla to be one of the great ones. I think the reason for this is that when my brother and I came up with the design, we used knowledge accumulated from years of spending time on a mattress showroom floor talking with everyday customers and finding out exactly what people look for in a good night’s sleep. We believe that this is a clear advantage that we have over most of the online mattress brands and we used this knowledge to create the Layla mattress.
The product speaks for itself. Layla’s explosive growth has been directly related to the overwhelmingly positive reviews the product has received from customers and online product reviewers. We’ve realized that a huge portion of our success can be attributed to our customers raving about what a great night’s sleep they’re getting from their Layla mattress on facebook and other social media platforms.
Word of mouth has been our number one marketing channel and to be honest we really don’t spend much money on other advertising avenues at all.
With growth comes increasing demands around customer service, how has customer service changed for your team since launch?
Our co-founder and Chief Operations Officer Gregg Dean is the best in the business when it comes to customer service and operations overall. Gregg has really done an outstanding job with recruiting, training, and improving the Layla customer service team. We service our customers over the phone, by email, or by live chat right on our site.
Naturally, when a company grows at the rate that we have been growing, there are small windows in which customers may experience a slight delay in response time. But thankfully Gregg has been able to make sure that those occurrences don’t happen often and that our customer service team can quickly meet the expanding demand.
One value proposition of the Layla mattress is the lifetime warranty, can you talk a little bit about how this works and the customer response to this program?
The lifetime warranty is just a testament to quality materials and components that we use which makes the Layla mattress so great. First of all, everything is made here in America, we don’t cut corners, and we don’t try to cut costs by compromising quality. Gregg and I would much rather make less profit than compromise on the quality of the product. And for that reason it’s easy for us to stand by the mattress and warranty it for life.
What does the product development cycle look like at Layla? We’d love to hear a bit more about what your R&D process looks like.
The customer dictates what our next product will be simply by telling us what they wished we had on our site but currently don’t. From there we run a basic Concept/Design/Prototype/Testing/Production model all while making sure the product has functionality, brand consistency, and major value.
But the big difference is that we look at each concept the way an artist would look at a blank canvas. The look, feel, smell, and the packaging design are equally as important as the product itself. When we develop a new product such as our Layla Pillow or the Layla Copper Topper, every step of the process is done with one thing in mind… the customer. I feel that we truly understand the customer. And because of this we know that we don’t sell sleep products, we sell sleep. Therefore when we test our products, we really pay attention to feedback, and more importantly we make changes based on that feedback until the product is perfect.
I’ve noticed you recently launched a pillow and foundation, what new products should our readers keep an eye out for in 2018 from Layla?
That’s an excellent question. In the near future, Layla fans all over the county will be able to buy our Layla Copper Topper which will add a layer of softness to our mattress or any mattress for that matter. Layla fans can also expect to see a bed frame, mattress and pillow protectors, and a state of the art adjustable base.
In the not so near future, we’ll be launching our very own bed sheet line, comforters, pajamas, eye masks, a second type of mattress, and perhaps even some technologically innovative products for the bedroom that are top secret for now.
You mention a philanthropic program on the Layla site – tell us more about what that looks like (how many beds you’re giving away, what else you’re doing to help communities, etc.)
Since Layla was born in the Bay Area, we’ve decided to pair up with local homeless shelters in San Francisco and help pay for the cost of sheltering those in need. We’re committed to over $50,000 in cash donations and I would estimate that we donated well over 2000 mattresses to local charities all of the country including local churches, Vietnam Veterans of America and Battered Woman’s Shelters.
Gregg and I plan to spend more time this year on a philanthropic program, and we are currently talking to several charities (some of which are global) to see how we can partner up with us and how Layla can help make a difference.
What is the most common customer complaint you hear about mattresses/pillows from Layla customers and how have you addressed it with your offerings?
There’s only one Layla mattress, and even though it’s double sided with a different firmness level on each side and with over 90% of buyers absolutely loving the product, we do have a handful of customers with a firmness preference outside of what the Layla mattress offers.
To address this, we are developing the Layla Copper Topper. It turns out two firmness mattress into a four firmness mattress. Here’s how: Start off with the Layla mattress and you’ve already got a soft side and a firm side (the mattress is flippable). If the soft side isn’t soft enough for you, add the Layla Copper Topper, and now you have an “Ultra Soft.” However, if the soft side of the mattress is too soft for you and the firm side is too firm, then simply flip the mattress over to the firm side and add the topper for a “Medium Firm” feel.
We really believe that this added option will act as a solution to the one real complaint that we’ve ever had.
What are the biggest trends you see in the mattress space and what predictions do you have for the next 12-18 months?
I love the direction in which the mattress industry is heading. For way too long the industry leaders have been “asleep” at the switch, and now we’re shaking things up. Many of the online retailers are starting to open brick and mortar retail stores. Been there done that – we feel that is a mistake. My prediction for the next twelve to eighteen months is that there will be a large shift in bedding and sleep products being purchased online rather than in stores. I really hope I’m wrong but I have a bad feeling that in two years if you’re a mattress brand or a mattress retailer that is heavily invested in actual physical stores, you might be facing some serious trouble.